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Philippines fines Chinese fishermen $102,000 each for poaching

November 24, 2014

PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines Mon Nov 24, 2014 2:54am EST

The Philippines’ National Police Special Boat Unit seized this boat, which they say was manned by Chinese poachers that were catching endangered turtles in Filipino territorial waters, Palawan, Philippines, Sept. 3, 2014. (Jason Strother/VOA)

The Philippines’ National Police Special Boat Unit seized this boat, which they say was manned by Chinese poachers that were catching endangered turtles in Filipino territorial waters, Palawan, Philippines, Sept. 3, 2014. (Jason Strother/VOA)

(Reuters) – A Philippine court on Monday fined nine Chinese fishermen $102,000 each after they were caught with hundreds of sea turtles in a disputed shoal in the South China Sea amid a festering territorial standoff between the two sides.

China claims almost all of the entire South China Sea, believed to be rich with minerals and oil-and-gas deposits and one of Asia’s biggest possible flashpoints. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims.

Philippine police arrested the fishermen and seized their boat off Half Moon Shoal, a disputed territory in the Spratly Islands within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone, in May. Two of the fishermen were sent home because they were minors.

After three months of trial, Judge Ambrosio de Luna found the fishermen guilty of poaching in Philippine waters and of illegal possession of endangered green sea turtles.

It was not immediately clear how the fishermen would find the funds to pay the fines, but they face six months’ jail if they fail to pay up, time already served, suggesting they could even be released.

“We’re merely imposing our laws,” Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told reporters. “We tried to look for ways to be lenient. I think they will credit whatever time has been served already.”

China protested against the arrests and does not recognise the trial, saying the nine were detained in China’s territorial waters.

IHS Jane’s, a leading defence publication, said on Friday satellite images show China is building an island on a reef elsewhere in the Spratlys large enough to accommodate what could be its first offshore airstrip in the South China Sea. 

Chinese land reclamation operations in the South China Sea

Chinese land reclamation operations at Fiery Cross reef in the South China Sea Photo: CNES 2014, Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image / IHS

Del Rosario said the military had been asked to investigate.

The building work, if confirmed, would fly in the face of U.S. calls for a freeze in provocative activity in the South China Sea, one of Asia’s biggest security issues. Concern is growing about an escalation in disputes even as claimants work to establish a code of conduct to resolve them.

Two Vietnamese frigates were due to arrive in the Philippines on Monday on a goodwill visit, the first time Hanoi has sent warships to the archipelago.

Vietnam’s warships HQ-011 and HQ-012

(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Nick Macfie)



A photograph taken in February of the Johnson South Reef in the South China Sea, a reef occupied by China but also claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam. According to the Philippine Foreign Affairs Department, this photo appears to show large-scale reclamation being carried out in stages by China. — Photo: Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs


A Chinese Coastguard vessel patrols near the BRP Sierra Madre, a marooned transport ship which Philippine Marines live on as a military outpost, in the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea March 30, 2014. REUTERS/Erik De Castro


An example of what Vietnam calls  China’s “lawlessness” at sea: A Chinese ship rams and collides with a Vietnamese vessel in contested waters of the South China Sea. Photo: AFP photograb

In May 2014, China moved its largest ocean going oil rig to the waters near Vietnam. The oil drilling rig remained in place for more than a month despite Vietnamese diplomatic moves to protest.

China considers much of the South China Sea its territory based on its nine-dash line map. The map covers an area that extends hundreds of miles south from Hainan Island and takes in the Paracels, which are claimed by Vietnam, and the Spratly Islands, some of which are claimed by the Philippines. China is creating artificial islands in the Spratly area.

China claims to own all the South China Sea inside the “nine dash line” as seen here.

China claims ownership of about 90% of the South China Sea. Most of China’s neighbors believe otherwise.

The chart below shows the area declared by China on 1 January 2014 as “an area under China’s jurisdiction.” China says “foreign fishing vessels” can only enter and work in this area with prior approval from China. Vietnam, the Philippines and others have said they will not comply with China’s law. Experts say, this could be the geographic area that China could declare an air defense identification zone (ADIZ).

For President Obama, Going it Alone Has Its Risks

November 24, 2014


Photo: President Obama during his ABC interview

Moves Could be Undone by Lawmakers or a Future President

By Colleen McCain Nelson
The Wall Street Journal

With time ticking down on his second term, President Barack Obama has escalated his efforts to accomplish his policy goals without winning approval from Congress, a strategy that may produce results quickly but with the risk that they may be undone by lawmakers or a future president.

The latest example was Mr. Obama’s policy, announced Thursday, of shielding more than four million illegal immigrants from deportation. Mr. Obama also has announced an aggressive climate deal with China, presided over an Environmental Protection Agency plan to order carbon-emission cuts at power plants and pursued nuclear negotiations with Iran.

Moreover, the White House has been exploring options intended to allow the president to close the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay without Congress’s approval.

The president long has promised to press ahead on his agenda with or without lawmakers’ support, but the new actions are far more sweeping in scope than the moves he made earlier this year to, for example, raise the minimum wage for federal contractors.

With prospects uncertain for passing major legislation in the new, Republican-controlled Congress, Mr. Obama has begun to build a second-term legacy that is likely to be defined in large part by unilateral action.

The strategy, however, comes with risks. Republican lawmakers have raised the specter of trying to undo the president’s actions, and a future president potentially could reverse some of Mr. Obama’s moves on immigration and climate change.

More immediately, the president’s decision to sidestep lawmakers could diminish the chances of forging agreements with Republican leaders on other issues.

GOP lawmakers warned that Mr. Obama would “poison the well” by acting unilaterally on immigration.

“We’ve stopped having a constitutional system of checks and balances that’s protected our liberty,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) said Sunday on Fox. “It’s the power of a monarch or an emperor.” He suggested that Republicans in the Senate respond to the president’s actions on immigration by blocking his nominees.

In an interview that aired Sunday on ABC, Mr. Obama said: “What the American people expect is that if we disagree on one thing…then we work on everything else.”

Suggesting that the legislative process wasn’t at an end, some Republicans said the party should respond to Mr. Obama by taking the reins on policy and passing GOP-sponsored immigration bills, though it remained unclear what policy the party would put forward and whether Mr. Obama would sign on.

“It’s incumbent on Republicans to come up with our own agenda, a positive, constructive agenda,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas) on CBS on Sunday. Mr. McCaul, who leads the House Homeland Security Committee, said such an effort likely would lead with a border-security bill, but noted that Congress wouldn’t take up the issue until next year.

Mr. Obama said in the interview that both Republican and Democratic presidents have taken similar executive actions.

“The history is that I have issued fewer executive actions than most of my predecessors, by a longshot,” he said. “Take a look at the track records of the modern presidency; I’ve actually been very restrained. And I’ve been very restrained with respect to immigration.”

The first two years of Mr. Obama’s second term yielded few legislative victories and little progress on the White House’s top goals, such as raising the minimum wage and enacting comprehensive immigration legislation.

Mr. Obama largely was sidelined during this fall’s campaigns, and Republicans cast Democratic defeats in the midterm elections as a rejection of the president’s policies.

The White House has resolved to push forward on Mr. Obama’s agenda during the remaining two years.

“He does feel the pressure of time,” Dan Pfeiffer, an Obama senior adviser, said Friday at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. “We all do.”

On both immigration and climate change, the president tried but failed to work with Congress to pass legislation before acting on his own. In addition to striking a deal with China to cut carbon pollution, Mr. Obama has laid out aggressive limits on power-plant emissions, another unilateral move that could stand as one of the more far-reaching actions of the second term.

William Galston, a former policy adviser to President Bill Clinton, said acting on immigration and climate change always have been priorities for Mr. Obama, but they have risen in importance as legislative avenues have been closed off.

“Things that you can get done through executive decisions look much more attractive in highly polarized circumstances,” said Mr. Galston, who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

White House officials also see a range of opportunities to define the president’s second term in the foreign-policy realm.

The Obama administration has continued to press for an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program, despite skepticism in Congress. Some Republican lawmakers have suggested that they would move to impose more sanctions on Iran if they aren’t comfortable with a deal. Mr. Obama said in the ABC interview that he remained confident that if an agreement is reached, he could convince Congress it is the right thing to do.

Mr. Obama also appears determined to make good on a campaign promise to close the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba—another potentially dramatic use of executive power. The White House has discussed ways to override a congressional ban on bringing detainees to the U.S., senior administration officials have said.

While the president has said he wants to work with Congress, he and his advisers recently have struck a more defiant tone about Mr. Obama’s powers to act on his own. Mr. Obama has said he has an answer for lawmakers who question his authority on immigration: “Nobody is stopping them from passing a bill.”

John Podesta, counselor to the president, predicted that Republicans who want to undo the president’s power-plant rules would fail, saying, “I don’t believe they can stop us from doing that.”

Such statements have fanned discord between the White House and the GOP. But on Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) placed blame on both his party and the president, saying “shame on us as Republicans” for failing to pass legislation to overhaul the immigration system.

“My party has failed,” he said on CNN. “This president has failed miserably, and he’s made it worse.”

—Carol E. Lee contributed to this article.

Write to Colleen McCain Nelson at


President Barack Obama defends executive actions on immigration in ABC interview
The Associated Press

HENDERSON, Nev. — President Barack Obama is shrugging off Republican criticism of his actions to lift the threat of deportation from millions of immigrants living illegally in the United States.

In an interview broadcast Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” Obama said it was important that he act unilaterally to prioritize the deportation of criminals and recent arrivals and spare those who have lived here illegally for at least five years and have roots, including children who are American citizens.

“Why we would prefer a system in which they’re in the shadows, potentially taking advantage of living here but not contributing?” Obama said in the interview, which was taped Friday in Las Vegas after Obama delivered an immigration speech there.

The president pointed to executive orders issued by Democratic and Republican predecessors and said presidents exercise “prosecutorial discretion all the time.”

Obama’s executive actions, which he announced Thursday, have drawn a withering response from Republicans, but also has laid bare divisions within the GOP over how to deal with immigration.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, rejected Obama’s claim of prosecutorial discretion. “Essentially he’s gotten in the job of counterfeiting immigration papers, because there’s no legal authority to do what he’s doing,” Cruz said on “Fox News Sunday.”

A second Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said his party shares the blame for failing to get an immigration bill through the House of Representatives.

“Shame on us as Republicans for having a body that cannot generate a solution to an issue that is national security, it’s cultural and it’s economic. The Senate has done this three times,” Graham said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Indeed, Obama cast his decision as the result of the Republican-led House’s failure to act on a comprehensive immigration bill the Senate passed with bipartisan support in June 2013, or advance legislation of its own.

He said Republicans still could pass an immigration bill.

Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said he had pressed the Republican leadership to start passing legislation two weeks ago on the immigration issue.

“We are going to pass legislation, but it is not going to be the legislation the president is asking for,” Labrador said. “We as Republicans don’t believe you should give amnesty first and talk about security later, which is what the Senate bill did.” Labrador spoke on “Face the Nation” on CBS.

Obama spent the weekend in Nevada, mostly playing golf, after the speech and returned to the White House on Sunday evening.

Iraqi forces gain new ground against ISIL militants despite many disadvantages — including army corruption

November 24, 2014


Iraqi security forces backed by volunteers have retaken areas captured by the ISIL terrorist group for months near the Iranian border, a number of military officers say.

“Army and police and [volunteer] forces attacked from the southern and western sides of the Jalawla and Saadiyah [areas], while [Kurdish] Peshmerga forces attacked from the northern and eastern sides of Saadiyah,” Iraq’s Staff Lieutenant General Abdulamir al-Zaidi said on Sunday.

Lieutenant General Abdul-amir al-Zaidi,

The Iraqi forces seized control of the areas as part of an operation which was launched early Sunday in the country’s northeastern province of Diyala.

Meanwhile, Karim al-Nuri, a top commander of Badr volunteer fighters, said the operation left 12 members of the anti-ISIL forces dead.

Another army brigadier general, whose name was not mentioned, also noted that captured areas were “the main centers of support for [ISIL] militants.”

The two areas are important because of their proximity to the autonomous Kurdish region which is battling the jihadists.

Sunday’s operation came on the heels of another which led to recapture of the strategic northern town of Baiji from the militants and ended a months-long siege of Iraq’s largest refinery.

The Iraqi army has so far managed to make numerous gains in the fight against the ISIL militants, pledging to continue the battle against the extremist group.

The ISIL militants have been carrying out horrific acts of violence, including public decapitations, against Iraqi communities such as Shias, Sunnis, Kurds and Christians.



Graft Hobbles Iraq’s Military in Fighting ISIS

The New York Times

BAGHDAD — One Iraqi general is known as “chicken guy” because of his reputation for selling his soldiers’ poultry provisions. Another is “arak guy,” for his habit of enjoying that anis-flavored liquor on the job. A third is named after Iraq’s 10,000-dinar bills, “General Deftar,” and is infamous for selling officer commissions.

They are just a few of the faces of the entrenched corruption of the Iraqi security forces, according to Iraqi officers and lawmakers as well as American officials.

The Iraqi military and police forces had been so thoroughly pillaged by their own corrupt leadership that they all but collapsed this spring in the face of the advancing militants of the Islamic State — despite roughly $25 billion worth of American training and equipment over the past 10 years and far more from the Iraqi treasury.

Read the rest:

Putin says foreign sanctions only unite Russian society while Finance Minister puts losses at up to $140 billion from Western sanctions

November 24, 2014


Vladimir Putin By Photographer Sasha Mordovets – Getty Images

DPA – Europe Online

Moscow – Russian President Valdimir Putin strongly criticized the international sanctions against his government, in an interview with the Tass news agency published on Sunday, saying they only serve to unite Russian society against the West.

“The Americans made a systemic mistake by believing that I have personal business interests because of ties to people they put on their sanctions list,” he said.

The Russian President insisted that his leadership is not influenced by any businesses interests.

“We have to a significant extent put an end to the so-called Oligarchy,” he said.

The US and the European Union have blacklisted dozens of Russian businessmen and officials, because of the crisis in Ukraine.

Some of them, like banker Yuri Kovalchuk and businessman Arkady Rotenberg, were accused of having close business ties to Putin.

Putin said that these sanctions were based on wrong information and that he won‘t renounce his friends.

“Look, they are friends of Putin, they need to be punished and then they will revolt and there will be mutiny. But nothing of the sort is happening,” he said.

Putin also criticized western governments, accusing them of seeing Russia only as a partner when it suited them.

“As soon as Russia rises and declares it has the right to defend its foreign interests, relations with it and its leaders immediately change,” he said.

As an example he pointed to Boris Yeltsin, whom he succeeded as president in 2000.

“First the West praised whatever Yeltsin did. As soon as he spoke up in defence of Yugoslavia, he suddenly turned into an alcoholic in western eyes.”

The interview was held on November 14, but only published in full on Sunday.

On Saturday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed that the sanctions were aimed at ousting the current government in Russia.


Russia's Finance Minister Anton Siluanov speaks during the Reuters Russia Investment Summit in Moscow September 24, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Russia’s Finance Minister Anton Siluanov speaks during the Reuters Russia Investment Summit in Moscow September 24, 2014.  Credit: Reuters/Maxim Shemetov

(Reuters) – Russia is suffering losses at a rate of about $40 billion per year because of Western sanctions and $90-100 billion from the drop in the oil price, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said on Monday.

Pollution in China — Two Tales of Toxic Air and Water

November 24, 2014


Clouds of smoke billow from a metal alloy factory in Gaolan county, Gansu province, northwest China AP

By Michael Casey
CBS News

China has some of the world’s worst pollution. But tracking it in all but the biggest cities can be impossible since local governments don’t release any data to the public.

So researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have come up with an innovative solution: If you can’t follow the pollution itself, follow the complaints about it on social media.

“There’s not enough information about pollution, and sometimes people suffer from heavier air pollution. We wondered, ‘How can we use a new information source to help people understand [the severity of] the pollution around?’” said graduate student Shike Mei, who, along with Han Li and Jing Fan Mei, conducted a study published in the IEEE/ACM International Conference on Advances in Social Network Analysis and Mining in August.

To map pollution in areas where information is lacking, they mined the Chinese Twitter-like site Sina Weibo for posts related to air quality. The team developed a machine-learning model that would recognize posts that contained terms suggesting a bad air day — words like “haze,” “indoors” or “pollution” — and those, such as “sunshine,” that indicated clearer conditions.

The model uses the word choices and the location of their authors to estimate the air quality of a given city or region. It also factors in time-and-space correlation among cities and days, since pollution flare-ups typically cover large amounts of territory and can last for days.

Between 350,000 and 500,000 Chinese citizens die prematurely each year because of air pollution, according to the medical journal The Lancet. The country also routinely dominates the list of the world’s most polluted cities and must take extreme measures just to give the appearance that the air quality is good.

Ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit held in Beijing earlier this month, Chinese state media said authorities shut down factories within 125 miles of the city center, and they halted construction work during the summit. Cars with even and odd numbered license plates were allowed on the road only on alternate days. Government workers and students were told to take a six-day holiday.

The Wisconsin researchers tested their system over 30 days in the 108 cities in China that do keep what is called air quality index data. They found the number of tweets indicating either bad or good air correlated with the levels pollution in those cities.

Photo taken on February 25, 2014

Jerry Zhu, an associate professor in the university’s department of computer sciences and the lead researcher on the project, said the next step is for air pollution experts to take their mathematical model and apply it to the “real world.” That is, tracking social media sentiment to gauge air quality in many of China’s smaller cities, which are often among the most polluted and the least likely to have the resources for measurements.

“I wouldn’t venture to say this will solve any air pollution problem anytime soon,” Zhu said. “Social media contains valuable information that compliments other sources of information. This can be used to combat air pollution.”

Mark Dredze and his team at Johns Hopkins University are also mining social media data in China to study air pollution. But rather than trying to quantify pollution levels, they are using the same methods to understand how citizens perceive pollution.

“Are they noticing it? Are they changing their behavior? Are they getting sick?” Dredze said of the work that is ongoing.

“The reason we care about perception is that it is what drives policy,” he said. “We want to know where people are most sensitive about the problem and, in those cities, there will be more pressure to do something about it.”


Wu Lihong was jailed for speaking out about pollution in China’s Lake Tai

Despite Persecution, Guardian of Lake Tai Spotlights China’s Polluters

The New York Times

ZHOUTIE, China — By autumn, the stench of Lake Tai and the freakish green glow of its waters usually fade with the ebbing of the summer heat, but this year is different. Standing on a concrete embankment overlooking a fetid, floating array of plastic bottles, foam takeout containers, flip-flops and the occasional dead fish, Wu Lihong, the lake’s unofficial guardian, shook his head in disgust.

“If you jumped into this water, you’d shed a layer of skin,” he said one recent afternoon. “The government claims they are cleaning up the lake, but as you can see, it’s just not true.”

Seven years after a toxic algae bloom forced millions of people who depended on the lake to find alternative sources of drinking water, Lake Tai, which straddles two provinces in the Yangtze River delta, remains a pungent symbol of China’s inability to tackle some of its most serious environmental problems.

Since the 2007 crisis, which drew widespread domestic news media coverage and prompted a special meeting of the cabinet, the government has spent billions of dollars cleaning up the lake, the country’s third-largest freshwater body. But environmentalists say it has little to show for the money. Hundreds of chemical plants, textile mills and ceramics workshops continue to dump their noxious effluent into the waterways that feed into Lake Tai.

Read the rest:


Computer spying malware uncovered with ‘stealth’ features

November 23, 2014


(Reuters) – An advanced malicious software application has been uncovered that since 2008 was used to spy on private companies, governments, research institutes and individuals in 10 countries, anti virus software maker Symantec Corp said in a report on Sunday.

The Mountain View, California-based maker of Norton anti virus products said its research showed that a “nation state” was likely the developer of the malware called Regin, or Backdoor. Regin, but Symantec did not identify any countries or victims.

Symantec said Regin’s design “makes it highly suited for persistent, long-term surveillance operations against targets,” and was withdrawn in 2011 but resurfaced from 2013 onward.

The malware uses several “stealth” features “and even when its presence is detected, it is very difficult to ascertain what it is doing,” according to Symantec. It said “many components of Regin remain undiscovered and additional functionality and versions may exist.”

Almost half of all infections occurred at addresses of Internet service providers, the report said. It said the targets were customers of the companies rather than the companies themselves. About 28 percent of targets were in telecoms while other victims were in the energy, airline, hospitality and research sectors, Symantec said.

Symantec described the malware as having five stages, each “hidden and encrypted, with the exception of the first stage.” It said “each individual stage provides little information on the complete package. Only by acquiring all five stages is it possible to analyze and understand the threat.”

Regin also uses what is called a modular approach that allows it to load custom features tailored to targets, the same method applied in other malware, such as Flamer and Weevil (The Mask), the anti virus company said. Some of its features were also similar to Duqu malware, uncovered in September 2011 and related to a computer worm called Stuxnet, discovered the previous year.

Cybersecurity is a sensitive topic for businesses in the United States, where there have been several breaches of major companies and customer information. The U.S. government and private cyber intelligence firms have said they suspect state-backed hackers in China or Russia may be responsible.

Symantec said Russia and Saudi Arabia accounted for about half of the confirmed infections of the Regin malware and the other countries were Mexico, Ireland, India, Iran, Afghanistan, Belgium, Austria and Pakistan.

(Reporting by Grant McCool, editing by G Crosse)

Prayer and Meditation for Monday, November 24, 2014 — Giving Your All For Christ

November 23, 2014


Saint Andrew Dŭng-Lạc was a Vietnamese priest executed by beheading in the reign of Minh Mạng. He is a saint and martyr of the Catholic Church,

He was born Trần An Dũng in 1795, taking the name Andrew at his baptism (Anrê Dũng) and was ordained a priest on 15 March 1823.[1] During persecution, Andrew Dũng changed his name to Lạc to avoid capture, and thus he is memorialised as Andrew Dũng-Lạc (Anrê Dũng Lạc).[2] His memorial is 24 November; this memorial celebrates all of the Vietnamese Martyrs of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries (1625–1886).

Memorial of Saint Andrew Dŭng-Lạc, Priest, and Companions, Martyrs
Lectionary: 503

Reading 1 rv 14:1-3, 4b-5


I, John, looked and there was the Lamb standing on Mount Zion,
and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand
who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.
I heard a sound from heaven
like the sound of rushing water or a loud peal of thunder.
The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps.
They were singing what seemed to be a new hymn before the throne,
before the four living creatures and the elders.
No one could learn this hymn except the hundred and forty-four thousand
who had been ransomed from the earth.
These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes.
They have been ransomed as the first fruits
of the human race for God and the Lamb.
On their lips no deceit has been found; they are unblemished.

Responsorial Psalm ps 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6


R. (see 6) Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
The LORD’s are the earth and its fullness;
the world and those who dwell in it.
For he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?
or who may stand in his holy place?
He whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean,
who desires not what is vain.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
He shall receive a blessing from the LORD,
a reward from God his savior.
Such is the race that seeks for him,
that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.

Gospel lk 21:1-4


When Jesus looked up he saw some wealthy people
putting their offerings into the treasury
and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins.
He said, “I tell you truly,
this poor widow put in more than all the rest;
for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.”
He noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins
First Thoughts from Peace and Freedom
Many before us, like The Martyrs of Vietnam and the old widow in today’s gospel, gave everything for Christ.
What do we need to do? We need to “Go the extra mile” and “pour ourselves out” for our fellow man too.
Here’s one of the finest prayer to get us started each day:
God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank you, God, Amen!

Commentary on Luke 21:1-4 From Living Space


Today we begin the last chapter of Luke’s gospel preceding his account of the Passion. Jesus is still in Jerusalem and spending time preaching in the Temple.

As he stood one day near the treasury where there were 13 trumpet-shaped boxes to receive the offerings, he saw among all the well-off people dropping in their (surplus) money a poor widow who put in two copper coins of very small value.

Jesus immediately comments on her generosity and faith. The others were putting in offerings which they could easily afford; it would have involved no diminution of their lifestyle, no hardship of any kind. But this woman was a poor widow and therefore belonging to the least advantaged of all people in that society. In fact, poverty and widowhood were, for many, almost synonymous.

And this woman put in everything she had. It has been observed that she had two coins and she put in both. In the circumstances, she need only have put in one and kept the other for her own needs.
Jesus sets her up as an example of someone who put her total trust in God’s providence. She gave everything to him.

No one is saying that one should literally follow her example – it could be seen as irresponsible. We are told to love our neighbours – but also ourselves. At the same time, how often when we do dip into our pockets do we really give to others money that we were thinking of spending on something we do not really need? Or are we like the people in today’s story who casually give money they will not miss in the slightest? There is a difference between ‘giving alms’ and sharing our goods and good fortune with those who have less, a lot less, than us.

St Paul, writing to the Christians of Corinth and appealing for help for poorer Christian communities, says in part:

For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has – not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written:

Whoever had much did not have more,

And whoever had little did not have less. (Exodus 16:18).

This is a nice description of what justice in our society means.

There have been Christians who closely followed the widow’s example. Mother Teresa absolutely refused to have any stable income for her work and she was not been alone in this. And it has often been remarked that it is people at the lower end of our society who are most generous in supporting needy causes.

The fact that this story comes just before the Passion has led many to see in this woman a symbol of Jesus himself, who will, in the words of the Letter to the Philippians, “empty himself” completely and surrender his whole life totally into the hands of his Father, holding nothing back. But even during Jesus’ life he seems to have had no private means of any kind. At the same time, he was not a beggar. He simply lived a life where he gave totally of himself and others gave him in return just what he needed at any particular time.

Clearly, most people cannot literally follow the example of Jesus but there are many examples of people who did. If only we, too, could have that kind of trust, that kind of generosity, that ability to share and that kind of freedom – freedom from material ‘wants’ and freedom for others.

The richest person is not the one who has accumulated much but the one who has the least needs. In this sense, this poor widow was rich indeed.




Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
• In today’s Gospel Jesus weaves the praise of a poor widow who knows how to share more than the rich. Many poor people today do the same. People say: “The poor do not let the poor starve to death”. But, some times, even this is not possible. A woman who went to live out in the country in the periphery of a city in Brazil, in Paraiba, said: “In the country the people are poor, but they always have something to share with the poor who knock at their door. Now that I am here in the city, when I see a poor person who knocks on the door, I hide because I feel ashamed, because I have nothing in the house to share with him!” On one side, there are rich people who have everything but do not know how to share; on the other side, there are poor people who have hardly anything, but who want to share the little they have.
• At the beginning, in the Church, the great majority the first Christian communities, were formed by poor people. (1 Co 1, 26). After a short time, well- to-do people also entered these communities, and this caused several problems. The social tensions which were present in the Roman Empire began to appear also in the life of the communities. That manifested itself, for example, when they met together to celebrate the supper (1Co 11, 20-22), or when they held the meeting (Jm 2, 1-4). This is why, the teaching of the act of the widow was very actual, both for them as well as for us today.
• Luke 21, 1-2: The widow’s mite. Jesus was before the treasure in the Temple and observed people who put their offering into the treasury.
The poor put in a few pennies, the rich offerings of great value. The Treasury of the Temple received much money. All gave something for the maintenance of the worship, to support the clergy and for the preservation of the building. Part of this money was used to help the poor, because at that time there was no social security. The poor lived at the mercy of public charity. The persons who had the greatest needs were the orphans and the widows. They depended for everything on the charity of others, but even in this way, they tried to share with others the little that they had. Thus, a very poor widow put her offering into the treasury of the Temple; just two pennies!
• Luke 21, 3-4: The comment of Jesus. Which is worth more: the few pennies of the widow or the great amount of the rich? According to the majority, the money of the rich was more useful for charity, than the few pennies of the widow. For example, the disciples thought that the problem of the people could be resolved only with much money. On the occasion of the multiplication of the loaves, they had suggested to buy bread to feed the people (Lk 9, 13; Mk 6, 37).
Philip succeeded in saying: “Two-hundred denarii of bread are not sufficient even for everyone to have a piece of bread” (Jn 6, 7). In fact, for anyone who thinks like that, the two pennies of the widow do not serve for anything. But Jesus says: “I tell you truly, this poor widow has put in more than any of them.” Jesus has diverse criteria. Calling the attention of the disciples on the act of the widow, he teaches them and us where we have to look for the manifestation of God’s will: in the poor and in sharing. This is a very important criterion: “In fact all these have put in money they could spare, but she in her poverty has put in all she had to live on”.
• Alms, sharing, riches. The practice of giving alms was very important for the Jews. It was considered to be a “good work”, because the law of the Old Testament said: “Of course, there will never cease to be poor people in the country, and that is why I am giving you this command: Always be open handed with your brother, and with anyone in your country who is in need and poor” (Dt 15, 11). The alms put into the treasury of the Temple, whether for the worship or for the needy, orphans or widows, were considered a pleasing act to God (Eccl 35, 2; cf. Eccl 17, 17; 29, 12; 40, 24). To give alms was a way to recognize that all goods of the earth belong to God and that we are only the administrators of these gifts. But the tendency to accumulate continues to exist and is very strong; it always arises anew in the human heart. Conversion is always necessary.
This is why Jesus said to the rich young man: “Go, sell all you possess, give it to the poor!” (Mk 10, 21). In the other Gospels the same requirement is repeated: “Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Get yourselves purses that do not wear out, treasure that will not fail you, in heaven where no thief can reach it and no moth destroy it” (Lk 12, 33-34; Mt 6, 9-20). The practice of sharing and of solidarity is one of the characteristics which the Spirit of Jesus wants to realize in the community. The result of the effusion of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was that: “None of the members was ever in want, as all those who owned land or houses would sell them, and bring the money from the sale of them, to present it to the apostles” (Ac 4,34-35ª; 2,44-45).
This money deposited at the feet of the Apostles was not accumulated but “it was then distributed to any who might be in need” (Ac 4, 35 b; 2, 45). The entry of the rich into the Christian communities on the one side rendered possible the expansion of Christianity, providing better conditions for the missionary voyages. But on the other side, the tendency to accumulate blocked the movement of solidarity and of sharing. James helped people to become aware if they were following a mistaken path: “Well now you rich! Lament, weep for the miseries that are coming to you. Your wealth is rotting; your clothes are all moth-eaten.” (Jm 5,1-3). To undertake the way to the Kingdom, all need to become pupils of that poor widow, who shared with others that which was necessary for her living (Lk 21, 4).
Personal questions
• Which are the difficulties and the joys that you find in your life in practicing solidarity and sharing with others?
• How is it that the two pennies of the widow can be worth more than the large amounts of the rich? Which is the message of this text for us today?
Concluding prayer
Be sure that Yahweh is God, he made us,
we belong to him, his people,
the flock of his sheepfold. (Ps 100,3)
Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore



We have just celebrated the Feast of Christ the King when we profess our loyalty and devotion to Jesus.  We proclaim Him as our Lord and King of the universe.  In today’s first reading, we read how the saints in heaven would glorify God day and night and bow down in adoration.  Their devotion to Christ was manifested in their fidelity to their virginity, following the Lamb wherever he went and “never allowed a lie to pass their lips and no fault could be found in them.”  In other words, they lived a life of purity, holiness in their total devotion to Christ.  This is the meaning of virginity, total consecration to Christ who is the bridegroom of the Church.

The responsorial psalm also speaks of a people who long to see the face of God and stand on the Holy Mountain.  They know that the condition for seeing the face of God is one “whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain.”  Only such people can ascend the mountain of the Lord or stand in His holy place.  This is because those who have kept themselves entirely for the Lord make themselves available for Him to dwell in them just as the psalmist says, “The Lord’s are the earth and its fullness; the world and those who dwell in it.”

Finally, the gospel speaks of the exemplary devotion of the poverty-stricken widow who gave everything she had to the temple, indeed, from the little she had “all that she had to live on” unlike the rich people who gave what they had over.   She gave all that she possessed so that she could possess God.  She gave away temporal goods for what is eternal.  Although poor, she was wealthier than all the rich people because she was rich in the love of God.  She exemplifies the saints in heaven who have given themselves without reservation to Christ.  Hence, she was praised by Christ as the one who had given everything and therefore was most pleasing to the Lord.

What about us?  Do we give ourselves so generously and totally to the Lord like the virgins and the widow?  Do we really long to see the face of God and are we prepared to do everything to see His face, which means keeping ourselves pure, free from known sins and living a life of integrity and honesty?  Indeed, would we do everything and anything for the Lord?  Isn’t this what we mean when we speak of Sentire Cum Ecclesia, loving, living, praying and feeling with the Church because the Church is our own mother and the bride of Christ?  By extension, do we love Christ above everything else in this life?

I remember someone once shared with me how when he was a convert, he was scandalized during a Chinese New Year mass.  As you know in Chinese religions, believers always give the best offerings to God.  They would never think of giving a second class offering to the gods lest they insult the deities.  However as this person shared, the offerings that were prepared for the celebration were not of the best grade.   The fruits that were offered during the Mass were not of the best quality.  The reason given was that it was only a symbol and therefore it was acceptable.  Moreover, the priests would be eating them, not God.

Such a situation would never happen in other religions.  The Jews, like other religions, also celebrate the harvest festival in which they give the first and best fruits of their labour to God in order to acknowledge that God is the Lord of the harvest. Yes, in all religions, money is spent first on God before people.  This accounts for the beautiful, magnificent and majestic mosques, Chinese temples, churches, basilicas that we see in Asia and Europe.  In those days, when man had great reverence and devotion to God, they would sacrifice everything for the glory of God, even if they were poor.

Even we Catholics used to give such kind of reverence to God.  On Sundays, we would always wear our Sunday best to go to Church.  In our liturgical celebrations, we take great pains to ensure only the best is used for worship.  Hence, the instructions from Rome governing vessels and vestments are meant to preserve the dignity and solemnity of the celebration e.g. golden chalice, clean vessels, linens and intricately embroidered chasubles and vestments.  We were also taught from young to give donations to the Church.  In fact, Christians still give 10% of their salary as tithing to the church as a symbolic reminder that all they have come from God alone.  What about us? Do we give anything that we have materially back to God?  How generous are you in your contribution towards the maintenance of the Church and the work of evangelization?

But today after Vatican II, the situation seems to have changed.  In the name of simplicity and poverty, we have stripped our altars of practically all ornaments.  We rationalize and convince ourselves that the externals are not important.  What is important is the interior disposition.  So we need not pay attention to the external signs.  God judges our hearts not our actions.  We tend to denigrate the importance of sacramentals, of signs and gestures in worship.  We focus on meditation and the inner life.

But honestly, are we really sincere in what we are saying?  Is the lack of external devotion truly a reflection of simplicity in our lifestyle or more a manifestation of a heart that has grown cold, a lack of love, generosity, reverence and awe before God the Almighty?  When our exterior disposition lacks fervour, can we believe that we are deeply in love with God? Then why is it that we are dressed much better when we go for a dinner than when we come for the heavenly banquet?  Sometimes, familiarity breeds contempt.

Yes, today, we must truly examine ourselves with regard to the depth of our love for God, especially those of us who are serving full time in the Church or even as volunteers.  Simply because we are serving in church, we tend to presume we have already dedicated our lives to God and so there is nothing else for us to give.  But have we really given ourselves to God completely?  Have we so given ourselves that there is nothing else that we have reserved from the Lord?

Indeed, the way we live our life does not seem that it belongs to God but that it is ours still.  There is a danger that sometimes ministry in the Church is seen more like another profession where we work for a certain number of hours and once that is done, the rest of the time is ours to do what we like.  No, serving Christ is more than doing Church work or being involved in church ministry, but to consecrate our entire life, our words, thoughts and deeds for the glory of God, whether we are at work, in the office, at home, in schools or in Church.  In the final analysis, it is not about giving donations or the use of sacramentals and external manifestations of our faith.  What is important is whether what we do express the interior devotion we have for God.

Indeed, today, we are invited to imitate the saints in heaven in their fidelity, singular devotion and selfless commitment and loyalty to Christ our king.  Like the psalmist, we pray for purity and growth in holiness through a life of love and honesty.   Most of all, let us be inspired by the widow in today’s gospel who gave herself totally to God even at the expense of her own needs.  If Christ is our King and our all, then let us give Him all we have and all we are.  Like St Ignatius of Loyola, he prayed the prayer of surrender thus, “Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess You have given me: I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more.”  We can also learn from him to pray the prayer of generosity as well.  “Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for reward, save that of knowing that I do your will.”

What is necessary for this generosity to take root in our lives?  It is this; faith.  Only faith in God’s providential love for us will enable us to let go of our protectionist attitude and make us depend on Him alone who is the source of all good and the giver of all our needs.  If the saints and the widow could let go of their lives and their resources, it was because they knew what they have came from the Lord and that by returning everything to the Lord, somehow the Lord would continue to bless and look after them.  Let us pray for this faith in God’s providential love.

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Martyrs of Vietnam

Several groups of martyrs also called the Martyrs of Annam who were slain for the faith in Vietnam from 1798 until 1861. Between 1798 and 1853, sixty-four were martyred, receiving beatification in 1900. Those who died in a second group, between 1859 and 1861, were beatified in 1909.


There were twenty-eight courageous men and women who died for the faith during a long period of persecution. A Portuguese missionary arrived in Vietnam, once called Annam, Indo-China, Cochin-China, and Tonkin, in 1533. An imperial edict in Vietnam forbade Christianity, and it was not until 1615 that the Jesuits were able to establish a permanent mission there, in the central region of the country. In 1627, a Jesuit went north to establish another mission. By the time this missionary, Father Alexander de Rhodes, was expelled from the land in 1630, he had baptized 6,700 Vietnamese.


In that same year the first Christian martyr was beheaded, and more were executed in 1644 and 1645 . Father Rhodes returned to Vietnam but was banished again in 1645. He then went to Paris, France, where the Paris Seminary for Foreign Missions was founded. Priests arrived in Vietnam, and the faith grew. Between 1798 and 1853, a period of intense political rivalry and civil wars, sixty-four known Christians were executed. These were beatified in 1900.


In 1833, all Christians were ordered to renounce the faith, and to trample crucifixes underfoot. That edict started a persecution of great intensity that was to last for half a century. Some twenty-eight martyrs from this era were beatified in 1909. The bishop, priests, and Europeans were given “a hundred wounds,” disemboweled, beaten, and slain in many other grisly fashions.


For a brief period in 1841 the persecution abated as France threatened to intervene with warships. However, in 1848, prices were placed on the heads of the missionaries by a new emperor. Two priests, Father Augustin Schoffier and Father Bonnard, were beheaded as a result. In 1855, the persecution raged, and the following year wholesale massacres began. Thousands of Vietnamese Christians were martyred, as well as four bishops and twenty-eight Dominicans.


It is estimated that between 1857 and 1862, 115 native priests, 100 Vietnamese nuns, and more than 5,000 of the faithful were martyred. Convents, churches, and schools were razed, and as many as 40,000 Catholics were dispossessed of their lands and exiled from their own regions to starve in wilderness areas. The martyrdoms ended with the Peace of 1862, brought about by the surrendering of Saigon and other regions to France and the payment of indemnities to France and Spain. It is now reported that the “Great Massacre,” the name given to the persecution of the Church in Vietnam, resulted in the following estimated deaths:


Eastern Vietnam – fifteen priests, 60 cathechists, 250 nuns, 24,000 Catholic lay men and women. Southern Vietnam – ten priests, 8,585 Catholic men and women. Southern Tonkin region – eight French missionaries, one native priest, 63 cathechists, and 400 more Christians slain – in all, an estimated 4,799 were martyred and 1,181 died of starvation. Some 10,000 Catholics were forced to flee the area. Pope John Paul II canonized 117 Martyrs of Vietnam on June 19,1988.

Obama “Stole A March” On Republicans With Immigration Gambit; How Might They Respond?

November 23, 2014


The Associated Press

DENVER (AP) — Republicans in search of a way to oppose President Barack Obama’s moves on immigration without alienating the nation’s fast-growing population of Hispanic voters can find a playbook in Colorado.

GOP Rep. Cory Gardner won election to the Senate in the midterms in a state where 14 percent of voters are Hispanic. His GOP colleague, Rep. Mike Coffman, won re-election in a district where 14 percent of residents were born in foreign countries.

Sen.-elect, U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., delivers his victory speech to supporters during a GOP election night gathering in Denver, Colo. Republicans in search of a way to oppose President Barack Obama’s moves on immigration without alienating the nation’s fast-growing population of Hispanic voters can find a playbook in Colorado. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

Both opposed last year’s failed bipartisan effort in the Senate to overhaul the nation’s immigration system, a top priority of immigrant-rights groups, especially its centerpiece: a pathway to citizenship for most of the 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally. Both also spoke warmly of the contributions made by immigrants and shifted to the center on other immigration issues. Coffman even learned Spanish.

Coffman went on to win his race by 9 points. Gardner tied Democratic Sen. Mark Udall in two heavily Hispanic counties that normally vote overwhelmingly Democratic on his way to a narrow victory. Democrats acknowledge the two Republicans benefited from a change in how they talk about immigration, departing from a bombastic approach that emphasizes border security and deportations.

“Villainization is a huge issue,” said James Mejia, former president of Denver’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “If you can stop being nasty about it, people will listen to the things you have to say.”

For years, Republicans have struggled to balance a desire to improve the party’s standing among Hispanic and Asian-American voters and the rock-solid opposition among conservative to anything they consider “amnesty” for people living here illegally.

Hispanic and Asian-Americans overwhelmingly voted Democratic in 2012, after GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney called for some immigrants to practice “self-deportation” and Obama responded by allowing many immigrants brought to the country illegally as children to stay and work.

Colorado’s Hispanic voters had helped Democrats win every race for Senate, governor and president since 2004. Earlier this year, some Colorado Republicans feared they were in for a repeat when Ken Buck, who as a county district attorney took aggressive action against immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, started the race for the GOP Senate nomination as the favorite.

But Gardner cleared the field when he entered the Senate race and, during the summer, took steps toward the center. After initially voting to repeal Obama’s executive order allowing children brought to the country illegally to work in the U.S., he voted in August to uphold it and said he supports citizenship for such immigrants who served in the military. He also said he’d be open to letting people who are in the country illegally “earn” legal residence, though not necessarily citizenship.

Perhaps as important, Gardner spoke warmly of immigrants. Asked at an event whether jobs should go to Americans or people living here illegally, he said the system needs to serve those who want to build a better life for their families.

Some immigrant rights groups were frustrated that Udall’s campaign did not do more to highlight his differences with Gardner. Republicans, meanwhile, said if they can talk about immigration without insulting immigrant voters, it allows them to address other priorities.

“Immigration is important, but not as important as a strong economy that creates jobs,” said Jerry Natividad, a Colorado businessman who sits on the Republican National Committee’s Hispanic outreach committee.

Coffman agreed to participate in a Spanish-language television debate against his Democratic challenger, who is fluent in the language. Like Gardner, he backed a proposal in the House that would have created a path to citizenship for some immigrants who served in the military.

In this Nov. 4, 2014 file photo, Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., speaks to the crowd at a GOP election night gathering in Denver. Republicans in search of a way to oppose President Barack Obama’s moves on immigration without alienating the nation’s fast-growing population of Hispanic voters can find a playbook in Colorado. Coffman won re-election in a district where 14 percent of residents were born in foreign countries. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider, File)

He reiterated his support for that proposal in a statement last week that, on one hand, criticized Obama for using immigration as a political wedge issue but also rejected forcing a government shutdown — a popular idea among immigration hardliners — to stop the president’s actions.

The RNC sent field staff to organize in Colorado’s Hispanic community and the state party focused on turning out voters in the Democratic strongholds of Adams and Pueblo counties, which are respectively 36 and 41 percent Hispanic. Gardner’s campaign and other conservative groups spent $1 million on Spanish-language ads, featuring GOP luminaries such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

“That helped win the confidence of a segment of our electorate that is not only of great importance but has contributed so much to our state,” said Ryan Call, the Spanish-speaking chairman of the Colorado Republican party.

Patty Kupfer, the Denver-based managing director of the immigrant rights group America’s Voice, acknowledged that Gardner and Coffman were successful “muddying the issue” in the election. But she argued they succeeded in part because Obama’s previous inaction had angered immigrants. Now that Obama is taking action, duplicating that success won’t be as easy.

“I just don’t see how Republicans can use the same strategy and expect to win at this point,” she said.


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Obama’s immigration plan may give him the upper hand for now

November 23, 2014

Republicans in Congress are mad as heck about President Obama’s executive order deferring deportation for millions of immigrants in the US illegally. But aside from sharp rhetoric, they haven’t yet figured out what to do about it.

By Brad Knickerbocker 
Christian Science Monitor

US President Barack Obama delivers remarks on his executive action on immigration at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas.

US President Barack Obama delivers remarks on his executive action on immigration at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas on Friday, November 21, 2014. Photo: Isaac Brekken/AP

For the moment, at least, here’s what it looks like after President Obama challenged Congress on immigration.

Republican lawmakers spent a day hollering their objections to Obama’s executive order giving several million undocumented immigrants at least temporary relief from the threat of deportation, then left town for a long Thanksgiving break. They’ll be back in Washington for about 10 days in December, then off again.

Obama, meanwhile, continues to use the bully pulpit on immigration reform, seeming to gain energy on an issue which (along with the Affordable Care Act) may define his presidency.

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He was in Las Vegas Friday, touting his action on immigration before an enthusiastic audience in a campaign-style setting. Saturday, he beat the drum in his weekly radio/Internet address. This coming week, he’ll be on the road again promoting immigration reform.

Some headline writers are scoring the Congress-White House immigration fight – round one, at least – in Obama’s favor.

The Associated Press: “Stymied? Republicans seek immigration response.” And this: “Analysis: Obama holds upper hand on immigration.”

The Boston Globe: “Obama’s immigration move highlights risks for GOP in 2016.” “Lack of immigration plan flusters GOP.”

Can it last? Not likely.

Early in the new year, Republicans will take control of the Senate and strengthen their grasp on the House.

Also, there’s widespread public unease with the confrontational way Obama is approaching immigration. Most Americans favor a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already living in the US, but they don’t approve of executive action to get there, recent polls show.

But the problem for the GOP, as The Hill newspaper puts it, are “unruly conservatives in Congress.”

House GOP leaders know they can’t control them,” The Hill reports, “they can only hope to contain them.” That’s why party leaders are batting back any talk of impeachment or government shut-down over immigration – actions that would only confirm public perceptions about political gridlock.

A broader problem for Republicans is the Hispanic vote, just 27 percent of which went for Mitt Romney in 2012.

Republicans made inroads with Hispanics in some states, such as Georgia and Texas, in this month’s midterm elections. But as the Boston Globe points out, Hispanic voters chose Democratic candidates by a 2-to-1 ratio, according to national exit polls of congressional races.

As the GOP acknowledged in its post-2012 self-assessment, “It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies.”

That’s why most Republicans are focusing on Obama’s go-it-alone immigration order – “unconstitutional amnesty” (Sen. Ted Cruz) that could “damage the presidency itself” (House Speaker John Boehner) – rather than on the specifics of what he’s proposing.

In his radio address Saturday, Obama repeated what he’d said in his primetime speech Thursday evening, then again Friday in Las Vegas: That the Senate had passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill more than a year ago, but that Republican leaders in the House had refused to allow a vote.

“That bill would have secured our border, while giving undocumented immigrants who already live here a pathway to citizenship if they paid a fine, started paying their taxes, and went to the back of the line. Independent experts said it would grow our economy, and shrink our deficits,” he said.

(In its weekly address, Republicans went with Rep. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana talking about the Keystone XL Pipeline, which failed in the Senate this week.)

Less than a month after midterm elections where they retook the Senate and amassed a historic majority in the House, Republicans find themselves stymied by a lame duck president whose unilateral move to curb deportations for millions left previously dispirited Democrats cheering and the GOP with no obvious response, the AP reports.

Republicans acknowledge that they’re at a disadvantage given that any legislative solution they settle on would be subject to a veto by Obama that they could not likely overturn.

Among suggestions from GOP lawmakers: Block Obama’s nominees needing Senate confirmation; file a lawsuit against the White House (as congressional Republicans did Friday on the Affordable Care Act); cut funding to Department of Homeland Security agencies; or pass step-by-step immigration reform to override Obama’s executive actions – something Obama might be forced to live with.

But as Politico puts it, “GOP leaders have declined to broadcast any plans as they take the temperature of rank-and-file Republicans, who range in ideology from hardliners agitating for a direct confrontation with Obama to deal-making centrists who fret a harsh GOP overreaction will make it impossible to make bipartisan progress on anything next year.”

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China Rejects Appeal By Uighur Scholar Ilham Tohti — Continues To Hide Uighurs Detained Or Who “Disappear”

November 23, 2014

Chinese authorities in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang on Friday rejected an appeal by jailed Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti against his life sentence for “separatism.”

The former professor at the Central University for Nationalities in Beijing was sentenced to life in prison, along with deprivation of political rights and confiscation of all his assets, following his conviction on a charge of “separatism” by the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court in Xinjiang on Sept. 23.

Tohti, 44, immediately voiced protest when the verdict and sentence was announced, despite arguments from his defense team that much of the evidence against him was dubious, and launched an appeal.

But the Urumqi High People’s Court rejected his appeal on Friday at a behind-closed-doors reading of its judgment, despite repeated bids by Tohti’s defense team to have the appeal heard in court.

Ilham Tohti. Credit Andy Wong/Associated Press

“[Tohti] became very passionate and argued a number of points,” his lawyer Li Fangping, who was present at the meeting, told RFA after the decision was announced.

“He said that this was an unfair judgment and that not all of the material facts of the case had been established,” Li said.

“He said they were trampling the law.”

Higher court

Tohti has already said repeatedly that he will appeal to a higher court, if this appeal is rejected, Li said.

Tohti’s older brother and his wife were allowed to attend the meeting in the police-run Urumqi No. 1 Detention center, Li added.

Initially, the authorities had ruled that no one but Tohti, his lawyers, court officials and law-enforcement officials, could attend, but the two relatives were invited at the last minute following repeated pleas by defense lawyers, he said.

Li said he had fully expected the appeal to be rejected.

“Ilham wrote 100 pages of argument to support his appeal, but the judge didn’t even take it from him,” he said. “He just handed out the written judgment.”

“I don’t think that they are sincere about a full and fair trial if they can ignore important material like that,” Li added.

“There are more holes in this case than a leaky sieve.”

Ilham Tohti in 2013. Photo by Andy Wong Associated Press

Move to prison

Defense lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan, who was appearing in court elsewhere at the time of the appeal meeting, said it’s now likely that Tohti will to be moved to a prison to serve his life sentence.

“The judgment has just become effective, and the rules state that he will be moved to a prison with a period of one month,” Liu said.

Tohti’s Beijing-based wife Guzelnur, who has been left with the care of the couple’s young sons, said she is bitterly disappointed by the decision.

“I had really hoped they would cut the sentence a bit,” she told RFA shortly after receiving the news.

“My mind is so confused right now, and I find it hard to think straight,” she said. “I am still waiting for further news.”

“I don’t know anything about what went on there.”

Tohti’s conviction sparked a wave of condemnation in China and from the international community, with human rights activists saying he never received the benefit of a fair trial, and that he should never have been tried in the first place for exercising his constitutional right to free expression.

Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia said he was very angry at the decision, although it had come as no surprise.

“Xinjiang is full of violent acts, and yet here you have a Uyghur who is advocating peaceful dialogue and mutual understanding,” Hu said. “He is the conscience of the Uyghur people.”

“His imprisonment under China’s inhuman stability maintenance regime shows us that the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party doesn’t accept peaceful dialogue,” he said.

“So now, Uyghurs have nothing left but violence as a way of making their voices heard.”

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exile World Uyghur Congress (WUC) group, said he had expected Tohti’s appeal to be rejected.

“The verdict and sentence handed to him by the Chinese authorities is entirely politically motivated,” Raxit said. “They are just using a legal form.”

“The message from the Chinese government is that there will be no change to its repressive policies targeting Uyghurs.”

‘Travesty of justice’

The Washington, D.C.-based Uyghur American Association (UAA) asked the international community on Friday to “step up condemnation of China’s persecution of Ilham Tohti and his family and publicly express its concern over the fate of his students who are awaiting trial.

“Even with the disapproval of the international community over Ilham Tohti’s case still ringing in its ears, the Chinese authorities proceeded to deliver an appeal verdict that is clearly a travesty of justice and motivated by political considerations,” said UAA president Alim Seytoff in a statement.

“The calls for Ilham Tohti’s immediate and unconditional release need to be made bluntly to Chinese officials. Otherwise, the fate of not only Ilham Tohti and his students is perilous, but also any other Uyghur who exercises the fundamental right to freedom of speech.”

The Xinjiang region, which is home to millions of Turkic-speaking Uyghurs, has seen an upsurge in violence that has left hundreds dead since 2012, and which China has blamed on terrorists and Islamist insurgents seeking to establish an independent state.

But rights groups accuse the Chinese authorities of heavy-handed rule in Xinjiang, including violent police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people.

Chinese president Xi Jinping announced a harsh, one-year anti-terrorism campaign in May, following a bombing in the regional capital Urumqi that killed 31 people and injured 90.

Exile Uyghur groups have repeatedly said the root causes of recent violence in Xinjiang lie with China’s treatment of peaceful Uyghur dissidents.

Radio Free Asia

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


Prosecution of Uighur Students Underscores Perils of Chinese Clampdown

The New York Times

BEIJING — Ambitious and fluent in Mandarin, the young Uighur strivers from the Xinjiang region of northwest China had earned coveted slots at the nation’s top university for ethnic minorities. Most were the first in their families to attend college.

But since last January, at least five men and women who attended Minzu University in Beijing have been incommunicado after they were swept up by Chinese security forces alongside their mentor, Ilham Tohti, a prominent Uighur professor who in September was convicted of separatism and sentenced to life in prison.

Minzu University, Beijing

Among those in detention are a young Uighur couple who fell in love while studying at Minzu University, a web designer from the Yi minority of China’s mountainous southwest and a sociology student whose mother is a Communist Party member. “No one will tell us what is happening to him,” one relative of the sociology student said. “We have nowhere else to turn.”

The White House and international rights advocates have condemned Mr. Tohti’s conviction as politically motivated, noting his reputation as a proponent of nonviolence and ethnic reconciliation. On Friday, Xinjiang’s highest court rejected his appeal.

On Tuesday, at least three of the students are expected to stand trial on charges that their volunteer work for the news website Mr. Tohti ran constituted “splittism” or involved “revealing state secrets,” presumably because some of the articles they translated or posted were critical of government policies in Xinjiang, the turbulent homeland of China’s Turkic-speaking Uighur minority.

Human rights advocates have few illusions that the students will escape serious punishment. “This is potentially one of the biggest tragedies of China’s human rights of the past years,” said William Nee, a China researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong. “These students are scapegoats being used in the prosecution of Tohti, but the evidence that they were part of a network that sought to subvert the state isn’t very compelling.”

Their prosecution, cloaked in intense secrecy, underscores the perils facing Uighurs amid a harsh clampdown on intellectual and religious life in Xinjiang, the vast borderlands that have become a geopolitical linchpin of China’s plans to expand its influence in Central Asia. In recent months, hundreds of young men across the region have been detained by Chinese security forces in a campaign that is ostensibly aimed at stanching jihadist activity but which critics say is often arbitrary and abusive.

In the days after Mr. Tohti’s conviction, three of his students, dressed in orange prison vests, appeared on state-run television to confess that they had exaggerated ethnic tensions on Uighur Online, the website run by Mr. Tohti. In his confession, Perhat Halmurat, the sociology student and a former editor of the website, blamed his teacher for an article he posted about a fight between a Han and Uighur student that had taken place on campus. “His unspeakable goal is to split the country,” he said.

Those who know Mr. Halmurat say he was popular among his classmates and proud of his Uighur heritage. “His bedroom is filled with awards that attest to his academic achievements,” a relative said.

Among the best-known detainees are Mutellip Imin, another sociology student, and his girlfriend, Atikem Rozi, a spirited young woman from the northern city of Hami. In 2012, Ms. Rozi caused a stir after she published an essay about the government’s refusal to issue her a passport, thwarting her plans to study abroad.

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