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Tennessee prepares to execute blind death row inmate

Tennessee prepares to execute blind death row inmateThe execution of a blind man in Tennessee this week would mark only the second time in recent decades that a person without vision has been put to death in the U.S., the death row inmate’s lawyers say. Lee Hall, 53, is scheduled to be electrocuted Thursday in a state that has accelerated the pace of its executions over the past year. Hall had his sight when he entered death row nearly three decades ago, but attorneys for the condemned prisoner say he’s since become functionally blind due to improperly treated glaucoma.



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US navy prepares allies to 'protect navigation' in Gulf

US navy prepares allies to 'protect navigation' in GulfThe United States is training Gulf allies to “protect navigation” in the region’s troubled waterways, as it seeks to build an alliance to contain Iran. Washington’s three-week International Maritime Exercise (IMX), which started on October 21, came after a number of commercial vessels were attacked in the Gulf from May, ratcheting up regional tensions. Washington and other Western powers blamed the incidents on Iran, which has denied any involvement.



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US navy prepares allies to 'protect navigation' in Gulf

US navy prepares allies to 'protect navigation' in GulfThe United States is training Gulf allies to “protect navigation” in the region’s troubled waterways, as Washington seeks to build an alliance of friendly nations to contain Iran. The US’ three-week-long International Maritime Exercise (IMX) that began on October 21 comes after a number of commercial vessels were attacked in the Gulf from May, ratcheting up regional tensions. Washington and other Western powers blamed the incidents on Iran, but Tehran has denied any involvement.



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Russia Prepares the Way for Bashar al-Assad’s Brutal Endgame in Nothern Syria

Russia Prepares the Way for Bashar al-Assad’s Brutal Endgame in Nothern SyriaGAZIANTEP, Turkey—After eight years of Syrian civil war, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, and the displacement of half the Syrian population, U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s decisions have created conditions for Bashar al-Assad’s regime to re-assert control over nearly one-third of the country that had been outside its grip since 2012. Far from reining in U.S. adversaries, Trump’s presidency will likely be remembered as one through which Assad, this century’s greatest mass murderer, managed finally to claw his way back to a position of undisputed authority. Trump Just Enlisted America in a New Axis of EvilThis is the way that’s playing out on the ground in what is, admittedly, still a complicated situation.The news began Tuesday morning with Russian pro-Kremlin journalist Oleg Blokhin streaming a live video from inside the recently abandoned American al-Sa’idi’a base in Syria on the western outskirts of the Manbij countryside. “Good morning to everyone from Manbij,” exclaimed Blokhin. “I’m at the American military base right now, where they were until yesterday morning. Already, we’re here [instead]. We’re going to examine now how they were living here, what they were so busy with, and what’s going on.” A second video would show Blokhin as he mockingly played with a boom barrier at the entrance to the base, appearing to check whether or not it worked. “It’s in good condition,” he assured the cameraman, with a slight grin. Blokhin, who works for the pro-Kremlin ANNA news network, previously covered the activities of Russian private military contractor Wagner as it trained pro-Assad militiamen in January, and later accompanied Russian and pro-Assad forces during the latter’s successful August campaign to take back the town of Khan Sheikhoun. Now, he stood gloating on a former U.S. military base. Other pro-Assad media soon conducted similar tours of other U.S. bases abandoned by American soldiers. Reports throughout the day Tuesday would also claim U.S. troops pulled out of two new additional locations including the eastern town of Tal Baydar and the Kharab Ashak base west of Ain Aissa. Shortly before U.S. troops withdrew, ISIS families still being detained at a nearby prison facility in Ain Aissa reportedly set fires throughout the camp in a renewed attempt to try to escape. In addition to exemplifying the momentous shift underway as Assad’s vital ally Russia finally replaces the United States as the primary party in northern Syria capable of liaising with most all of the parties to the conflict, Blokhin’s livestream carried a special significance for locals in Manbij. Over the past week, including several days after Trump’s shock announcement that U.S. troops would withdraw from Syria, American soldiers at the al-Sa’idi’a base actually continued carrying out near-daily patrols in the western and northern Manbij countryside that helped successfully ward off previous attempts by Syrian regime forces to set up positions in the area. That offered hope to those in Manbij who oppose the regime—that U.S. military institutions might be capable of coercing the Turkish president to adopt a compromise that saw U.S. troops remain in the area until Turkish-backed forces were capable of assuming control. But those hopes along with more than 16 months of U.S.-Turkish diplomacy were dashed Tuesday as the American troops made their final withdrawal from the area, paving the way for Russian and Syrian regime forces to roll in free and unopposed.  Elsewhere, in Ain Aissa and Tal Tamr, towns located along the M4 highway, northern Syria’s main artery and transportation route, Russian and regime forces established permanent checkpoints and bases to ensure control of the strategic route in the face of oncoming Turkish assaults. Those reinforcements appeared to have helped the SDF capture three villages from Turkish-backed forces in the immediate vicinity north of Tal Tamr later that night. While the arrival of regime forces undoubtedly has provided much needed relief for the SDF on several fronts, doing so will come with a cost. As the SDF welcomes more Syrian regime reinforcements into its territory, the group undoubtedly will lose future leverage it would need in order to preserve a role for itself within civil governing institutions throughout northeast Syria. On Monday, the SDF’s largely toothless civil wing, the Syrian Democratic Council, issued a directive to local councils in the area to continue to perform their duties “as previously,” insisting that “nothing has changed” and that the agreement with the regime constituted no more than a temporary military alliance to protect Syria’s borders. However it’s unlikely that the SDF, the Syrian Democratic Council, or other SDF-backed institutions within the group’s self-proclaimed “Autonomous Administration” will be able to preserve any modicum of independence as their reliance on the Assad regime becomes more solidified. And, following the failure of Russian-Turkish negotiations throughout Tuesday to reach a ceasefire between the warring parties, that reliance looks set to intensify. Negotiations between Moscow and Ankara began Tuesday morning following condemnation of Turkey’s campaign by the Kremlin’s special envoy to Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev. A high-ranking Free Syrian Army military source in Manbij told The Daily Beast that Turkey gave orders Tuesday morning to its FSA proxies to halt temporarily their assault while both sides attempted to reach a solution. During that time, numerous pro-regime demonstrations were held in Manbij as the Syrian army sent several armored tanks into the city. According to local sources on the ground, some of these demonstrations were led by pro-regime figures that previously had been arrested by the SDF but were recently released following the Russian and Syrian regime entrance to the city. The Russian-Turkish talks come one day after the official Facebook page for the Russian defense ministry’s Hmeimim base issued a stern warning for Turkey and its allies not to “behave recklessly in entering an open war with government troops.” That was issued shortly after the Russians allegedly concluded an agreement with the SDF to allow Russian and regime troops to enter the cities of Kobani and Manbij. Yet despite the repeated warnings and attempts to hold talks, by Tuesday night Turkish-backed forces re-launched their assault. Thousands of civilians fled the border city of Kobani as a result of renewed Turkish assaults on the city in an attempt by the latter to capture the site of a former U.S. base recently abandoned nearby. Shortly after, our military source would claim renewed orders had been given by Ankara to re-launch operations in Manbij by dawn. Speaking to Reuters while returning from the Azerbaijaini capital Baku, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared undeterred by recent U.S. sanctions imposed on Ankara, by the arrival of regime reinforcements into the area, or by international condemnation of his country’s assault. “They say ‘declare a ceasefire.’ We will never declare a ceasefire,” Erdogan said. “They are pressuring us to stop the operation. They are announcing sanctions. Our goal is clear. We are not worried about any sanctions.”Shortly after, local media and activists would report a Turkish airstrike on the strategic town of Aun al-Dadat, the site of a former U.S. base in the north Manbij countryside along the al-Sajur River that has since been occupied by SDF and regime units. Nawaf al-Mustafa, an activist living several miles away in Manbij city, said he could hear the explosion from his home. “I heard an explosion and thought it might have been an ISIS suicide attack,” he said. “But it wasn’t, news came in shortly after that Turkish forces instead were bombing Aun al-Dadat.”Look Who’s Back! Trump Handed Terrorists a Free Pass.Ahmed Qalqali, another anti-regime activist, would send out an alert to the families of FSA fighters to several WhatsApp groups used by locals to follow the news. “Any young man in Manbij who has a brother fighting on the front lines with the FSA should avoid sleeping at home tonight,” hinting at the possibility of SDF-regime house raids in response to the attacks. “Try to stay with a friend or someone to whom you’re not blood related.” Despite the Turkish insistence to continue fighting, in reality the tide seems to be turning against Ankara and its proxies. Despite managing to gain control of the strategic border town of Tal Abyad, after nearly one week of fighting Turkish-backed forces have been unable to capture Ras al-Ain, a city of just over 30,000 that has managed to put up stiff resistance and ward off Turkish incursions. Manbij, a city of nearly 100,000, will require much greater strength and political will in order to be captured.Recent U.S. sanctions imposed by the Trump administration on key Turkish ministers and cabinet officials will also likely further hamper Ankara’s ability to freely wage war against the SDF, while significantly raising the cost of doing so. Nonetheless, these factors are unlikely to push Erdogan to end the campaign, as domestic pressures to create space to resettle Syrian refugees that have proven a burden to the Turkish economy threaten to destabilize his government. What will likely ensue will be a committed, albeit slow and protracted campaign to achieve Ankara’s goal of carving out a safe zone in Manbij and along the entirety of Turkey’s border with Syria. However, the likely delay in achieving further Turkish gains will also give the Syrian regime a larger window to calmly mobilize and deploy its forces throughout the region while still being able to exploit the threat posed to the SDF by Ankara in order to slowly grab more power in northeastern Syria. Further, the expansion of Syrian regime troops throughout the area doesn’t seem to be a prospect that much bothers the Turkish president, so long as they don’t mix with SDF and other armed Kurdish elements. Also while speaking to reporters in Baku, Erdogan stated, “The regime entering Manbij is not very negative for me. Why? It’s their lands after all,”  he said. “But, what is important to me is that the terrorist organization does not remain there… I told this to Mr. Putin as well. If you are clearing Manbij of terrorist organizations, then go ahead, you or the regime can provide all the logistics. But if you are not going to do this, the people there are telling us to save them.” By “terrorist organizations,” Erdogan means primarily the Kurds who were backed by the United States in the fight against ISIS.Such a statement from a head of state who for eight years has been among the most enthusiastic supporters of the Syrian revolution to topple Assad is indicative of the extent to which international calculus surrounding the Syrian issue has changed. It will likely encourage the Assad regime to consider the possibility of going after and eliminating the SDF itself if doing so may once and for all put an end to the activities of their meddlesome Turkish neighbor. Such a prospect may occur as part of a broader swap or deal whereby Turkey would also agree to withdraw its troops from the broader Idlib region, where Ha’it Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an offshoot of al Qaeda’s former Syrian branch, Jabhat al-Nusra, and other FSA groups have been engaged in a bloody standoff with the Syrian regime for over a year.Erdogan’s statements make perfectly clear that, following Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops, the cards increasingly lie in the hands of the Assad regime and its Russian ally. Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.



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White House prepares formal objection to impeachment probe

White House prepares formal objection to impeachment probeThe White House is preparing to formally object to Democrats’ impeachment inquiry as soon as Friday, saying it won’t cooperate with the probe because it was initiated without a vote of the House. The White House Counsel’s Office was preparing to send a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi objecting to the form of the impeachment investigation, a person familiar with the matter said late Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the letter before its dissemination. Pelosi last week announced that the House was beginning the formal inquiry but didn’t seek the consent of the full chamber, as was done for impeachment investigations into former Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.



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White House prepares formal objection to impeachment probe

White House prepares formal objection to impeachment probeThe White House is preparing to formally object to Democrats' impeachment inquiry as soon as Friday, saying it won't cooperate with the probe because it was initiated without a vote of the House. The White House Counsel's Office was preparing to send a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi objecting to the form of the impeachment investigation, a person familiar with the matter said late Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the letter before its dissemination. Pelosi last week announced that the House was beginning the formal inquiry but didn't seek the consent of the full chamber, as was done for impeachment investigations into former Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, confirmed that the letter was forthcoming. Trump allies have suggested for days that without a formal vote, the House is merely conducting standard oversight, entitling lawmakers to a lesser level of disclosure from the administration. The Justice Department raised similar arguments last month, though that was before Pelosi announced the impeachment investigation. In a letter Thursday to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Pelosi argued, "There is no requirement under the Constitution, under House Rules, or House precedent that the whole House vote before proceeding with an impeachment inquiry." There's no clear-cut procedure in the Constitution for launching an impeachment inquiry, leaving many of these questions about obstruction untested in court, said Allan Lichtman, a history professor at American University. "There's no specification in the Constitution in what does and does not constitute a more formal impeachment inquiry or investigation," he said. "One can argue if they're in an impeachment investigation, they're in an impeachment." Giuliani dismissed the entire premise of the impeachment inquiry, which is centered on Trump asking Ukraine to investigate his possible political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. "The president was not tasking Ukraine to investigate a political opponent," Giuliani told The Associated Press on Thursday. "He wanted an investigation into a seriously conflicted former vice president of the United States who damaged the reputation of the United States in Ukraine." President Trump impeachment support Democrats have sought to use their declared impeachment investigation to bolster their case to access all sorts of documents from the administration, most recently secret grand jury information that underpinned special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. They have also threatened to use the administration's refusal to turn over documents and make witnesses available to potentially form an article of impeachment over "obstruction" of the congressional inquiry. Where courts have generally required congressional oversight requests to demonstrate a legitimate legislative purpose, impeachment requests could be wide-ranging. It is unclear if Democrats would wade into a lengthy legal fight with the administration over documents and testimony – or if they would just move straight to considering articles of impeachment. Pelosi has sought to avoid a vote on the impeachment probe for the same reason she resisted, for months, liberal calls to try to remove the president: It would force moderate House Democrats to make a politically risky vote. The White House, meanwhile, is trying to force the question on Democrats, as it seeks to raise the political cost for their impeachment investigation and to animate the president's supporters ahead of the 2020 election.



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US prepares to step up strikes on Taliban after Trump halts talks

US prepares to step up strikes on Taliban after Trump halts talksAmerican forces are preparing to redouble a campaign to kill Taliban commanders in Afghanistan, in an attempt to put more pressure on the insurgents following Donald Trump's decision to call off negotiations with the militants. US commanders are expected to step up the tempo of their campaign of air strikes and raids targeting militant leaders, military sources said. The Taliban are expected to respond to the halt in talks with their own increase in operations, leaving Afghanistan braced for intensified violence in the coming weeks. “[The Americans] have said they are really going to go after their commanders now, ” said one source. Both sides have refused to halt fighting while holding talks in Doha over the past year, attempting to convert military pressure into negotiating strength. Mr Trump tweeted on Monday: "We have been serving as policemen in Afghanistan, and that was not meant to be the job of our Great Soldiers, the finest on earth. Over the last four days, we have been hitting our Enemy harder than at any time in the last ten years!" Mr Trump added that US talks with the Taliban were "dead." Mr Trump, speaking at the White House, said: "They're dead. They're dead. As far as I'm concerned, they're dead." Afghan army soldiers pray during a ceremony to introduce the new chief of the intelligence service, in Kabul  Credit: AP The US president said it had been his idea to hold a meeting at Camp David, and his idea to "terminate" it. He said: "When I heard, very simply, they killed one of our soldiers, and 12 other people, there's no way I'm meeting on that basis. They made a big mistake. And they're telling people they made a big mistake." “You should know, in the last 10 days we’ve killed over a thousand Taliban,” said Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, after Mr Trump cancelled talks. He went on: “If you’re the Taliban, conditions have been worsening, and they’re about to get worse.” Asked if that meant military activity would increase, he said “I’ll leave it to the Department of Defence to talk about specifics, but no one should underestimate President Trump’s commitment to achieving those goals.” The Taliban continued their own campaign of indiscriminate bombing through talks and warned that Mr Trump's cancellation of negotiations would lead to more bloodshed. The move "will harm America more than anyone else," the group said in a statement. "It will damage its reputation, unmask its anti-peace policy to the world even more, increase its loss of life and treasure and present its political interactions as erratic." Scattered violence continued across the country on Monday as Afghans digested Mr Trump's reverse on talks. A roadside bomb blast in the capital, Kabul, wounded three civilians. The intended target was unknown and there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. The Taliban claimed attacks on at least two districts of north eastern Takhar province overnight, and a heavy gun battle continued in the district of Khwaja Ghar. The insurgents launched a series of assaults on provincial capitals last week. The main highway between the capital and the capital of the northern province of Baghlan remained blocked, a week after the Taliban attacked Pul-e Khumri, and sporadic gun battles continued. Mr Trump's lead negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, had last week announced a deal had been finalised “in principle”, that would see US troops begin to withdraw from America's longest war. Mr Trump invited both the insurgents and the Afghan government to a meeting at his presidential retreat, Camp David, where he hoped to seal the deal and make a grand announcement. Mr Trump said he cancelled the gathering after a Taliban bomb blast killed a US soldier. The Taliban said they themselves had rejected the invitation, refusing to appear alongside the Afghan government, who they denounce as a US puppet regime. Both the US and Taliban appeared to leave the door open to a resumption of talks later. "I'm not pessimistic," Mr Pompeo said. "I've watched the Taliban do things and say things they've not been permitted to do before." The Taliban said they stood by talks. “The Islamic Emirate has a solid and unwavering policy. We called for dialogue twenty years earlier and maintain the same stance today and believe America shall return to this position also.”



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PHOTOS: Florida prepares for Hurricane Dorian

PHOTOS: Florida prepares for Hurricane DorianHurricane Dorian is expected to suck powerful fuel from the warm waters off the Florida coast, swelling into a dangerous Category 4 storm in the coming days before it slams into the state early next week, forecasts showed on Friday.



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Portland prepares for far-right rally expected to lead to violence

Portland prepares for far-right rally expected to lead to violencePatriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson surrenders but Proud Boys to fore in event expected to attract ‘antifa’ counter-protestIn a photograph from 4 August, a protester participates in a rally in Portland, Oregon. Photograph: Mark Graves/APAs Portland prepared for what may be one of the biggest political demonstrations of the US summer, longtime rightwing leader Joey Gibson turned himself in to city authorities.Outside the Multnomah County Justice Center, Gibson told reporters, and his supporters via Facebook, the arrest warrant against him was “without a doubt an assault on the first amendment”.“I have never been violent,” he said.The 35-year-old is one of six men associated with rightwing rallies in the Oregon city to be arrested or charged since 7 August, relating to a violent incident on 1 May at Cider Riot, a bar favored by the left.Video shows men who have attended Gibson’s Patriot Prayer rallies in the city, and who arrived at the bar in his company, exchanging pepper spray with bar patrons, striking people with batons and fighting.Gibson claimed the charges against him were “completely political. This is [Portland mayor] Ted Wheeler doing everything he can because he’s been caught.” He accused Wheeler of “coordinating with” and “protecting” anti-fascist demonstrators or “antifa”, a refrain in his speeches since 2017.Gibson’s attorney, Multnomah county Republican chair James Buchal, said in a statement the charges were “part and parcel of the dishonest campaign by Portland leaders to blame out-of-town demonstrators for violence that began and persists because antifa wants to shut down any rightwing demonstrations in Portland.”Asked via email if he thought the charges were timed in relation to the weekend rally, Buchal answered: “Yes.”A booking photo shows Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson. Photograph: Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office/APGibson has organized protests in the city throughout the Trump era, under the banner of the organization he founded, Patriot Prayer. Several have become violent.Gibson’s critics have pointed to the presence at times of members of white nationalist groups like Identity Evropa and the PDX Stormers. But above all the events have been characterized by the growing presence of the Proud Boys, a “western chauvinist” group.The Proud Boys have played a leading role in the organization of Saturday’s event. The main promoter, Joe Biggs, is a Proud Boy, a combat veteran and a sometime presenter on the Infowars conspiracy channel.Biggs has issued a series of threats to “antifa” in recent weeks, leading up to an event framed by the right as a response to the conservative writer Andy Ngo being milkshaked – having a drink poured over him – and punched at a rally in Portland on 29 June.The event’s Facebook page and a page started by Biggs following an initial ban were removed from the site on Friday. That afternoon, Biggs posted to the encrypted messaging app Telegram photographs of he and other men lifting weights in a back yard.City authorities spent the day fortifying the waterfront area where attendees at the un-permitted “Amend Domestic Terrorism” rally are expected to face counter-protesters. In the afternoon, the Portland Bureau of Transportation began ferrying in concrete barriers.In a press conference, Portland Police Bureau (PPB) spokeswoman Lt Tina Jones said it had been assessed that the event was likely to be “beyond the resources” of her department, even though all leave had been cancelled for the day.PPB issued a list of partner agencies helping with enforcement, crowd management and preparation. It included police departments statewide, Oregon state police, the FBI and various municipal authorities.Earlier in the week, Mayor Wheeler assembled members of 90 community organizations in Portland’s central square. He denounced violence and announced a no-tolerance policy for lawbreakers at the rally.



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Saudi prepares for hajj as Gulf tensions persist

Saudi prepares for hajj as Gulf tensions persistMore than 2.5 million Muslims will on Friday begin the annual hajj pilgrimage in the Islamic holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, against a backdrop of tensions in the Gulf. Crowds of worshippers have already begun to gather in Mecca in the days ahead of the hajj, the focal point of the Islamic calendar. The pilgrims will undertake religious rites that have remained unchanged since the founding of Islam 14 centuries ago.



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