Outspoken US Labor Leader Owen Bieber Dies at 90

Former U.S. labor leader Owen Bieber, one of the country’s most outspoken anti-apartheid activists who also backed Poland’s Solidarity labor movement, has died at 90.

A longtime union member, Bieber took over as the head of the United Auto Workers Union in 1983, securing good wages, job security and other benefits for blue-collar auto workers at a time of recession and rising global competition.

He rallied the UAW behind the Solidarity movement in Poland and was a fierce critic of apartheid in South Africa. He traveled to the country, speaking out against racism and imprisonment of labor activists, smuggling photographs of tortured prisoners out of the country back to the U.S.

Bieber was arrested demonstrating outside the South African Embassy in Washington. He hosted Nelson Mandela in Detroit, Michigan, after the South African political leader’s release from prison in 1990.

From: MeNeedIt

‘True Grit’ Novelist Charles Portis Dies at Age 86

Novelist Charles Portis, a favorite among critics and writers for such shaggy dog stories as “Norwood” and “Gringos” and a bounty for Hollywood whose droll, bloody Western “True Grit” was a best-seller twice adapted into Oscar nominated films, died Monday at age 86.

Portis, a former newspaper reporter who apparently learned enough to swear off talking to the media, had been suffering from Alzheimer’s in recent years. His brother, Jonathan Portis, told The Associated Press that he died in a hospice in Little Rock, Arkansas, his longtime residence.

Charles Portis was among the most admired authors to nearly vanish from public consciousness in his own lifetime. His fans included Tom Wolfe, Roy Blount Jr. and Larry McMurtry, and he was often compared to Mark Twain for his plainspoken humor and wry perspective. 

Unpredictable detours

Portis saw the world from the ground up, from bars and shacks and trailer homes, and few spun wilder and funnier stories. In a Portis novel, usually set in the South and south of the border, characters embarked on journeys that took the most unpredictable detours.

In “Norwood,” an ex-Marine from Texas heads East in a suspicious car to collect a suspicious debt, but winds up on a bus with a circus dwarf, a chicken and a girl he just met.

“The Dog of the South” finds one Ray Midge driving from Arkansas to Honduras in search of his wife, his credit cards and his Ford Torino.

In “Gringos,” an expatriate in Mexico with a taste for order finds himself amid hippies, end-of-the-world cultists and disappearing friends.

Saturday Evening Post

The public knew Portis best for “True Grit,” the quest of Arkansas teen Mattie Ross to avenge her father’s murder. The novel was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post in 1968 and was soon adapted (and softened) as a film showcase for John Wayne, who starred as Rooster Cogburn, the drunken, one-eyed marshal Mattie enlists to find the killer. The role brought Wayne his first Academy Award and was revived by the actor, much less successfully, in the sequel “Rooster Cogburn”

Rooster was so strong a character that a new generation of filmgoers and Oscar voters welcomed him back. In 2010, the Coen brothers worked up a less glossy, more faithful “True Grit,” featuring Jeff Bridges as Rooster and newcomer Hallie Seinfeld as Mattie. The film received 10 nominations, including best actor for Bridges, and brought new attention to Portis and his novel, which topped the trade paperback list of The New York Times.

“No living Southern writer captures the spoken idioms of the South as artfully as Portis does,” Mississippi native Donna Tartt wrote in an afterword for a 2005 reissue of the novel.

Born in Arkansas

Portis was born in 1933 in El Dorado, Arkansas, one of four children of a school superintendent and a housewife whom Portis thought could have been a writer herself.

As a kid, he loved comic books and movies and the stories he learned from his family. In a brief memoir written for The Atlantic Monthly, he recalled growing up in a community where the ratio was about “two Baptist churches or one Methodist church per gin. It usually took about three gins to support a Presbyterian church, and a community with, say, four before you found enough tepid idolators to form an Episcopal congregation.”

He was a natural raconteur who credited his stint in the Marines with giving him time to read. After leaving the service, he graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1958 with a degree in journalism and for the next few years was a newspaper man, starting as a night police reporter for the Memphis Commercial Appeal and finishing as London bureau chief for the New York Herald Tribune.

Worked with Tom Wolfe

Fellow Tribune staffers included Wolfe, who regarded Portis as “the original laconic cutup” and a fellow rebel against the boundaries of journalism, and Nora Ephron, who would remember her colleague as a sociable man with a reluctance to use a telephone.

His interview subjects included Malcolm X and J.D. Salinger, whom Portis encountered on an airplane. He was also a first-hand observer of the civil rights movement. 

In 1963, he covered a riot and the police beating of black people in Birmingham, Alabama. Around the same time, he reported on a Ku Klux Klan meeting, a dullish occasion after which “the grand dragon of Mississippi disappeared grandly into the Southern night, his car engine hitting on about three cylinders.”

Anxious to write novels, Portis left the paper in 1964 and from Arkansas completed “Norwood,” published two years later and adapted for a 1970 movie of the same name starring Glen Campbell and Joe Namath.

Portis placed his stories in familiar territory. He knew his way around Texas and Mexico and worked enough with women stringers from the Ozarks in Arkansas to draw upon them for Mattie’s narrative voice in “True Grit.” He eventually settled in Little Rock, where he reportedly spent years working on a novel that was never released. “Gringos,” his fifth and last novel, came out in 1991.

Living in open seclusion

Portis published short fiction in The Atlantic during the 1990s, but was mostly forgotten before admiring essays in Esquire and the New York Observer by Ron Rosenbaum were noticed by publishing director Tracy Carns of the Overlook Press, which reissued all of Portis’ novels.

Some of his journalism, short stories and travel writings were published in the 2012 anthology “Escape Velocity.”

In recent years, the author lived in open seclusion, a regular around Little Rock who drove a pickup truck, enjoyed an occasional beer and stepped away from reporters. He did turn up to collect The Oxford American’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in Southern Literature and was known to answer the occasional letter from a reader. But otherwise Portis seemed to honor Mattie’s code in “True Grit” for how to deal with journalists.

“I do not fool around with newspapers,” Mattie says. ”The paper editors are great ones for reaping where they have not sown. Another game they have is to send reporters out to talk to you and get your stories free. I know the young reporters are not paid well and I would not mind helping those boys out with their ‘scoops’ if they could ever get anything right.”

From: MeNeedIt

UK PM’s Adviser Quits After Backlash Over Contraception, IQ Comments

An adviser to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson who had discussed the benefits of forced contraception quit Monday, saying “media hysteria” about his old online posts meant he had become a distraction for the government.

Earlier, Johnson’s spokesman repeatedly refused to comment when asked about Andrew Sabisky, whose appointment drew widespread criticism after the Mail on Sunday newspaper reported statements made in his name online in 2014 and 2016.

In addition to posts on contraception, Sabisky also said data showed the U.S. black population had lower IQ than white people, and, in a 2016 interview with digital publication Schools Week, discussed the benefits of genetic selection.

Media reported Sabisky was hired following an unusual appeal earlier this year from Johnson’s senior adviser Dominic Cummings for “weirdos and misfits with odd skills” to help bring new ideas to Britain’s government.

His resignation is a blow to that effort, which had attracted criticism from those who said Cummings was sidestepping normal government recruitment processes.

“The media hysteria about my old stuff online is mad but I wanted to help (the government) not be a distraction,” Sabisky said on Twitter.

“Accordingly I’ve decided to resign as a contractor … I signed up to do real work, not be in the middle of a giant character assassination: if I can’t do the work properly there’s no point.”

Sabisky, who has referred to himself as a “super forecaster,” said he hoped Johnson’s office hired more people with “good geopolitical forecasting track records” and that the “media learn to stop selective quoting.”

Both the opposition Labour Party and at least two of Johnson’s own Conservatives had called for him to be fired.

“Andrew Sabisky’s presence in No.10 is a poor reflection on the government and there is no way to defend it. He needs to go. ‘Weirdos’ and ‘misfits’ are all very well, but please can they not gratuitously cause offense,” Conservative lawmaker William Wragg wrote on Twitter before Sabisky resigned.

Online posts

An account in Sabisky’s name made the comments about black IQ in a reply to a 2014 blog post written by an American professor discussing education disabilities in the United States.

In 2016, replying to a blog post written by Cummings, an account in Sabisky’s name said:

“One way to get around the problems of unplanned pregnancies creating a permanent underclass would be to legally enforce universal uptake of long-term contraception at the onset of puberty. Vaccination laws give it a precedent, I would argue.”

Johnson’s spokesman earlier repeatedly refused to comment on whether Johnson shared Sabisky’s views, saying only that the prime minister’s own views were well known. He would not confirm the nature of Sabisky’s role.

From: MeNeedIt

He’s Still Standing: Elton John to Finish Down Under Tour

Elton John intends to play his remaining shows in New Zealand and Australia,  his tour promoters said Monday, a day after illness caused the singer to lose his voice and cut short a performance.

Video clips posted online by fans at Sunday night’s performance showed John breaking down in tears as he told the cheering crowd he couldn’t go on any longer. The 72-year-old singer said he had walking pneumonia and was assisted off stage.

Tour promoters Chugg Entertainment said John was resting and doctors were confident he would recover. They said a concert planned for Tuesday in Auckland would be delayed until Wednesday on the advice of doctors.

“Elton John was disappointed and deeply upset at having to end his Auckland concert early last night,” the promoters said in their statement.

The concert was part of John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour. As well as the delayed performance on Wednesday, John is scheduled to play again in Auckland on Thursday and then seven performances in Australia before traveling to the U.S. and Canada.

He thanked the concert attendees via an Instagram post  and apologized for ending the show early.

“I want to thank everyone who attended tonight’s gig in Auckland. I was diagnosed with walking pneumonia earlier today, but I was determined to give you the best show humanly possible,” John wrote. “I played and sang my heart out, until my voice could sing no more. I’m disappointed, deeply upset and sorry. I gave it all I had.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she watched the show and got to meet John for about five minutes before he started playing.

“You could tell that he wasn’t feeling well and he said he wasn’t feeling well,” Ardern said. “So I think you could see that on the stage last night, which I think is just a credit to his commitment to his fans.’’

Ardern said the pair discussed politics and how her toddler daughter Neve loves to dance to his music. John has previously expressed his admiration for the New Zealand leader.

The New Zealand Herald  reported that John told the crowd he was ill but that he didn’t want to miss the show. He slumped on a stool and required medical attention after performing “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” but recovered and continued to play, the newspaper reported. Later, as he he attempted to sing “Daniel,” he realized he had no voice left and was escorted off stage.

John had just returned to New Zealand after performing at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles. He won an Oscar for best original song for his theme song for the movie “Rocketman.’’

According to the Mayo Clinic, walking pneumonia is an informal term for a milder form of pneumonia that isn’t severe enough to require hospitalization or bed rest. It affects the respiratory tract and is most often caused by bacteria.

From: MeNeedIt

Is The West Dying Or Thriving? US And Europe Clash At Munich Conference

The United States and Europe appear divided over the health of the transatlantic relationship following a key security conference in Germany over the weekend, attended by hundreds of political and military leaders. Eruopeans accused Washington of ‘rejecting the idea of an international community’ – but the U.S. said the alliance is in good shape. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the Munich conference, there is an emerging disagreement between Western allies over what exactly represents the biggest threat to Western democracy

From: MeNeedIt

Ministers seek to Reinforce Drive to Cut Libya Arms Supplies

Foreign ministers and other top officials from about a dozen countries gathered Sunday in Germany to keep up the push for peace in Libya after countries with interests in its long-running civil war agreed to respect a much-violated arms embargo and back a full cease-fire.

With this meeting on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, Germany and the U.N. were seeking to keep up a drive to cut off outside military support for the warring parties. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said the Jan. 19 agreement by leaders in Berlin has been repeatedly violated by continuing arms deliveries and escalating fighting.

Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a civil war toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed.

A weak U.N.-recognized administration that now holds the capital of Tripoli and parts of the country’s west is backed by Turkey, which recently sent thousands of soldiers to Libya, and to a lesser degree Qatar and Italy as well as local militias.

On the other side is a rival government in the east that supports self-styled Gen. Khalifa Hifter, whose forces launched an offensive to capture the Libyan capital of Tripoli last April.

They are backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, France and Russia.

Since the Berlin summit, the rival Libyan military factions have met in Geneva in a U.N.-led effort to forge a lasting truce. A first round faltered when officials concluded negotiations without signing an agreement, though another round of talks is expected next week.

On Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council endorsed a 55-point road map for ending the war in Libya and condemned the recent increase in violence in the oil-rich North African country.

The European Union, whose foreign ministers are set to discuss Libya on Monday, is considering whether and how to have naval ships enforce the U.N. arms embargo against Libya.


From: MeNeedIt

Police: 9 Homeless Drug Users Shot Dead in Afghan Capital

Gunmen shot dead nine homeless drug users in the Afghan capital, officials said on Sunday, shining a light on chronic drug abuse in the world’s biggest producer of opium but a rare incident of apparently coordinated violence against addicts.

The motive for the Saturday night attack by the unidentified gunmen in Kabul was not known and police said they were investigating. The men had been sleeping in an open area and a forensic examination had shown they were drug users.

“The shooting took place at the side of the Qrough mountain,” a spokesman for Kabul police, Ferdaus Faramarz, told Reuters.

There are an estimated 2.5 million drug users in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Public Health says, with most thought to addicted to heroin made from opium poppies grown in Afghanistan.

Some 20,000 drug users are homeless, with half that number in Kabul, at times straining relations with residents of some communities.

“It’s a social crisis,” said Dr Shokoor Haidari, deputy of the ministry’s counter drugs department.

The ministry can only treat 40,000 people a year but far more seek help, said Haidari.

Lack of social services, unemployment and easy access to drugs have fueled drug abuse in Afghanistan, Haidari said.

Harsh winter weather killed at least 50 homeless drug users in the past two months, the Ministry of Public Health said.

Afghanistan has been the world’s biggest producer of opium for years despite some $8.9 billion spent since 2002 by the U.S. government to stop production and trafficking in narcotics.

With compelling economic incentives and politically protected networks – from cultivators to producers and distributors – deeply entrenched, officials say there is little they can do to stop it.

The Interior Ministry this month announced the arrest of five top police officials, including the head of Kabul’s counter-narcotics force, for suspected involvement in drug trafficking.


From: MeNeedIt

UN Chief in Pakistan to Renew Focus on Afghan Refugees

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres Sunday began a three-day visit to Pakistan by urging the international community to support countries that continue to host millions of refugees from war-shattered Afghanistan.

Guterres is in Islamabad for meetings with Pakistani leaders and to deliver a keynote address to an international conference Monday marking 40 years of hosting of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran, one of the world’s largest and longest-standing refugee populations.

The U.N. chief’s visit comes amid renewed hopes a United States-led peace initiative could help bring an end to the deadly Afghan war, which continues to cause more displacements and civilian sufferings.

“My fist meeting in Pakistan: generations of Afghan refugees shared their deeply moving stories, hopes & dreams,” Guterres tweeted after his interaction with representatives of the displaced population in the Pakistani capital. “For 40 years, Pakistan has sheltered Afghan refugees. I urge the world to support host countries and show similar leadership in standing with refugees,” he added.

The U.N. estimates that some 4.6 million Afghans, including 2.7 million registered refugees, still live outside of Afghanistan. Around 90 per cent of them are being hosted by Pakistan (1.4 million) and Iran (1 million).

Officials say Monday’s ministerial conference, convened jointly with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will highlight the “generosity, hospitality and compassion” of Pakistan, Iran and other countries in hosting the refugee population impacted by more than four decades of unrest in Afghanistan.

The meeting, organizers say, is also meant to remind the global community about the fate of millions of Afghans living as refugees, “many of whom feel the rest of the world may have already abandoned them.” It will seek to “galvanise greater support” to establish conditions for voluntary repatriation and sustainable reintegration of refugees in Afghanistan, according to a UNHCR statement.

UNHCR says funding levels have dropped for its already under-resourced operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran over the years — making it hard to invest in Afghan lives and continue support to affected local host communities.

From: MeNeedIt

Orangutan Granted ‘Personhood’ Turns 34, Makes New Friend in Florida

WAUCHULA, Fla. – A orangutan named Sandra, who was granted legal personhood by a judge in Argentina and later found a new home in Florida, celebrated her 34th birthday on Valentine’s Day with a special new primate friend.

Patti Ragan, director of the Center for Great Apes in Wauchula, Florida, says Sandra “has adjusted beautifully to her life at the sanctuary” and has befriended Jethro, a 31-year-old male orangutan.

Before coming to Florida, Sandra had lived alone in a Buenos Aires zoo. Sandra was a bit shy when she arrived at the Florida center, which is home to 22 orangutans.

“Sandra appeared most interested in Jethro, and our caregivers felt he was a perfect choice because of his close age, calm demeanor, and gentle nature,” Ragan said in a news release. “Sandra still observes and follows Jethro from a distance while they are in the process of getting to know and trust each other. But they are living harmoniously in the same habitat spaces as they continue to gain confidence in their relationship.”

Judge Elena Liberatori’s landmark ruling in 2015 declared that Sandra is legally not an animal, but a non-human person, and thus entitled to some legal rights enjoyed by people, and better living conditions.

“With that ruling I wanted to tell society something new, that animals are sentient beings and that the first right they have is our obligation to respect them,” she told The Associated Press.

But without a clear alternative, Sandra remained at the antiquated zoo, which closed in 2016, until leaving for the U.S. in late September. She was in quarantine for a month at the Sedgwick County Zoo in Kansas before arriving in Florida.

On Friday, Sandra celebrated her birthday, complete with pink signs and wrapped packages. Jethro, who was once in the entertainment business, attended the party.

From: MeNeedIt

Syria Says Israel Attacked Iranian Weapons Near Damascus

Syria says that Israel attacked five separate targets near Damascus overnight with missiles from the Golan Heights. Israel did not accept responsibility for the attacks but news reports said the targets were Iranian weapons. Iran has threatened a harsh response to any Israeli attacks.

Missile explosions sounded in the skies above Damascus just before midnight Thursday.

Syria said the missiles were fired from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, and that Syrian forces shot down several of them. At least seven fighters, both Iranian and Syrian, were reported killed.

Israel did not comment on this attack, but in the past has acknowledged hundreds of attacks on Iranian weapons on Syria. Israeli press reports said the Iranian weapons had arrived in Damascus Wednesday and were destined for the pro-Iranian Hezbollah militia in Lebanon.  

The attack came a week after a similar strike, also allegedly by Israel.

Israeli security analyst Amir Oren told I24 News that Israel did not take responsibility for the attack because it does not want a war with Iran or Syria.

“It is not going to gladly suffer any transfer of weapons from Iran to Hezbollah or the pro-Iranian militias in Syria, and incidentally the fact that this attack was carried out according to the reports by ground to ground missiles launched from the Golan Heights rather than from the air shows the operational value of the Golan Heights for Israel,” Oren said.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967 and later annexed the territory, a move that President Trump recognized last year.

The alleged Israeli attacks have raised tensions between Israel and Iran. Before this latest attack, Iran had repeatedly threatened Israel, and it’s ally the U.S. In Iran, crowds chanted calls for revenge.

Israel’s situation is complicated by the fact that Russia is operating in Syria. Last week, during the previous alleged Israeli attack, Syria fired anti-aircraft missiles, one of which narrowly missed a Russian passenger plane with 172 people aboard. Russia warned Israel against unilateral action in Syria. But Israeli officials say they will not let Hezbollah, which already has more than 100,000 rockets that can hit all of Israel, get more sophisticated weapons.

From: MeNeedIt

US Defense Secretary Calls on Global Security Leaders to ‘Wake Up’ to China’s Efforts to Impact World Affairs

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper urged world security leaders Saturday to “wake up” to China’s efforts to influence world affairs, maintaining the world’s most populous country plans to achieve its goals by any means necessary.

“It is essential that we as an international community wake up to the challenges presented by Chinese manipulation of the long-standing international rules-based order,” Esper declared at an international security conference in Munich.

Esper emphasized the U.S. does not seek conflict with China but voiced concern over what he said were China’s goals to modernize its military by 2035 and dominate Asia militarily by 2049.

He accused China of increasingly involving itself in affairs in Europe and elsewhere outside its borders with the intent of “seeking advantage by any means and at any cost.”

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said later that Esper and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who accused China of using a “nefarious strategy” to win support for its next-generation wireless network equipment maker Huawei Technologies, of telling “lies.”

Pompeo said, “We can’t let information go across networks that we don’t have confidence won’t be hijacked by the Chinese Communist Party. It’s just unacceptable.”
Wang said “The U.S. does not want to see the rapid development and rejuvenation of China” and would especially dislike “the success of a socialist country.” He also said it is “most important” for the two superpowers to begin talks to “find a way for two major countries with different social systems to live in harmony and interact in peace.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told the Munich Security Conference that China presents both challenges and opportunities for the West. He said the U.S. and Europe must agree on a unified approach to address China’s increasing global influence.

Esper sought to garner European support for competitors to Huawei after Britain decided weeks ago to use Huawai’s 5G equipment. Britain’s decision dealt a blow to U.S. efforts to persuade allies to ban Huawei from their networks, claiming China could use the equipment for spying, an accusation Huawei and Chinese officials have denied.“

We are encouraging allied and U.S. tech companies to develop alternative 5G solutions and we are working alongside them to test these technologies at our military bases as we speak.”

Esper also discussed the war in Afghanistan, saying a U.S. deal with the Taliban that could result in the withdrawal of U.S. troops is not without risk but “looks very promising.”

Esper’s remarks came one day after a senior U.S. official said a seven-day “reduction in violence” agreement had been reached with the Taliban and that it would be formally announced soon.

From: MeNeedIt

Pelosi, Trump Battle Out 2020 Election Year

US House Democrats’ attempt to remove President Donald Trump from office for alleged abuse of power and obstruction of Congress failed in the U.S. Senate this month, and some polls show the president is now more popular than ever before. But that hasn’t stopped House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from criticizing Trump for what she says is a “manifesto of untruths.” VOA’s congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson reports on what happens next in the relationship between the White House and Capitol Hill.

From: MeNeedIt