Obama okays Iraq air strikes; Writers battle Amazon; Khmer Rouge leaders sentenced for genocide; India cricketers duck

1 Obama okays Iraq air strikes (Dan Roberts, Martin Chulov & Julian Borger in The Guardian) Barack Obama has authorised targeted air strikes against Islamic militants in Iraq, as the US military began an airborne operation to bring relief to thousands of minority Iraqis driven to a grim, mountain-top refuge. Describing the threats against stranded Yezidi refugees as holding the potential for “genocide”, the president said he had authorised limited air strikes to help Iraqi forces, to assist in the fight to break the siege and protect the civilians trapped there.

The delivery of humanitarian relief, in the form of air drops by US jets, took place after a day of intense debate at the White House over how to respond to an Isis army that has caused mass civilian displacement as it moves closer to the previously stable Kurdistan region of Iraq.

The US military was already helping the Iraqi government co-ordinate air drops of vital supplies to at least 40,000 Iraqis, mostly from the Yazidi minority, trapped on top of Mount Sinjar in the northwest of Iraq after death threats from the Islamists who have overrun much of the region.

Qaraqosh, Iraq’s largest Christian city, was left all but abandoned as the jihadist group Islamic State (Isis) advanced through minority communities in the country’s north-west and towards the Kurdish stronghold of Irbil. Late on Thursday night the UN Security Council condemned the attacks and urged international support for the Iraqi government.

Obama said “targeted air strikes” could soon be used to protect American personnel in Irbil, and could also be used to protect Baghdad if it came under pressure. He claimed the steps were a necessary response to a deteriorating humanitarian situation, in which there were “chilling reports” of mass executions and the enslavement of Yezidi women.


2 Writers battle Amazon (David Streitfeld in The New York Times) Out here in the woods, at the end of not one but two dirt roads, in a shack equipped with a picture of the Dalai Lama, a high-speed data line and a copy of Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience,” Amazon’s dream of dominating the publishing world has run into some trouble.

Douglas Preston, who summers in this coastal hamlet, is a best-selling writer — or was, until Amazon decided to discourage readers from buying books from his publisher, Hachette, as a way of pressuring it into giving Amazon a better deal on e-books. So he wrote an open letter to his readers asking them to contact Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, demanding that Amazon stop using writers as hostages in its negotiations.

The letter, composed in the shack, spread through the literary community. As of earlier this week 909 writers had signed on, including household names like John Grisham and Stephen King. Amazon, unsettled by the actions of a group that used to be among its biggest fans, is responding by attacking Mr. Preston, calling the 58-year-old thriller writer “entitled” and “an opportunist,” while simultaneously trying to woo him and his fellow dissenters into silence.

This latest uproar in Amazon’s three-month public battle with Hachette comes at a vulnerable moment for the Internet giant, which is rapidly transforming itself into an empire that not only sells culture but creates it, too. Amazon does not want to be seen as hostile to content creators, one of the four groups it says on its investor relations web page it is expressly set up to serve. But it also has to price their creations cheaply enough to draw hordes of consumers, while at the same time making enough of a profit to satisfy investors.

It is a complicated balancing act. Some argue it is impossible. Amazon just surprised Wall Street by saying it may lose more than $800 million this quarter, potentially wiping out its profits for the last three years, partly because creating video content is expensive. The prospect of this unexpected loss has raised questions about whether Amazon’s money-losing ways are finally catching up with it — and whether that is the real reason it is making new demands on publishers like Hachette.


3 Khmer Rouge leaders sentenced for genocide (Todd Pitman & Sopheng Cheang in San Francisco Chronicle) They were leaders of Cambodia’s infamous Khmer Rouge, the fanatical communist movement behind a 1970s reign of terror that transformed this entire Southeast Asian nation into a ruthless slave state — a place where cities were emptied of their inhabitants, religion and schools were banned, and anyone deemed a threat was executed.

When the nightmare ended, in 1979, close to 2 million people were dead — a quarter of Cambodia’s population at the time. On Thursday, a UN-backed tribunal convicted two of the once all-powerful men who ruled during that era of crimes against humanity in the first and possibly the last verdicts to be issued against the group’s aging, top members.

Although survivors welcomed the decision to impose life sentences against Khieu Samphan, an 83-year-old former head of state, and Nuon Chea, the movement’s 88-year-old chief ideologue, they also say justice has come far too late and is simply not adequate. There was no visible reaction from either of the accused when the decisions were announced. Nuon Chea, wearing dark sunglasses, was too weak even to stand from his wheelchair. Defense lawyers insisted the case was not over and vowed to appeal within 30 days.

Top Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot had reset the clock to “Year Zero.” Society was to be “purified.” Money was abolished. Communal kitchens were introduced nationwide. The failed aim: to create an agrarian “utopia.” Most of those who died succumbed to starvation, medical neglect and overwork. Marked for death were the educated, religious or ethnic minorities, Buddhist monks, and anyone suspected of ties with the former government or who questioned the new rulers.


4 India cricketers duck (Will Davies in The Wall Street Journal) India’s test cricket team equaled a world record on Thursday for the most ducks in an innings. For the cricket novice, a batsman gets a duck if he is dismissed without scoring any runs. There are 11 people in a cricket team. On Thursday, six of India’s players – more than half the team – were out for ducks. Three of the victims were top-four batsmen. It was a cricketing disaster.

Fortunately for India, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and, to a lesser degree, Ajinkya Rahane and R. Ashwin, hung around long enough to score a few runs and drag India out of the Old Trafford gutter and to a total of 152 all out. That was a gutsy recovery given that India was 8 for 4 at one stage – an astonishing situation to be in after winning the toss.

Dhoni scored 71, Ashwin got 40 and Rahane scored 24, bringing the trio’s total to 135. Extras given away by England amounted to 12. The other eight Indian batsmen scored five runs. Gautam Gambhir got four of those.

At the close of play, England was 39 runs behind India’s total with seven wickets in hand. The top three batsmen had all been dismissed, but not in the same cheap fashion as their Indian counterparts. Alastair Cook was out for 17, Sam Robson got six and Gary Balance scored 37. Ian Bell, who scored 167 in the third test, was 45 not out at the close of play and poised to take England into a commanding position. Thursday was a bad day for India. But, as is often the case in rainy Manchester, it was a good day for ducks.



About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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