Concerns are growing over the humanitarian impact caused by Turkey’s military offensive into northeastern Syria, an operation that has sparked a political firestorm in the United States over the fate of US-allied Kurds in the area.
At least eight people were killed — including three Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters and five civilians — and dozens of others were injured during the first day of the Turkish military operation, the SDF tweeted late Wednesday.
International aid agencies say that hundreds of thousands of people, who have already endured eight years of a protracted conflict, could be at risk as Turkey launches air and ground strikes to clear US-allied Kurdish forces from its border areas.
“As Turkish offensive in Syria begins, the IRC is deeply concerned about the lives and livelihoods of the two million civilians in northeast Syria who have already survived ISIS brutality and multiple displacements,” the International Rescue Committee said in a statement Thursday.
As a barrage of airstrikes and artillery fire volleyed into northern Syria Wednesday, chaotic scenes unfolded on the ground as people tried to flee to safety. Roads were gridlocked with hundreds of fleeing families, motorcycles piled with five to six people and mattresses strapped to cars.
Reports began to filter in on Wednesday following the aerial bombardment, with the SDF tweeting that two civilians had been killed and two others injured in the village of Misharrafa, west of Ras al-Ain.
The US-backed SDF said civilian homes in the village of Sikarkah in eastern Qamishli and areas near the Bouzra dam in Derik — which provides water to hundreds of thousands of civilians in northern Syria — were also targeted.
The group has called on the international community for assistance, saying the border areas of northeast Syria “are on the edge of a possible humanitarian catastrophe.”
Turkey, which maintains the aim of the offensive is to eliminate “terrorists” in Syria, said it had hit a total of 181 targets belonging to a “terror organization,” the Turkish Defense Ministry said Wednesday.
US ‘didn’t give Turkey green light’
Turkey’s offensive came just days after the Trump administration announced it was pulling US troops back from the area, prompting outrage in Congress and accusations from senior Republican lawmakers that Trump allowed Turkey to attack an ally that it considers instrumental in the fight against ISIS.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called claims that the US withdrawal of troops was a green light for the slaughter of the Kurds “false.”
“The United States didn’t give Turkey a green light,” Pompeo said in an interview with PBS NewsHour.
Pompeo said that “it became very clear” after the phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “that there were American soldiers that were going to be at risk and the President made a decision to put them in a place where they were out of harm’s way.”
Pompeo also refused to explicitly endorse the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) as US allies.
The SDF who operate in the area are US allies. They are led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey considers a terrorist organization.
President Donald Trump has also downplayed the alliance with the Kurds, 11,000 of whom died fighting to help the US mission against ISIS. “They didn’t help us in the second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy for example,” he said.
Trump has defended his decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria, but added that the US “does not endorse” Turkey’s operation.
“The United States does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea,” the President said in a statement from the White House.
Trump also appeared open to discussions of bipartisan legislation on sanctions against Turkey, sponsored in part by his ally Sen. Lindsey Graham. Trump said he agreed that sanctions are needed, but only if Turkey doesn’t act in a “humane” way.
ISIS ‘may rise up again’
The SDF said in a statement Wednesday that it had suspended its military operations against ISIS in northern Syria following the “Turkish aggression.”
There are fears that Turkey’s military offensive could lead to a resurgence of ISIS and American officials have expressed concern that thousands of ISIS fighters may escape from prisons in Syria. Some SDF fighters had left their posts at various prisons to prepare for the Turkish offensive.
Turkey’s assault has already had a “detrimental effect” on American counter-ISIS operations, which have “effectively stopped,” a senior US defense official told CNN on Wednesday.
The Turkish offensive, the official said, “has challenged our ability to build local security forces, conduct stabilization operations and the Syrian Democratic Forces’ (ability) to guard over 11,000 dangerous ISIS fighters.”
When asked Wednesday about the threat of ISIS prisoners escaping, Trump claimed that some of the most dangerous ISIS prisoners had been moved, “putting them in other areas where it’s secure.”
He dismissed the overall threat, replying, “Well, they’re going to be escaping to Europe.”
The US military has taken custody of two high profile members of the British ISIS cell known as the “Beatles,” according to three US officials.
Two officials said the transfer was made Wednesday. One of the officials said there are plans to bring the two ISIS members, Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, to the US for prosecution. The two have been held in northern Syria by the SDF for more than a year.
The State Department accused their ISIS execution cell of “holding captive and beheading approximately two dozen hostages,” including James Foley, American journalist Steven Sotloff, and American aid worker Peter Kassig.
Pompeo on Wednesday said that Trump “is mindful that ISIS might begin to rise up again.”
He acknowledged that the terror group has not been eliminated in Syria, saying “That challenge still remains.”
“The President firmly believes it is now time that we reprioritize, that we, in fact, protect America first, and that we get our force posture in the Middle East just right,” he said.
Cuomo’s latest bid to dodge blame for Long Island’s natural-gas crisis
Gov. Andrew Cuomo upped his histrionics on the Long Island natural-gas crisis Tuesday, formally threatening to revoke the license of National Grid, the utility that has stopped taking new gas customers.
The company says it can’t take on new commitments because Cuomo (followed by Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy) blocked construction of a new pipeline.
That new-hookups moratorium, the gov insists, “is either a falsified device or a lack of competence.” That is, National Grid either doesn’t need the pipeline — or is still at fault because it didn’t find some other way to assure supply.
Yet it never should have needed a Plan B: The proposed pipeline is obviously safe; it’s to run right next to an existing pipeline that’s done zero harm. The supposed environmental fears blocking it are nothing but a pretext, allowing Cuomo to pander to green extremists who oppose all carbon-based fuels.
To be clear: The pipeline is the safest, cheapest and even greenest way to get new energy supplies to the area (which includes parts of the city). But the greens don’t care — they’d rather consumers just do without.
Cuomo says gas can be “trucked, shipped, or barged” instead. But that, says Manhattan Institute energy specialist Jonathan Lesser, would require fleets of trucks supplying a huge processing facility that doesn’t exist. And the trucks (or ships) would themselves burn more carbon fuel.
The gov won’t get out of this by following through on his threat — because whoever took over for National Grid would face the exact same problems.
Maybe the company should just call his bluff.
By Post Editorial Board
Impasse threatens high school hoops season
Source eveningtribune.com|By Bob Chavez
Disagreement between officials, Section V may impact start of boys season
The first boys basketball scrimmages for Section V are less than two weeks away, the first game on Nov. 26. By the first full week of December, players, coaches and fans figure the regular season will be in full swing.
But will the officials?
With about one month until the boys basketball season is scheduled to kick in earnestly, it’s a big question. It’s a legitimate one, too.
Technically, it’s not a labor dispute but a large majority of officials who work Section V boys games have made it known they are not happy with the current conditions. As a result, that majority has made itself “unavailable” to be scheduled to officiate games this season.
It leaves Section V with few officials to work games, so it presents a lofty challenge and a rather large dispute to resolve with little time left to do it.
“What I can say is that Section V is working to address the issue,” said Kathy Hoyt, Executive Director of Section V. “Our main goal is to not have the season interrupted … It’s definitely time sensitive. We’re aware of that.”
Here is the hurdle: As of late October, about 100 of 112 available basketball officials for Section V out of Board 60 have not submitted their availability for the coming season. Board 60 is the organization that trains and certifies local officials and covers all or parts of eight counties from Monroe County to parts east and west.
Two others, Boards 50 and 156, also provide officials for Section V but both are largely based in the Southern Tier.
Dale Trott is President of Board 60. He said there were 116 officials on the list for Board 60. Two decided to not officiate anymore and two more are not eligible. So of the remaining 112, only 12 to 14 submitted their availability for 2019-20.
“About 100 officials have told Section V they have no availability,” said Trott.
It’s tricky terrain here because legally, the officials are independent contractors, so they cannot strike or have an organized work stoppage. Nor can they receive guidance or advice from Board 60 on what action to take.
“Each individual member made their decision as independent contractors,” said Trott.
The issue for officials is three-fold: Game fees and mileage, game assignments and security at venues.
Fees and mileage
For years, officials were paid a fee to work games, plus the round-trip mileage from home to the game site. That changed three years ago when Section V proposed a flat fee for games, which would be higher than the previous game fee to take mileage into account.
Board 60 opposed this move by Section V but lost the argument in arbitration. That prompted Board 60 to withdraw from the United Sports Board Council, the umbrella organization for all sports officials that negotiated the contract with Section V.
And while the flat fee did increase to help cover for mileage, Trott said the concern was that the raise didn’t cover the mileage for officials working games far from home, specifically Finger Lakes League games well south of the Thruway. So the contention from Board 60 is that even though officials are being paid more per game, they’re actually being paid less in some instances because of the loss of mileage pay.
Trott said any assignment more than 30 miles round-trip is a monetary loss for officials. He also said that Section V is one of the few in New York to not pay mileage to officials. Section VI of the Buffalo area does not pay mileage but the coverage area for those officials is a much smaller territory than that of Section V, which is the largest in New York.
In July, a four-year contract between the USBC and Section V was approved and signed, which continued the flat fee for game officials, minus mileage. The contract called for officials to be paid $100 per varsity game.
The problem is that Board 60 does not recognize the contract since parting ways with the USBC over the mileage dispute.
It’s called a draw process, where officials are assigned to work games at school gymnasiums. And Trott said the main issue here is that officials have no say.
“It’s a process that coaches control,” he said. “And really, the coaches should have no say. You won’t find this set up anywhere. It’s not ethical … We presented the argument that we should have control of the assignment process like 99% of the other sports in Section V. ”
Hoyt points to the New York State Public Public High School Athletic Association handbook, which states “Officials shall be selected and assigned by secondary-school authorities in the school, the league or the section, State Association or their designee.”
“So yes, NYSPHAA says that it’s the decision of the schools,” she said.
As it is, officials have some latitude in the games they work and are allowed a small list of schools they wish to not officiate. Same for coaches, and the actual assignment of officials to games take those lists into account.
The contention here ties into the fees and mileage part of the equation. The basketball officials say that by having no say in assignments, some officials are traveling long distances to work games and by doing that, they’re making less money to officiate than they were before, when they were paid mileage.
Trott acknowledges the safety issues for officials are not the same at every school. But he does point out that basketball officials are the closest to fans than in any other sport.
There are no fences or barriers between officials and fans in the bleachers so if a heated situation boils over, officials are left with little protection. This, said Trott, is a factor in the recruitment and retention of new officials in a field that’s already woefully short of them.
“It’s not the kids we’re looking to, it’s the adults who cross the line,” said Trott. “At some places, security is just for show … so it’s a big concern.”
The decline in the number of officials working all high school sports is alarming and many sports are pressing hard in the recruitment arena. But if the safety issue isn’t addressed, Trott said progress is not likely.
“Nationally, we are losing 70% of officials after three years,” he said. “And that’s because of increased vitriol from parents, coaches and players.”
By not filing their availability by the Oct. 8 deadline, Section V was not able to conduct its Oct. 16 draw. So Section V field a grievance with NYSPHAA against Board 60, and Board 60 responded with its own grievance.
Trott said the situation is not something that happened overnight. It’s the culmination of concerns over the past few years and it’s reached a point where the officials feel the need to stand strong.
“We still have four weeks and we are hopeful the parties will reach a resolution,” he said.
The process at this point is heading toward a fact finding hearing, as mandated by NYSPHSAA, which has been notified of the impasse. At a date to be determined, each side will state its case and after that, each side has time to summarize the information and recommend a resolution. From there, the sides have 30 days to accept of reject the proposals.
On Thursday, Trott said Board 60 had a scheduled internal meeting to discuss a new proposal from Section V. But he’s not optimistic.
“On the surface, it does not meet the requirement that would be in the best interest of basketball,” he said. “That’s my opinion.”
So if the hearing doesn’t produce a resolution, the matter heads to the American Arbitration Association. That, of course, will take time and if it goes that far, the chances of a delayed start to the season are very real.
Officials are free to work games during the process but again, Trott said that’s a decision to be made by each individual official.
As for what it will take for officials to return to the court, Trott said that for him, progress needs to be made on all three fronts, especially security. He also emphasized he can’t speak for all the officials, so it’s difficult to predict how long the majority of officials will continue to not be available.
Hoyt said Section V has explored other officiating options, which she didn’t want to make public, but is hoping it doesn’t come to that. There are no scheduled meetings between the sides, but the doors remain open.
“I’m an eternal optimist,” she said. “But in my role, I have to operate with the main focus on what is best for the student-athletes.”
Longtime GOP Rep. Peter King won’t seek reelection in New York
Longtime Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) announced Monday that he will not seek reelection next year.
King said in a statement on Facebook that “after 28 years of spending 4 days a week in Washington, D.C., it is time to end the weekly commute and be home in Seaford.”
“This was not an easy decision. But there is a season for everything and Rosemary and I decided that, especially since we are both in good health, it is time to have the flexibility to spend more time with our children and grandchildren,” King said.
“My daughter’s recent move to North Carolina certainly accelerated my thinking,” he added. His daughter, former Hempstead Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, resigned from office earlier this year from office and was replaced by another Republican in last week’s election.
King, 75, serves on the House Homeland Security and Financial Services committees. He was chairman of the Homeland Security Committee in 2005-2006 and again in 2011-2012.
A wave of House GOP retirements is creating headaches for party leaders and suggesting Republicans see little chance of winning back the chamber in 2020.
So far, almost two dozen Republicans have announced this cycle that they are retiring from the lower chamber, resigning or running for other offices.
A handful of those departing lawmakers would have faced tough reelections in competitive districts, but a vast majority occupy safe, conservative seats.
King endorsed President Trump in 2016, the same year the congressman was reelected by a margin of more than 24 percentage points over his Democratic challenger. But in 2018, when Democrats across the country flipped GOP seats, King faced stronger challenge from his Democratic opponent Liuba Grechen Shirley. Shirley lost by approximately 6 percentage points to the longtime incumbent.
The Cook Political Report estimates New York’s second congressional district will “lean Republican” in the 2020 election.
In February, King was among the GOP lawmakers on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “retirements to watch list” of potential targets ahead of the 2020 election cycle.
BY KYLE BALLUCK
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