Archaeologists Discover Ancient Greek Royal Tombs Dating Back 3,500 Years : NPR


An aerial view of a 3,500-year-old tomb discovered near the southwestern Greek town of Pylos. Recovered grave goods included a golden seal ring and a golden Egyptian amulet.

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An aerial view of a 3,500-year-old tomb discovered near the southwestern Greek town of Pylos. Recovered grave goods included a golden seal ring and a golden Egyptian amulet.

AP

A team of American archaeologists has discovered two large ancient Greek royal tombs dating back some 3,500 years near the site of the ancient city of Pylos in southern Greece. The findings cast a new light on the role of the ancient city — mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey — in Mediterranean trade patterns of the Late Bronze Age.

Each of the two tombs — one about 39 feet in diameter and the other about 28 feet — was built in a dome-shape structure known as a tholos.

This golden pendant of the Egyptian goddess Hathor was found in one of two 3,500-year-old tombs.

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This golden pendant of the Egyptian goddess Hathor was found in one of two 3,500-year-old tombs.

Greek Culture Ministry/AP

Among the findings inside the tombs were evidence of gold-lined floors, a golden seal ring and a gold pendant with the image of the ancient Egyptian goddess Hathor. The amulet suggests that Pylos traded with Egypt during Greece’s Mycenaean civilization, which lasted roughly between 1650 and 1100 B.C. Homer’s epics are set in the latter stages of this period.

The discovery was made by Jack L. Davis and Sharon R. Stocker, an archaeological team from the University of Cincinnati. They had previously uncovered another burial site nearby in 2015 known as the Griffin Warrior grave. That site yielded significant findings including gold and silver treasure, jewelry and a long bronze sword believed to have possibly belonged to one of the early kings of Pylos.



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Gun violence research could be funded by Congress for first time in 20 years


Demonstrators hold up placards representing the number of the people who have died because of gun violence on Capitol Hill on June 20, 2019, during an event with gun violence prevention advocates.
Demonstrators hold up placards representing the number of the people who have died because of gun violence on Capitol Hill on June 20, 2019, during an event with gun violence prevention advocates.

For the first time in more than 20 years, Congress could approve federal funding to study gun violence, which kills nearly 40,000 Americans each year.

A House bill approved Tuesday includes $25 million for research, split evenly between the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Experts say the new allocation will allow researchers to conduct large-scale studies that get at the root causes of gun violence while ensuring that firearm regulation does not infringe on Second Amendment rights.

“It’s discovering what science can do for a problem like this. If you look at what science can do for heart disease, for cancer. It’s saved tens of thousands of lives,” said Mark Rosenberg, former director of CDC research on firearm violence. “This is going to unlock a vein of pure gold that people on both sides of the aisle will appreciate.”

The House vote comes just days after the seventh anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that killed 26 people, including 20 children. It also comes amid a year that has seen nearly 400 mass shootings (defined as four or more people shot or killed, not counting the shooter), according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, including high-profile shootings in El Paso, Texas;  and Dayton, Ohio.

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Felipe Avila mourns outside a Walmart in El Paso after a mass shooting on Aug. 4, 2019.
Felipe Avila mourns outside a Walmart in El Paso after a mass shooting on Aug. 4, 2019.

Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, said he and his team of researchers have long relied on meager public funding and private grants that limit the scope of their research by forcing them to draw correlations between available data sets rather than conduct more in-depth studies that collect data on firearm access.

“Very, very rarely are we able to say, ‘Are the people … who are the target of a law, can you document that their misuse of firearms is targeted by this law?’ That’s a far more compelling piece of causal evidence than a correlation with population-level data,” Webster said.

“And on the other side of that, for studies that look at law-abiding gun owners, how did these laws affect your capacity to get a gun? These are basic, fundamental questions that we have very little data on that this new funding could open up,” he said.

Gun control advocates applauded the move to include funding for research.

“Make no mistake, the passage of this bill marks an important victory for the gun safety movement – for the first time in more than 20 years, Congress will be appropriating funding specifically for research on gun violence, which now kills more Americans than car accidents,” John Feinblatt, president of the anti-gun-violence nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a news release.

Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, co-founder of the eponymous gun violence prevention organization, said in a news release that the bill demonstrates a “change” in the country’s approach to gun violence.

“For far too long, the United States Congress put the political agenda of the gun lobby over our nation’s public health and safety. But today, with outraged Americans demanding solutions to gun violence and a new gun safety majority elected to the House of Representatives, change is happening,” Giffords said.

The National Rifle Association, however, cautioned the CDC against exploiting public funding.

“Everyone knows the NRA supports properly conducted research into the causes of violence. What we don’t support are taxpayer-funded efforts to weaponize the CDC for political ‘research’ favoring gun control. Fortunately, this legislation retains the Dickey Amendment, which prohibits the use of tax-payer funds to promote gun control,” spokesperson Amy Hunter said.

Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who co-founded a gun violence prevention organization.
Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who co-founded a gun violence prevention organization.

If approved, the bill would be the first to include funding explicitly for gun safety research since 1996. That year, Congress – under pressure from the NRA – approved the Dickey Amendment, which stated that the CDC could not “advocate or promote gun control.” Congress also slashed CDC funding by $2.6 million, the same amount that the center had spent on firearm violence research the previous year.

While the Dickey Amendment did not specifically ban research on gun violence, it had a “chilling effect” on the field, Webster said. It spurred the CDC to avoid research on firearms regulation and discouraged young researchers from pursuing the field.

“The true chilling effect was the pull-back of funds and the strong signal from Congress that, if you fund research that the gun lobby isn’t happy with, expect funding cuts,” Webster said.

Rosenberg, who directed CDC research on firearm violence at the time, said the Dickey Amendment reduced gun violence research to “a trickle.” From 1998 to 2012, the number of publications about gun violence declined 64%, according to a 2017 study by medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

The amendment “was a warning, a shot across the bow,” Rosenberg said. “It told researchers that, if you want to research gun violence, we can make your life miserable.”

‘The loneliest club’: For survivors caught in endless loop of mass shootings, time doesn’t always heal

Then-representative Jay Dickey, R-Ark., who sponsored the amendment, later reversed his position and penned an op-ed in The Washington Post with Rosenberg, explaining the need for gun safety research and noting that there had been “almost no publicly funded research on firearm injuries” since 1996. In the op-ed, the authors admitted that “one of us served as the NRA’s point person in Congress.”

Last year, lawmakers clarified the language of the Dickey Amendment, making clear that it does not prevent research into gun violence.

The new funding is baked into a $1.37 trillion spending package that also includes money for President Donald Trump’s border wall and increases the age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21.

The package was released Monday and passed the House on Tuesday. It must pass the Senate and be signed by Trump by Friday to avert a government shutdown.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Gun violence research funding included in bipartisan spending bill



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The War That Continues to Shape Russia, 25 Years Later


“They pretended that the Chechens were just fighting among themselves,” he said, “but the whole thing was organized by Russia, mainly the F.S.K.,” the domestic intelligence agency that succeeded the K.G.B., with the connivance of the military.

Andrei Rusakov, an army captain among the 20 or so Russians captured, told how he had signed a secret contract in which the F.S.K. — now called the F.S.B. — offered him several thousand dollars to take part in the phony Chechen opposition attack.

The revelation of the security service’s failure prompted public gloating by Russia’s military. Pavel S. Grachev, the defense minister, stated on television that the armed forces could have taken control of Chechnya with “one paratroop regiment in a couple of hours.”

His boast quickly came back to haunt him, when Mr. Yeltsin ordered the military to invade. The disastrous performance of the armed forces made Mr. Grachev perhaps the most reviled man in Russia, amid accusations that he had pushed for a military solution simply to disperse the whiff of corruption around him and his ministry.

After the failed New Year’s Eve attack on Grozny, Russian forces pounded it relentlessly from the air, an orgy of destruction that Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany denounced as “sheer madness.” The Russians finally captured the city, but as the war ground on amid horrendous brutality on both sides, Chechens recaptured it the following year, and laid siege to Russian forces in other major towns.

In August 1996, Gen. Aleksandr Lebed, Mr. Yeltsin’s national security adviser, reached an agreement with the Chechens to stop the fighting. Mr. Yeltsin, increasingly infirm, erratic and under siege politically, initially balked at the deal, which effectively acknowledged Russia’s defeat, but ultimately endorsed it.

“The main thing,” he said, “is that bloodshed has been stopped.”



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American student Xiyue Wang jailed in Iran for 3 years freed in prisoner exchange


Xiyue Wang had been held in Iran’s notorious Evin prison since August 2016.

An American graduate student who was jailed for more than three years in Iran is headed home after a prisoner swap.

Xiyue Wang, 38, a Princeton University student, was exchanged for Iranian scientist Professor Massoud Soleimani early on Saturday as part of a prisoner exchange brokered by the Switzerland government. Wang had been held in Iran’s notorious Evin prison since August 2016 on charges of espionage.

President Trump said Wang had been held under the “pretense” of espionage.”

“The highest priority of the United States is the safety and well-being of its citizens,” the president said in a statement. “Freeing Americans held captive is of vital importance to my Administration, and we will continue to work hard to bring home all our citizens wrongfully held captive overseas.”

A senior administration official said Switzerland had been negotiating for Wang’s release for more than three weeks. Wang, who is currently in Germany, is in good spirits, the official said.

Wang, who is married with a son, was a Eurasian history scholar. He traveled to Iran in 2016 to study Persian and conduct research for his dissertation.

Before traveling, Wang wrote to the Iranian Interest Section at the Pakistani embassy in Washington, D.C., which issued his visa. He also wrote to the libraries in Iran he planned to visit, according to Princeton University.

He was transparent about what he wanted to study and why, according to the university, and about his desire to access documents housed at Iranian libraries and archives.

“He was not involved in any political activities or social activism; he was simply a scholar trying to gain access to materials he needed for his dissertation,” the school said in a statement about his case.

Wang’s wife, Hua Qu, tweeted that their family was “complete once again.”

“Our son Shaofan and I have waited three long years for this day and it’s hard to express in words how excited we are to be reunited with Xiyue,” the tweet read. “We are thankful to everyone who helped make this happen.”

In exchange for Wang’s release, Professor Massoud Soleimani, who was arrested at a Chicago airport last year and charged with violating trade sanctions against Iran, was headed home, too.

A stem cell researcher who had been working in Minnesota, Soleimani was charged after he was reportedly seeking to transfer biological material back to Iran without a license.

His lawyers argued that he was innocent, saying the sanctions law was ambiguous.

Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, was there to greet him at the airport; he flew with Wang from Tehran to Switzerland.

In a tweet, Zarif said: “Glad that Professor Massoud Soleimani and Mr. Xiyue Wang will be joining their families shortly. Many thanks to all engaged, particularly the Swiss Government.”

ABC News’ Elizabeth Thomas contributed to this report.



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American student Xiyue Wang freed in prisoner swap after three years in Iran jail


An American graduate student who was held in an Iranian prison for more than three years was finally headed home Saturday after a prisoner swap between the two countries.

Xiyue Wang, 38, was released in Switzerland in exchange for Iranian citizen Massoud Soleimani, who was being held in an Atlanta jail over accusations he violated U.S. sanctions.

“We thank our Swiss partners for their assistance in negotiating Mr. Wang’s release with Iran,” said President Donald Trump in a statement confirming the news.

“The highest priority of the United States is the safety and well-being of its citizens. Freeing Americans held captive is of vital importance to my Administration, and we will continue to work hard to bring home all our citizens wrongfully held captive overseas.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif posted on Twitter early Saturday ahead of the swap, and again after it was confirmed.

Wang is a Chinese-born naturalized American citizen and a fourth-year doctoral student of history at Princeton University.

He was arrested in August 2016 while carrying out research on Iran’s Qajar dynasty for his Ph.D., according to the university, his wife and the U.S. government.

He was convicted of two counts of espionage in April 2017 and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. He had been held in Evin Prison, the Tehran facility that houses most of the country’s political prisoners.

Iran released video in November 2017 of Wang allegedly trying to smuggle documents. Then-State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert explicitly denied Wang was working on behalf of any U.S. government agency.

The U.S. had repeatedly called for his release. In his statement Saturday, Trump said he “had been held under the pretense of espionage.”

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His wife, Qu Hua, had worked with Princeton trying to win his release. She told NBC News in November 2017 that Wang was struggling with depression in prison.

He was also missing out on watching their son grow up, she said, having last seen the boy when he was only 2 years old.

“My son told his teacher that, ‘When I grow up, my daddy will come home.'”

After the news that he would do just that this weekend, Qu said in a statement that “Our family is complete once again.”

“Our son Shaofan and I have waited three long years for this day and it’s hard to express in words how excited we are to be reunited with Xiyue. We are thankful to everyone who helped make this happen,” she said.

“The entire Princeton University community is overjoyed that Xiyue Wang can finally return home to his wife and young son, and we look forward to welcoming him back to campus,” said Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber.

Wang’s lawyer also celebrated the news, urging both countries to “keep open a pathway.”

A senior administration official confirmed to NBC News that Wang was flown from Tehran to Zurich, where he was met by U.S. Special Representative Brian Hook. Hook then accompanied Wang to Ramstein Air Base in Germany. He will undergo further evaluation at a local medical center before heading home.

Wang was among at least four other Americans being held by Iran, including Iranian-American father and son Siamak and Baquer Namazi, navy veteran Michael White and former FBI agent Robert Levinson.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Saturday that “The United States will not rest until we bring every American detained in Iran and around the world back home to their loved ones.”

“We thank the Swiss government for facilitating the return of Mr. Wang,” Pompeo added, “and are pleased that Tehran has been constructive in this matter.””We continue to call for the release of all U.S. citizens unjustly detained in Iran.”

Wang’s freedom came in exchange for Soleimani, a medical research scientist who was arrested in October 2018. The U.S. accused Soleimani of violating sanctions against Iran by attempting to export biological materials in the form of human growth hormone without authorization.

The swap comes amid growing tensions between Iran and the U.S. and its allies in the Gulf.

The Pentagon said Thursday that the U.S. was formulating plans to potentially deploy more U.S. troops to the Middle East in response to a growing threat from Tehran.

Crushing sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump last year following the U.S. withdrawal from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers have left Iran facing widespread economic discontent.

Demonstrations erupted across the country recently in response to a 50 percent hike in gas prices. U.S. officials, along with human rights groups, said as many as 1,000 Iranians were killed and thousands more imprisoned since the protests began on Nov. 15.

Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations, called the casualty numbers “purely speculative and highly inaccurate,” while adding an investigation into the “disturbances” and “those affected, whether injured or killed” was ongoing.

Trump weighed in on the protests Tuesday, saying in a tweet that “America supports the brave people of Iran who are protesting for their freedom.”





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With Brutal Crackdown, Iran Convulsed by Worst Unrest in 40 Years


The authorities have declined to specify casualties and arrests and have denounced unofficial figures on the national death toll as speculative. But the nation’s interior minister, Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, has cited widespread unrest around the country.

On state media, he said that protests had erupted in 29 out of 31 provinces and 50 military bases had been attacked, which if true suggested a level of coordination absent in the earlier protests. The property damage also included 731 banks, 140 public spaces, nine religious centers, 70 gasoline stations, 307 vehicles, 183 police cars, 1,076 motorcycles and 34 ambulances, the interior minister said.

The worst violence documented so far happened in the city of Mahshahr and its suburbs, with a population of 120,000 people in Iran’s southwest Khuzestan Province — a region with an ethnic Arab majority that has a long history of unrest and opposition to the central government. Mahshahr is adjacent to the nation’s largest industrial petrochemical complex and serves as a gateway to Bandar Imam, a major port.

The New York Times interviewed six residents of the city, including a protest leader who had witnessed the violence; a reporter based in the city who works for Iranian media, and had investigated the violence but was banned from reporting it; and a nurse at the hospital where casualties were treated.

They each provided similar accounts of how the Revolutionary Guards deployed a large force to Mahshahr on Monday, Nov. 18, to crush the protests. All spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution by the Guards.

For three days, according to these residents, protesters had successfully gained control of most of Mahshahr and its suburbs, blocking the main road to the city and the adjacent industrial petrochemical complex. Iran’s interior minister confirmed that the protesters had gotten control over Mahshahr and its roads in a televised interview last week, but the Iranian government did not respond to specific questions in recent days about the mass killings in the city.



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Commission marks ten years of judicial and police co-operation between member states


With the Treaty of Lisbon, member states created an Area of Freedom, Security and Justice, one in which people can move around freely and yet remain safe from crime, as well as have their interests protected by the courts. The Treaty of Lisbon has enabled:

The Treaty of Lisbon was signed on 13 December 2007 and entered into force on 1 December 2009.

The-then new Treaty enabled the full transition from an inter-governmental approach to judicial and police cooperation (the so-called 3rd Pillar of the Maastricht Treaty) to a Union-based approach. It also provided for a 5-year transition period, after which the European Commission’s enforcement powers under Article 258 TFEU consolidated to cover both pre and post-Lisbon EU law. Under the Treaties, Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom enjoy a special status in the Area of Freedom Security and Justice.

With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights became legally binding. Since then, individuals enjoy and can enforce the personal, civic, political, economic and social rights enshrined in it.

More information

Treaty of Lisbon: Title V – An area of Freedom, Security and Justice

Protocol 19: Integrating the Schengen acquis into European Union Law

Protocol 21: On the position of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice

Protocol 22: On the position of the Kingdom of Denmark in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice

Protocol 36: Providing transitional measures in the field of police co-operation and judicial cooperation in criminal matters





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How much is Saks flagship store worth? $2.7 billion less than it was 5 years ago, says new appraisal


Hudson’s Bay Co.’s real estate holdings — once considered the brightest spot in a sagging department store empire — are worth a fraction of previous estimates, according to new appraisals released Tuesday as part of a bid to take the company private.

The documents suggest the value of HBC’s real estate has fallen from $35.24 per share in 2017 to $8.75 per share this year, following property sales and an apparent multi-billion-dollar decline in the value of its Saks Fifth Avenue flagship store in Manhattan.

In 2014, an independent appraisal valued the Saks building at $4.8 billion. Tuesday’s report by CBRE Group Inc. put the best-use value at $2.1 billion — a $2.7-billion drop — with the company pointing to declining New York rent, a worse-than-expected performance over the last five years, and the ongoing disturbance in the retail sector.

HBC released the appraisals of its 79 properties as a companion to a management circular sent to shareholders ahead of a vote next month. That vote will determine the fate of the 349-year-old retailer, which also owns Saks Fifth Avenue.

The purported drop in the real estate value — and the arduous process of extracting that value — is part of the reason that a special committee, struck by the board of directors is urging shareholders to support a bid, led by HBC executive chairman Richard Baker, to take the company private at $10.30 per share.

 


Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City.

Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images

A group of minority shareholders have contested that bid, focusing primarily on the value of HBC’s fleet of storefronts across North America. Private equity firm Catalyst Capital Group Inc. has signalled it had enough shareholder support to block the bid. But neither Catalyst, nor activist investor Jonathan Litt of Land & Buildings Investment Management, have responded to the release of the hundreds of new appraisal documents.

Last year, Litt wrote a letter to shareholders, bemoaning that the “Saks Fifth Avenue flagship in Manhattan, is worth more than where the stock currently trades.”

But CBRE noted several challenges for the 96-year-old building, including falling rent prices on Fifth Avenue and a heritage building status that would complicate any potential development project.

“Multi-level retail in Manhattan has been challenging in certain circumstances,” the report reads, adding that upscale New York City shopping districts, like Fifth Avenue, have been hardest hit by a “declining trend in asking rents” since 2016. The report also noted that the store had previously sold its air rights, for upward development.

HBC’s special committee held “extensive discussions” about the drastic value reduction for the Saks flagship, according to the management circular released on Friday. The circular said that the committee discussed several factors behind the decline, “including the performance of the store relative to expectations in 2014, changes in market rents on New York’s 5th Avenue, and the changes in the retail landscape.”


CBRE says declining New York rent, a worse-than-expected performance over the past five years, and the ongoing disturbance in the retail sector has dramatically lowered the value of the iconic store.

Demetrius Freeman/The New York Times

James Smerdon, a retail consultant and strategic planner with Colliers International, noted that appraising large, complex Manhattan sites involves so many factors that “one entity might value it very differently than another.”

“I would say that it would be very unusual to have the same consultants arrive at these wildly different values only five years apart,” he wrote in an email Tuesday.

In a Spring 2017 presentation to investors, HBC said the value of its real estate was $35.24 per share. A year and a half later, chief executive Helena Foulkes suggested the real estate was $28 per share. The continued drop in value could be attributed in part, to asset sales, including HBC’s Lord and Taylor flagship in Manhattan and properties tied to its European operations.

The CBRE reports informed TD Securities’ fairness opinion, which put the fair market value of HBC’s common shares in the range of $10 to $12.25.

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