• Kerry warns Assad to start transition by Aug. 1 _ or else

    03/May/2016 // 226 Viewers


    WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State John Kerry warned Syria's government and its backers in Moscow and Tehran on Tuesday that they face an August deadline for starting a political transition to move President Bashar Assad out, or they risk the consequences of a new U.S. approach toward ending the 5-year-old civil war.

    But given the various, unfulfilled U.S. threats throughout the Arab country's conflict — from declaring Assad's days "numbered" five years ago to promising military action if chemical weapons were used — it was unclear what effect Kerry's ultimatum might have.

    And it's unlikely that the Obama administration, so long opposed to an active American combat role in Syria, would significantly boost its presence beyond the 300 special forces it has authorized thus far in the heart of a U.S. presidential election season. More feasible might be U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia giving the rebels new weapons to fight Assad, such as portable surface-to-air missiles.

    "The target date for the transition is 1st of August," Kerry told reporters at the State Department. "So we're now coming up to May. So either something happens in these next few months, or they are asking for a very different track."

    The top American diplomat spoke following a meeting between the U.N. envoy for Syria and Russia's foreign minister in Moscow on Tuesday, a day after discussions with Kerry in Geneva. The goal was to restore a partial truce that has all but unraveled amid 12 straight days of bitter fighting in Aleppo, Syria's largest city.

    Kerry condemned a hospital attack in the city that killed at least 20 people on Tuesday and said the missile appeared to have been fired from rebel-controlled territory. He said the U.S. rejects violence against civilians, whether it's by Assad's government or Western-backed opposition groups.

    But Kerry saved his sharpest comments for Assad and his government's two key military, economic and diplomatic lifelines: Russia and Iran.

    "If Assad does not adhere to this, there will clearly be repercussions," Kerry warned. "One of them may be the total destruction of the cease-fire and then go back to war. I don't think Russia wants that. I don't think Assad is going to benefit from that. There may be even other repercussions being discussed. That is for the future."

    Kerry said the U.S. and Russia were working on the details of a more durable cease-fire that would include Aleppo and prevent the metropolis from falling. He said leaders on all sides must refrain from fighting for the cause of peace.

    On its face, the threat of continued fighting doesn't seem to carry much weight. Assad has aggressively sought to crush any and all opposition groups in a war that emerged from the government's violent repression of largely peaceful, Arab Spring-inspired protests in 2011. Despite a death toll that numbers in the hundreds of thousands, Russian planes and Iranian troops continue to fight alongside the Syrian military.

    Kerry also appeared to undermine his own selling of a truce by stressing that the opposition would never accommodate Assad's leadership. The current U.N.-endorsed transition plan for Syria says nothing about Assad relinquishing power or being prevented from running for an eventual re-election as president. His family has ruled Syria for four decades.

    "If Assad's strategy is to somehow think he's going to just carve out Aleppo and carve out a section of the country, I got news for you and for him: This war doesn't end," Kerry said.

    "As long as Assad is there, the opposition is not going to stop fighting," he said.

    Kerry said he has told his counterparts in Moscow and Tehran that calm won't prevail in Syria if they're not prepared to move quickly toward a new Syrian government.

    "Assad cannot reunite the country — it's that simple," Kerry said.

    "Having gassed his people, barrel bombed his people, dropped bombs on hospitals, driven 12 million people out of their homes, tortured people, starved people, what kind of legitimacy should somebody who's committed these kinds of atrocities suddenly claim to run the country? It's pretty hard for anybody to understand how you make peace out of that record of chaos and depravity."

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  • 5 things that the president of Nigeria can do to get his country back on track

    03/Nov/2015 // 286 Viewers

    Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari rides in a motorcade while inspecting the guard of honor at Eagle Square in Abuja, Nigeria, in May. (Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters)
    President Muhammadu Buhari, who was inaugurated May 29, is the antithesis of the stereotypical Nigerian politician: incorruptible, soft-spoken, self-effacing and deliberate.  He embraces the nickname “Baba Go-Slow and Steady.” Buhari’s unhurried style has its downsides, however: It took him an unprecedented four months to name a solid but unextraordinary cabinet.  His reform agenda appears to be sauntering out of the gates, according to the civil society-run Buharimeter.

    In the meantime, the challenges facing Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy continue to grow: Oil revenues are down, currency value has slipped and Boko Haram has killed more than 1,700 since June.  Nigerians nevertheless expect their new president’s reform agenda to show tangible results, and soon. Given these imperatives, here are five things Buhari can do to get the ball rolling:

    1. Carefully clean house. Buhari’s reform agenda probably faces its greatest threat from corrupt, old-school politicians within his own All Progressives Congress (APC) party.  Buhari should neutralize some of the APC’s shadiest figures, who could emerge as “veto players,” as described in Carl LeVan’s recent book.  

    Examples of these kleptocrats are not hard to find.  The U.S. Department of Justice has accused one sitting APC governor of helping former dictator Sani Abacha steal at least $458 million from state coffers.  Likewise, both APC candidates in the upcoming Kogi and Bayelsa State governorship elections have been indicted by Nigeria’s anti-corruption agency.

    Admittedly, housecleaning carries political risks for Buhari. After all, his victorious electoral coalition included powerful defectors from former president Goodluck Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP).  If he unduly antagonizes these establishment figures, they could derail his party’s newfound dominance by joining their former comrades in the opposition PDP.

    2. Pare down the parastatals.  Buhari has an opportunity to realize immediate savings by eliminating or merging some of Nigeria’s more than 500 federal parastatals and boards. Parastatals are government-operated companies or commercial agencies.  Pundits allege that past presidents used parastatal appointments to cultivate national political allies and provincial cronies.  These institutions, which range from the lucrative to the modest to the moribund, have long been a cornerstone of corruption in Nigeria — a complicated topic expertly explained by Daniel Jordan Smith.

    Buhari may also want to disband some nice-to-have but non-essential parastatals in light of competing priorities and current fiscal constraints.  Does Nigeria need to spend more than $4 million annually on a Center for Space Transport and Propulsion? Is there an effort underway to rescue the supposedly stranded Nigerian astronaut featured in this legendary scam letter?

    3. Tame the white elephants.  Buhari’s apparent determination to revive two “white elephant”  economic sectors — domestic oil refineries and steel mills — worry industry experts.  Nigeria is replete with these kinds of investment projects where state-owned enterprises are funded for long periods even if they incur huge losses.  For decades, Nigerian leaders have thrown good money after bad at these projects because, as Robinson and Torvik argue, white elephant projects yield short-term political gains.

    Buhari, like any of the rest of us, could stumble into a sunk cost dilemma where his efforts to maximize future returns of Nigeria’s white elephants only increase their cumulative losses. Instead, he should address the graft, inconsistent policies and opaque privatization deals that experts say turned these industries into white elephants in the first place.

    4. Rein in subnational debt.  As Buhari tries to put Nigeria’s public finances back in order, the balance sheets of the country’s 36 states are sinking deeper into the red.  In a decentralized federal system like Nigeria’s, state budgets typically affect the lives of ordinary citizens more than federal spending does. Since taking office, Buhari has already bailed out 27 cash-strapped states to the tune of $2.1 billion.  States’ borrowing trends are risky and need to be addressed, according to a recent report by the African Development Bank.

    All but a few states generate minimal revenue outside of their monthly allocation of Nigeria’s anemic oil income.  While Nigeria’s national debt is still relatively low by global standards, fiscal federalism means that if states default on their debts, the federal government foots the bill.  Buhari’s reasons for watching state borrowing should also be personal: One of the stated reasons for the 1983 military coup that first brought him to power was runaway borrowing by state governors.

    5. Legislate for the long run.  Nigeria will need to feel the “Buhari Effect” (the sense, evident in a recent New York Times article, that there is a new sheriff in town) long after the president’s tenure is over.  The best way for him to protect his legacy is to partner with the National Assembly to enact legislation enshrining key reforms.  With few other politicians like him on the horizon, Buhari should put his legacy in writing.

    A good place to start would be an act prohibiting the use of “security votes.” Both a definitive article by Uche et al. and a 2007 Human Rights Watch report illustrate how these secretive budgetary line items are used by officials at all levels of government as slush funds. Even Nigeria’s leading anti-corruption agency had a $1,000,000 security vote included in its 2014 budget. Buhari has his work cut out for him.

    Matthew Page is an international affairs fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.


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  • Ohio could legalize marijuana on Tuesday. It could also change the entire legalization game.

    03/Nov/2015 // 330 Viewers

    On Tuesday, Ohio could become the fifth state to legalize recreational marijuana.

    But the story line there is less about how a culturally conservative state feels about pot and more about how a group of savvy political and business operatives are forging a new path forward for the growing movement that could fundamentally change who gets in the game -- and why.

    Depending on what happens in Ohio, the next iteration of pro-legalization activists could be motivated by an entirely different kind of green: Cash.

    Here's what you need to know about Ohio's unusual ballot initiative to legalize pot and how it could change the marijuana legalization movement.

    It's not your average legalization campaign

    There are a lot of firsts in Ohio, actually. If it legalizes recreation marijuana, Ohio would be the first Midwestern state and the first privately organized legalization campaign, notes Denver-based journalist Josiah M. Hesse in a politico magazine piece.

    It's also the first state to try to legalize recreational and medical marijuana at once. (States like Colorado and Washington already had a medical marijuana infrastructure in place when they expanded to recreational pot.)

    But it's what happens after legalization that really sets Ohio's initiative apart. Cultivating and selling pot would be limited to 10 pre-determined farms. Any pot distributor in Ohio would have no choice but to buy marijuana grown from one of these farms. In essence, it's a marijuana monopoly.

    Also unusual is the legalization campaign's blunt end game (see what we did there?). It's a constitutional amendment backed and financed almost exclusively by those who stand to benefit from its passage.

    It's backed by Ohio pop culture stars

    The owners of the 10 farms include a grab-bag group of 24 investors that include former 98 Degrees boy-band crooner Nick Lachey, as well as descendants of former president William Howard Taft and NBA star Oscar Robertson. If the amendment is approved, they'll be ground-floor investors in a business that advocates estimate will bring in $1 billion a year.

    Each ownership group was asked to invest roughly $2 to $4 million in the ResponsibleOhio campaign advocating for legalization.

    And that's precisely the problem, say a diverse group of opponents that includes marijuana legalization advocates, who are joining forces with the usual cast of opponents like law enforcement officers. Ohio's constitution could soon basically enshrine these people's rights to make money explains, explains The Washington Post's Jessica Contrera.

    The idea is so controversial that, in July, state lawmakers threw their own ballot initiative out there to counter this one. Known as the "anti-monopoly amendment," it would ban anyone from creating a constitutional amendment exclusively for financial gain.

    If both pass -- a possibility -- this whole drama could go to the courts.

    It's splitting the marijuana industry

    Supporters say the private-sector-driven initiative is the only way they could get a conservative-leaning state to even consider legalizing pot.

    The brainchild of the initiative is veteran Ohio political operative Ian James, who has 30 years of experience in Ohio politics but little track record in the way of drug legalization. James has zeroed in on the traditional arguments for legalizing pot -- civil liberties, social justice, tax benefits -- and stayed away from the controversial layout of Ohio's potential pot industry.

    "Let's stop pretending either that Ohioans don't consume marijuana or that only bad people do," he wrote in one of several op-eds during the spring.

    Opponents, unsurprisingly, are calling to attention to the unique set-up.

    "They are creating a constitutionally mandated oligopoly,” argues Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

    Despite Nadelmann's statement, the New York Times reports that the Marijuana Policy Project and Drug Policy Alliance are officially neutral on the initiative, while the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws "gave it an uneasy endorsement."

    The public is also split on what to do

    Ohioans appear as undecided as the pros.

    A recent Bowling Green University poll shows  44 percent were for it and 43 percent were against it -- well within the three-and-a-half-point margin of error -- and a relatively high 13 percent undecided.

    Other polls also show just about anything could happen on Tuesday.

    Ohio has arguably already changed the legalization game

    Ohioans aren't just voting on a new model for financing and regulating legal pot. They're potentially reforming marijuana from a libertarian/hippie activity relegated to states out West into a socially acceptable investment that can flourish in unlikely places.

    That's a big change for a country where marijuana is still classified as one of the mist dangerous of drugs and where banks are technically prohibited from financing the industry. (The Justice Department has agreed to look the other way in states that legalize it.)

    As Denver-based journalist Hesse notes, the game is already shifting just by Ohioans considering this measure. No matter what happens Tuesday, the state has begun to reframe the legalization debate from marijuana's social impact to its financial one.

    "[W]ith recreational marijuana having already proved itself as an endeavor worthy of Big Business attention," he wrote, "it’s certain that we’re going to see large influxes of cash into future campaigns by investors looking for a stake in the coming green rush."

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  • Hillary 'collapses' as Bill Clinton's niece endorses Donald Trump

    03/Nov/2016 // 1956 Viewers


    PARIS, NOVEMBER 3, 2016: (DGW) Democratic presidential hopeful has been thrown into utter confusion as Bill Clinton's niece. Macy Smith, reportedly pitches tent with the Republican presidential hopeful, Donald Trump in the forthcoming US presidential election.

    Smit, the only daughter of Bill Clinton‘s brother, Roger, is not happy about her aunt's presidential ambition and has therefore resolved to vote for Donald Trump on November 8.

    She made this shocking disclosure in an interview with Radar Online, Smit said:
    "Something tells me the Clinton side of the family looks at me and my mother as not good enough, but we’re hard-working! I support Donald Trump --100 percent! I have been a Democrat my entire life, but Trump is what we need right now, somebody who is going to stand up for us. I think at this point Hillary just wants it for the history books — to be the first woman president for selfish reasons.

    Smit added that last year, she had a miscarriage while her Air Force husband was serving in Kuwait and felt abandoned by the Clintons.
    She continued:

    “They’re not as good as everyone thinks they are. I went through some very personal things without their support.

    ”Smit's mother, Martha Spivey added:

    "The Clintons are all talk! Hillary says she’s all about family, but she’s got a niece she’s never met and never acknowledged. The Clintons have never helped us out.”

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  • New York Catholics pray for synod divorce reforms

    03/Oct/2015 // 224 Viewers

    Getty/AFP/File / by Thomas Urbain | School children take "selfies" with Pope Francis upon his arrival to the Lady Queen of Angels school on September 25, 2015 in New York City


    NEW YORK (AFP) - 

    New York Catholics basking in the glow of Pope Francis's recent visit are hoping that the imminent synod at the Vatican will make remarried divorcees more accepted by the church.

    Three weeks of debate among bishops on the family that could radically reshape the Church's approach to divisive issues of divorce and homosexuality is due to begin in Rome on Sunday.

    Canon law excludes remarried divorcees from taking communion and confessing to a priest, but worshippers leaving mass at The Church of Saint Agnes in Manhattan want that to change.

    "My sister has been married for 15 years to a man who got married religiously before. She cannot get married in church. That's been bothering her ever since her civil marriage," says Carola, a well-dressed New Yorker in her 50s.

    The ban on those who have divorced and remarried receiving communion has been in force for centuries but has become increasingly untenable as the number of divorces in Catholic families grows.

    "They need to relax. If they turn their back on the people who got divorced and the women who had an abortion, they're going to alienate half the population," said Eric, a suited executive.

    In September, Francis made it easier, quicker and free for Catholics to have their marriages annulled under reforms, saying that divorcees would always be part of the Church.

    He has said the Church must tend to the "wounds" caused by family breakdown rather than seeking to exclude or judge people within its ranks living in "irregular" situations.

    Ada Duran, a Catholic originally from Colombia but living in New York, welcomes the prospect of a quicker, cheaper process.

    "It would be nice to make it easier for people to get annulment: cheaper, and also shorter. Many people don't do it today because of it," she told AFP outside the church in Manhattan.

    "My sister got divorced and it took her 10 years. And it still is much easier here in the US than in my home country, Colombia. There, everything is very strict," she said.

    Her sister used to still go to church but could not take communion. "She would cry, but still go to church," she said.

    - 'Everyone can be forgiven' -

    In August, the pope said remarried divorcees were part of the Church and should not be treated as if they had been excommunicated.

    "Awareness that a brotherly and attentive welcome... is needed towards those who... have established a new relationship after the failure of a marriage, has greatly increased," he said.

    But for Joy Reyes, a New Yorker in her 60s, the September reform did not go far enough.

    "Priests should help people taking these steps. Many of them are not educated, they don't know what to do," she said.

    "My brother left his wife after 30 years. He's with a younger woman now. I told him: you should repent, you should pray. But he doesn't want to hear it," said Reyes.

    "He tells me: I speak directly to God. So he doesn't go to church and he told me I shouldn't go either. But I do and I pray for him."

    Ruth, a practising Catholic leaving the same church, said those who wanted to be part of the Church should follow the rules, but welcomed the pope's focus on mercy.

    "Everyone can be forgiven. You have to review it case by case," she told AFP.

    Vatican officials have been unusually frank in admitting that clashes are inevitable during what will be the final round of a review of Church teaching on questions related to family life.

    The most important division is between reformers who want to make the Church more accommodating towards gay, divorced or cohabiting believers, and those opposed to any dilution of centuries-old doctrine which holds that marriage is for life and that homosexuality is sinful or an abomination.

    Francis has made it clear he favors a fresh approach and his status as the infallible Vicar of Christ means he can ultimately decide what he likes.

    But most experts agree he will be looking for majority support for any changes.

    For Eric, the suited executive, the most important thing is to tell believers: "You're going to be judged by God, but we're not going to judge you."

    by Thomas Urbain

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  • State of Georgia executes first woman in 70 years

    03/Oct/2015 // 239 Viewers

    The U.S. state of Georgia executed its only woman on death row on Wednesday, marking the first time in 70 years the state has carried out a death sentence on a woman, a prison official said.
    Kelly Gissendaner, 47, died by lethal injection at 12:21 a.m. EDT at Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, a prison spokeswoman said.
    Gissendaner was sentenced to death after being convicted of what is known in the state as malice murder for her role in plotting the killing of her husband, Douglas, in 1997.
    Pope Francis, who concluded a six-day U.S. trip on Sunday and is an outspoken opponent of the death penalty, had urged officials to commute her death sentence.
    Gissendaner’s execution marks the first death sentence carried out against a woman in Georgia in 70 years. She was the 16th woman executed in the United States since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
    The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday denied last-minute requests for a stay of execution.
    The state’s Board of Pardons and Paroles met on Tuesday to decide whether its refusal earlier this year to commute Gissendaner’s sentence to life in prison should stand.
    Board members were not swayed by her latest appeal for clemency, which emphasized her model behavior in prison and her remorse. Her lawyers also noted she was not present when the crime was committed.
    The man who carried out the kidnapping and murder, Kelly Gissendaner’s then-boyfriend, Gregory Owen, received a life sentence.
    Rev. Cathy Zappa, an Episcopal priest who taught Gissendaner through a prison theology program, had said Gissendaner was scared but had not wavered in her belief in God.
    Prison spokeswoman Lisa Rodriguez-Presley said Gissendaner requested a final prayer before she died.
    Gissendaner’s supporters included her three adult children and a former Georgia Supreme Court justice who says he was wrong to deny one of Gissendaner’s earlier appeals.
    But the family of Doug Gissendaner said Kelly Gissendaner showed him no mercy.
    “As the murderer,” the family said in a statement before the execution, “she’s been given more rights and opportunity over the last 18 years than she ever afforded to Doug who, again, is the victim here.”
    Gissendaner’s scheduled execution was called off in February due to bad weather affecting roads and again in March when officials noticed what they believed was a problem with the injection drug they were about to use.

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  • Obama says he's a feminist, gives reasons why he became advocate of women's rights

    04/Aug/2016 // 293 Viewers


    In a birthday editorial Thursday, US President Barack Obama described himself as a feminist and urged renewed effort to break down gender stereotypes.

    The father of two girls, who was raised by a single mother, penned an essay for Glamour magazine, declaring “this is an extraordinary time to be a woman.”

    “I say that not just as President but also as a feminist.”

    Listing strides made by women, from gaining the vote to cracking open previously off-bounds careers, Obama said “the most important change may be the toughest of all — and that’s changing ourselves.”
    He said raising Sasha, 15, and Malia, 18, had opened his eyes to the pressure girls are under.

    “You see the subtle and not-so-subtle social cues transmitted through culture. You feel the enormous pressure girls are under to look and behave and even think a certain way.”

    “We need to keep changing the attitude that raises our girls to be demure and our boys to be assertive, that criticizes our daughters for speaking out and our sons for shedding a tear,” he wrote.

    Obama turned 55 years old on Thursday.

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  • IS sympathisers carried out California massacre: news agency

    04/Dec/2015 // 191 Viewers


    © AFP/File | Investigators on December 3, 2015, look at the vehicle involved in a shootout between police and two suspects in San Bernardino, California
    Sympathisers of the Islamic State group carried out the mass shooting this week in California that killed 14 people and wounded 21, according to the pro-IS Arabic-language news agency Aamaq.
    "Two sympathisers of the Islamic State attacked a centre in San Bernardino, California, opening fire inside the location, killing 14 people and wounding 21," a statement from the agency said.
    Aamaq is active in IS-run territories but is not considered to be the jihadist group's mouthpiece and does not claim attacks on its behalf.
    "This operation comes after the bloody Paris attacks, which were carried out by fighters from the state... which caused the killing of dozens, and after a martyrdom-seeking operation on presidential security in the centre of the Tunisian capital," it said.
    Aamaq did not say what the motive was.
    US media, quoting law enforcement officials, have said that while there was no evidence IS directed Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik to carry out the attack on a party held by Farook's employer, it appears the pair were inspired by the group.
    The US Federal Bureau of Investigation said Friday the shooting is now being investigated as an "act of terrorism".
    Source. AFP

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  • Breaking! Officials say 24 people confirmed dead in Oakland warehouse party fire

    04/Dec/2016 // 252 Viewers


    OAKLAND, Calif. — California officials say 24 people have died in a massive fire that swept through an Oakland warehouse where a concert was taking place Friday night.

    The three-alarm fire was reported at about 11:30 p.m. Friday at a warehouse that’s been converted for artist exhibits and parties and has been previously investigated by city officials due to complaints for trash and illegal internal structures built inside. Known as Oakland Ghost Ship, the building is on 31st Avenue, a short block off International Boulevard, one of the main thoroughfares of East Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood.

    Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach-Reed told The Washington Post that more than 50 people were inside, attending party featuring musician Golden Donna’s 100% Silk West Coast Tour.

    The concert was being held on a second floor, where most of the recovered bodies were later found. A makeshift stairway put together with pallets was separating it from the first floor, Deloach-Reed said.

    By the time firefighters arrived at the scene, the staircase had burned away, Mark Hoffmann, deputy chief of the Oakland Fire Department, said Saturday.

    The building’s instability slowed the recovery effort on Saturday. Officials said the building’s roof had collapsed onto the second floor and, in many areas, the first floor as well. Firefighters and structural engineers spent much of the day shoring up the structure so it would be safe to enter the building and recover the bodies. Hoffman told Reuters about a dozen people survived the blaze, including one who went to a hospital.

    Authorities said it wasn’t clear whether electrical issues, pyrotechnics, or errant candles or cigarettes had started the fire. Fire officials said the building did not have sprinklers.

    An arson investigation would also be underway, though the fire is not being investigated as a crime, Officer Johnna Watson, a spokeswoman for the Oakland Police Department, said.

    The city planning and building department had previously investigated the warehouse due to complaints about trash outside the property and illegal internal structures built inside the warehouse, said Darin Ranelletti, the department’s director. Complaints had been filed about the building as recently as November.

    Ranelletti said authorities are still investigating whether people were living in the building. The last permitted use of the building was as a warehouse, so neither habitation nor a concert would have been legal without permits.

    The building’s interior featured a tangled network of antique furniture, artwork, musical instruments, wooden lofts, tapestries and oddities, such as mannequin parts, according to a Tumblr blog that appears to show the building.

    “It was a labyrinth,” Hoffman said.

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