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Broken Government

Senate Passes Funding Bill, Puts Pressure on House

September 28th 2013

Capitol Hill

In a high stakes budget battle, the U.S. Senate has passed a bill to keep funding the federal government, stripping out a provision pushed by House Republicans to cut off funds for President Obama's health care law.  The amdended bill now goes back to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, putting pressure on House Speaker John Boehner to take action before a midnight Monday deadline to avert a partial government shutdown.

As the Pentagon and other government agencies prepare for a possible shutdown Tuesday, the Senate has passed a funding bill that would keep the government running, without defunding the health care law.  The final vote approving the "clean" spending measure was 54 to 44. Read more ..


The Edge of Violence

Chicago Crime Gang Members Indicted on RICO Charges

September 27th 2013

Crime scene tape

As part of federal law enforcement's quest to help the crime-ridden city of Chicago take back the streets from prolific and deadly crime organizations, the U.S. Attorney for Northern Illinois on Thursday brought RICO charges against nine alleged members of a violent crime gang known on the streets of the Windy City as the Hobos.

The nine defendants allegedly directed or participated in committing murders, attempted murders, robberies, and narcotics offenses, according to U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro.

The five-count indictment handed down by a federal grand jury accuses the nine defendants with five murders, solicitation of a sixth murder, four attempted murders, three robberies, and the operation of “drug spots” and “drug lines” on the city’s south side among a pattern of criminal activity between 2004 and 2009. Four of the defendants are charged with personally shooting to death five victims between 2006 and 2009, including one victim who was allegedly killed because he was cooperating with law enforcement, according to court documents. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Pakistani Quake Survivors Search Rubble For Food, Wait For Help

September 26th 2013

Turkey Earthquake

Miral, a local government employee in Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan Province, was in his office when he felt his building riding the waves of a magnitude 7.7 earthquake as if it were a boat on a stormy sea.

Built from reinforced concrete for district administrators in Arawan, it is one of the stronger structures in the impoverished region and was able to withstand the September 24 quake.

Miral rushed outside after the temblor passed, looking anxiously across a flat stretch of desert toward his home in the nearby village of Balathi. Instead of the mud-brick houses that had been built there by his relatives and neighbors, he could see only rising clouds of dust and smoke. Running to his village, Miral found stunned survivors covered in dust and limping around in the rubble. Their village was one of many in the Awaran district that was almost completely leveled by the quake. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Iran State-Media Claims CNN ‘Fabricated’ Rouhani Holocaust Remarks

September 25th 2013

Rowhani

It was reported that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had delivered what his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, never could — recognition that the Holocaust took place — but according to the semi-official Iranian Fars News Agency significant parts of the report are inaccurate.

On CNN.com’s home page Wednesday morning, the main headline asserted that Rouhani, in an interview with network reporter Christiane Amanpour, said that the Holocaust happened: “Iran’s New President: Yes, the Holocaust Happened.”

Fars however, categorically denied the claim that Rouhani addressed the Holocaust by name, saying the network “fabricated” the story, adding the word ‘Holocaust,’ among other conciliatory phrases, to its translation. Read more ..


the US and China

US Investigation Spotlights China's Princelings

September 25th 2013

The East is Red

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is investigating JP Morgan’s Hong Kong office for hiring the children of high-level Chinese officials.  Observers say the hiring of these so-called “princelings” is to open business opportunities in mainland China.  But could the practice, which dates back almost two decades, also be considered bribery?

The SEC has investigated at least seven cases of bribery of Chinese officials, involving major American firms, since 2010.

This SEC investigation is reportedly centered on two children of top Chinese officials who were hired by JP Morgan’s Hong Kong office.  The New York Times reports that in 2007, the bank hired Zhang Xixi, the daughter of Zhang Shuguang , a senior official at the China Railway Group who is now on trial in Beijing for allegedly accepting millions in bribes. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

African Union in Solidarity with Besieged Kenya

September 24th 2013

Click to select Image

The African Union (AU) is working with its international partners to assist Kenya following the weekend terrorist attack on the East African nation, says Erastus Mwencha, deputy chairman of the African Union Commission.

“We stand with the people of Kenya during this trying moment. We have sent our condolences to the families and we hailed the government of Kenya in the manner in which they’ve handled the crisis,” said Mwencha. “We’ve indicated our resolve to continue to fight terrorism in whatever form it exists. We are also aware that this is a global menace and we need to act together as the international community to fight the scourge.”

Mwencha says the AU is ready to assist Kenya following the attack that has left scores wounded and many dead.

“For now, we wait to see [if] the Kenya authorities give us [an] assessment of the extent of the needs, and the African Union will then respond accordingly,” said Mwencha. “But, we are also encouraged to see that a number of member states have already given their support and willing to assist Kenya.”

Heads of state and government plan to meet in an extraordinary summit in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, on October 13. The leaders are expected to discuss pulling out support for the International Criminal Court (ICC) due to the trial of Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto. President Uhuru Kenyatta’s trial is also scheduled to begin in November. The ICC has charged both leaders in playing a key role in Kenya’s 2007-2008 post-election violence. Read more ..


Broken Government

Shutdown Would Shutter EPA

September 23rd 2013

asbestos hazard

A government shutdown would effectively close the doors at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the agency’s administrator warned on Monday.

Speaking at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor, EPA chief Gina McCarthy said that a potential government shutdown “will mean that EPA effectively shuts down.” “The vast majority of people at EPA will not be working,” she said. “I think it’s safe to say that I will be, but beyond that I don’t have the details.”

The warning comes as lawmakers in the House and Senate debate legislation that would keep the government running past the end of September, when current funding will run out. McCarthy said that a small group of EPA officials would stay on the job “to keep the lights on and to respond in the event of a significant emergency,” but that most of the agency’s 17,000 employees would be sent home. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Kenya President Vows Swift and Painful Revenge for Mall Attack

September 22nd 2013

Al Shabaab

CNN reports: Fifty-nine dead. At least 175 injured. About 30 hostages still inside, as well as perhaps a dozen gunmen. Those are the grim numbers, more than a day after Islamist attackers stormed an upscale Nairobi mall on Saturday, spraying bullets and holding shoppers captive. Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta told reporters Sunday afternoon the Kenyan people had showed resiliency as a nation and would triumph against the attackers. The tragedy was also personal; one of his nephews and his fiancee were among the 59 people killed.

"They shall not get away with their despicable, beastly acts. Like the cowardly perpetrators now cornered in the building, we will punish the masterminds swiftly and indeed very painfully," Kenyatta said. Kenyan government and Western diplomatic sources said Al-Shabaab militants were holding about 30 hostages inside the shopping center. Read more ..


Broken Government

Washington Week: Focus on Potential Federal Shutdown

September 22nd 2013

Congress-senate

Once again, the U.S. government faces a potential shutdown driven by a politically-divided Congress unable to agree on federal funding. Later this week, the Senate is expected to pass a temporary spending measure incompatible with a House bill approved last week. Unless the two chambers pass identical bills, a limited government shutdown will begin October 1.

Friday, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives extended federal spending authority, but defunded President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. Republican Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers: “The House has acted to keep the government open, to control spending, and to protect people from an unworkable law that is making it harder on them,” said McMorris Rodgers.

House Speaker John Boehner sounded triumphant. “The American people do not want the government shutdown, and they do not want Obamacare. The House has listened to the American people. Now it is time for the Senate to listen to them, as well,” said Boehner. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Obama UN Speech to Cover Syria, Chemical Weapons, Iran, Arab Transformations

September 21st 2013

Professor Obama at work

Syria's civil war and the use of chemical weapons, Iran's nuclear program, and transformations in the Arab world will be key topics in U.S. President Barack Obama's address next Tuesday to the United Nations General Assembly.

Recent statements by Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, about a desire to increase cooperation and engagement have increased speculation about a possible meeting with Obama.

According to the White House, no such meeting is planned, although officials reiterate Obama's longstanding willingness to consider direct bilateral contacts if they hold potential for diplomatic solutions. Rouhani has said Iran is not seeking to build nuclear weapons and will under no circumstances "seek any weapons of mass destruction."

In a Washington Post opinion piece, he spoke of pursuing constructive dialogue with world powers. The White House attributes the Iranian outreach to unity by the international community, and the impact of sanctions, to pressure Iran to clarify details of its nuclear program. Read more ..


China on Edge

China Graft Crackdown Highlights Weibo's Power

September 20th 2013

Bo Xilai

On Sunday, a court in China is scheduled to issue the verdict in the high-profile trial of fallen political star Bo Xilai. The ruling comes amid what appears to be a widening crackdown on official graft by China's new Communist Party leaders. Based on the cases already under review, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on “tigers and flies” - high and low-ranking corrupt officials - appears to be just getting started.

In the short space of several weeks, China’s Communist Party has announced more than a dozen corruption investigations. One of the highest ranking targets is Jiang Jiemin, the former head of a central government body that oversees state owned enterprises. A review by VOA of some 40 corruption cases reported since last year shows that most were not the result of a government crackdown, but were instead first revealed online or through media reports. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Former British Foreign Secretary: Iran 'Ready For A Settlement' On Nuclear Issue

September 19th 2013

Rowhani

Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says new Iranian President Hassan Rohani is a "realist" who is "ready for a settlement" in Tehran's long-standing dispute with the West over its disputed nuclear program.

"There's been this election -- a surprise result for most people -- but a very big mandate for Dr. Rohani, who unquestionably was the most moderate of the candidates who were allowed to stand, and is a man, in my certain experience, one can do business with," Straw says.

Straw made the comments in an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Farda shortly after Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei unexpectedly called for "heroic flexibility' in diplomacy -- an apparent reference to negotiations with the United States and other countries that have imposed sanctions on Tehran over the lack of transparency in its nuclear program. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama, House Republicans Begin Budget Battle

September 18th 2013

Obama

Republicans in the House of Representatives have announced their first move in the battle with President Barack Obama over the U.S. budget. The president took his case to some of the Republicans’ traditional allies.

The top House Republican, Speaker John Boehner, said Wednesday the House will move quickly to pass legislation to allow the U.S. government to continue borrowing money.

Boehner said that legislation, though, will preserve deep, automatic budget cuts made earlier this year, and will overturn Obama’s 2010 health care law, known as Obamacare. “We are going to continue to do everything we can to repeal the president’s failed health care law. This week, the House will pass a CR [continuing resolution] that locks the sequester savings in and defunds Obamacare.” Read more ..


The Edge of Violence

Lone, Aggrieved Gunman Kills 12 Dead in Washington Naval Yard

September 17th 2013

Click to select Image

Authorities in Washington, D.C. say an information technology employee working for a military contractor was the lone suspect in the September 16 shooting rampage at a U.S. naval facility that left 13 people dead, including the gunman.
Washington Police Chief Cathy Lanier told reporters hours after the tragedy there was no evidence a second person was involved with Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old resident of Fort Worth, Texas, who was killed during a gun battle with police shortly after his shooting spree began.

Police say Alexis entered the U.S. Naval Yard in the nation's capitol with a valid identification card, armed with a military-style automatic assault rifle, a shotgun and a handgun, and opened fire inside the Naval Sea Systems Command, which is responsible for buying, building and maintaining ships and submarines. About 3,000 people work in the building, many of them civilians. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Chemical Weapons Accord Published

September 16th 2013

Kremlin

The Russian Foreign Ministry has published the text of the accord on Syrian chemical weapons. It follows:

FRAMEWORK FOR ELIMINATION OF SYRIAN CHEMICAL WEAPONS

Taking into account the decision of the Syrian Arab Republic to accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention and the commitment of the Syrian authorities to provisionally apply the Convention prior to its entry into force, the United States and the Russian Federation express their joint determination to ensure the destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons program (CW) in the soonest and safest manner.

For this purpose, the United States and the Russian Federation have committed to prepare and submit in the next few days to the Executive Council of the OPCW a draft decision setting down special procedures for expeditious destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons program and stringent verification thereof. The principles on which this decision should be based, in the view of both sides, are set forth in Annex A. The United States and the Russian Federation believe that these extraordinary procedures are necessitated by the prior use of these weapons in Syria and the volatility of the Syrian civil war.

The United States and the Russian Federation commit to work together towards prompt adoption of a UN Security Council resolution that reinforces the decision of the OPCW Executive Council. This resolution will also contain steps to ensure its verification and effective implementation and will request that the UN Secretary-General, in consultation with the OPCW, submit recommendations to the UN Security Council on an expedited basis regarding the UN’s role in eliminating the Syrian chemical weapons program. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Kremlin Calm As China's Clout Rises In Russia's Backyard

September 15th 2013

putin

The Kremlin did not bat an eyelid as Chinese President Xi Jinping jetted from one Central Asian capital to the next tying up billion-dollar energy deals in Moscow’s backyard. Privately, it might have been glowering.

For years after gaining independence, the countries of former Soviet Central Asia remained locked in Moscow's embrace -- and their coveted oil and gas reserves flowed through Russia. But China has broken that stranglehold on resources in recent years by wooing the republics with huge credit lines and investing big in pipeline projects.

And if there was any doubt that Central Asia is falling rapidly under the spell of the yuan, Xi’s tour in early September will have cleared that up.

In Turkmenistan, Xi sealed deals potentially tripling gas imports to China by 2020. In Kazakhstan, he brought China into the Qashaghan (Kashagan) oil project as part of a package of $30 billion deals. In Uzbekistan, he signed $15 billion in deals on oil, gas, and gold. And in strategic Kyrgyzstan, he invested $3 billion to boost, among other things, the Kyrgyz section of a gas pipeline snaking across steppes and mountains from Turkmenistan to China. Read more ..


The Edge fo Disaster

Hundreds Unaccounted For in Colorado Floods

September 15th 2013

Bridge Failure

More than 500 people remained unaccounted for Sunday across Colorado after deadly, historic flooding left weary residents reeling amid the dark forecast of more rain to come.

"I don't know that she's even OK," Rob Clements told The Coloradoan about his mother, Libby Orr, 73, who he last spoke with Thursday. Clements, who lives in Dallas, saw a photo of his mother's Big Thompson Canyon home in ruins on a Denver TV station's website. "I presume she is. But her house, if not completely gone, fell into the river and is most of the way gone."

About 350 people are unaccounted for in Larimer County, according to the county's sheriff's office. In adjacent Boulder County, more than 170 people were unaccounted for but were not considered missing yet, though they had not contacted family members. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Saudis Shun Diplomacy in Syria Crisis

September 14th 2013

Corpses in Homs

Saudi Arabia has backed Syria's rebels in a civil war that has directly affected much of the region, but with little transparency in the kingdom, its precise role remains unclear.

While many across the Middle East welcome the diplomatic push for Syria to hand over its chemical weapons, Riyadh, one of the strongest supporters of U.S. military intervention against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is not happy about the switch from strikes to talks.

"[The Saudis] estimate that the deal over chemical weapons is, one, not feasible, but, two, makes it even harder to intervene and brings Bashar al-Assad back into the bargaining game, which is their biggest problem," says Emile Hokayem, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "They've spent the past two and half years trying to delegitimize Assad, and that deal turns Assad into a partner." Read more ..


Israel's Next Northern War

Israel Says will Act if WMDs Transferred to Hezbollah

September 13th 2013

Hellicopter & troops

As the international community tries to reach an understanding regarding Syrian chemical disarmament, Israel closely monitors the actions of President Bashar Assad. Officials made clear Wednesday night that Israel has not withdrawn, and the red lines it set in reference to Assad have not changed. In other words, Jerusalem clarified, if the Syrian president tries to deliver chemical weapons, or weapons that tip the scales in favor of Hezbollah, Israel will act to prevent their transfer.

“Our red lines have not changed," said an Israeli official. "Assad should understand already that he should not play around with us on this issue. Our policy has not changed, despite what is happening in the international arena. If something looks to us like an unusual step, it will be dealt with." These words were spoken even as the international effort to reach an agreement went up a level - Wednesday night five members of the UN Security Council were expected to meet to further discuss solving the Syrian crisis. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

Taliban Terrorists Strike U.S. Consulate in Herat

September 13th 2013

Taliban militants detonated powerful car bombs at the U.S. Consulate in Herat, a strategic city in western Afghanistan on the morning of September 13. A firefight between Afghan security forces and the terrorists ensued, resulting in the death of two Afghans. Another 17 Afghans were wounded in the fighting. American mission personnel are safe. American forces later secured the site. It was the second anniversary of an attack on the U.S. embassy, NATO facilities, and other buildings in Kabul.

This was just one of two such attacks on the same day in Afghanistan. On the east side of Afghanistan, seven Afghans were wounded in a truck bomb incident that came just two days after the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. soil that prompted the dual-edge war in Afghanistan and Iraq. The bomb attacks also came after the whole Afghan nation was celebrating its first international soccer championship. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Rohani To Court Russian, Chinese Support At SCO Summit Over Iran Nuclear Crisis

September 12th 2013

Hassan Rowhani

Iran's new president might seem to be taking a humble role on the world stage by debuting at a summit where Tehran only has observer status.

But by attending the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting on September 13 in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, Hassan Rohani has an opportunity to directly advance his most urgent foreign-policy priority.

That is to build international support for his declared intention to resume "serious" talks with the P5+1 -- the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) plus Germany -- in trying to find a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis.

Rohani, a former nuclear negotiator, says he wants to free Iran from economic sanctions by restoring the trust of the world powers in its nuclear program. So far he has offered few specifics, saying only that he wants to conduct "win-win" negotiations while not giving up "one bit" of Iran's nuclear rights. Read more ..


South Africa on Edge

S. Africa Motor Industry Workers on Strike

September 11th 2013

Striking mine workers Sep 2012

Thousands of auto service workers in South Africa have launched a strike to demand higher wages.  Their strike dovetails with another by auto manufacturing workers, who returned to work Monday.  This new strike will hit many South Africans much more directly since the striking workers include fuel station attendants.    

The end of one strike in South Africa became the beginning of another on Monday. Workers in the auto services industry, including fuel station attendants, car dealers, and the makers and retailers of spare parts walked off their jobs.  The workers are demanding wage hikes of $3 for hourly workers and a double-digit percentage increase for those on salary.The strike follows another among workers in South Africa's major car-assembling companies, who went on strike three weeks ago demanding better wages. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Reports Emerge of Transfer of Russian S-300 Missiles to Syria

September 10th 2013

Russia has transferred several S-300 missile batteries into Syria, Kuwaiti newspaper Al Rai reported Tuesday. The transfers took place despite statements by Russian officials, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, that Russia would not provide Syria with the advanced anti-aircraft system.

Al Rai claimed that Syria has accelerated the rate at which it ships arms into Syria since the current crisis between Russia and the US began, when chemical weapons were allegedly used to kill over 1,000 civilians, on August 21.

The information was picked up by Voice of Israel public radio, which added that Russian ships are due to offload more military aid in the next few days.

The delivery of Russian missile systems to Syria is legal but the contract "has not yet been realized," Russian President Vladimir Putin said in June. Read more ..


The Edge of Hate

Former Congressman Ron Paul to Address Anti-Semitic Group

September 10th 2013

Click to select Image

Ron Paul, a former Texas congressman and Republican presidential candidate, has been condemned for plans to speak at a conference hosted by the Fatima Center, an anti-Semitic fringe Catholic group.

“For Ron Paul to associate himself with such a disreputable, hateful religious movement is simply beyond comprehension,” American Jewish Committee (AJC) Executive Director David Harris said in a statement.

According to AJC, the Fatima Center is a fringe Catholic group led by Father Nicholas Gruner, who was suspended by the Catholic Church in 1996. Grunner rejects Nostra Aetate, a Second Vatican Council ruling that disavowed anti-Semitism and ushered in a new era of positive Jewish-Catholic relations. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization, has also accused Gruner of anti-Semitism. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

UN Chief Wants Syrian Chemical Weapons Stockpile Destroyed

September 9th 2013

Syria's chemicals

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he will urge the Security Council to demand that Syria transfer its chemical weapons stocks to areas in the country where they can be safely stored and destroyed. His call comes as Moscow urges Damascus to put its weapons under international control to avert a possible U.S. military strike.

As the world awaits the report of a U.N. team of experts who visited Syria and took environmental and medical samples from the site of the August 21 suspected chemical weapons attack, the U.N. chief said Monday that he is already considering proposals he can make to the U.N. Security Council when he presents the team’s findings in the coming days. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Christians Flee as Islamist Extremists Capture Ancient Syrian Village

September 8th 2013

Free Syrian Army fighters

Rebel groups, including a branch of al-Qaeda, have taken control of Maaloula, one of the few remaining villages where the language spoken by Christ is still in use, residents and activists reported. “Our army, the Syrian army, has failed us,” said Sister Antoinette, a nun from Maaloula. “We called the army, we begged them to come inside Maaloula and save us but they stayed outside. They abandoned us because we are Christians.”

The Syrian regime denied losing control of Maaloula. But footage posted on YouTube showed rebel fighters walking through the streets of the town. A commander pointed out damage to the walls of the ancient St Thecla monastery that he said was caused by government fire. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Congressional Veterans Line Up Against Military Action in Syria

September 7th 2013

Executed Pile of Syrian Men

The majority of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans serving in Congress are lining up against President Obama's plan for military action in Syria. Of the 16 veterans of those two conflicts serving in Congress, only GOP Reps. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) and Tom Cotton (Ark.) have publicly supported the White House's plan.

Three other members — Iraq War veterans and Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) and Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) are undecided. A fourth, Scott Perry (R-Pa.), said he hasn’t made up his mind either, though he told a town hall this week he wasn’t inclined to support a resolution authorizing force.

Ten of the remaining members have announced their opposition to a military strike. Their ranks include Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who lost both legs during combat operations in Iraq in 2004. She is adamantly opposed to a U.S. strike on Syria.When Washington decides to use military force “it's military families like mine that are the first to bleed,” she said in a statement this week. Read more ..


Egypts Second Revolution

Egyptians Lash Out at Qatari 'Meddling'

September 6th 2013

al-Jazeera

After years of growing influence, Qatar's apparent ambitions as a regional powerhouse have faltered in Tunisia and Syria and with what some experts say is its latest stumble in Egypt.

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood may be on the run but fury against them, and their supporters abroad, has yet to abate. A court in recent days ordered the closing of Al Jazeera's Egyptian channel, widely seen as backing the former Islamist-led government.

On the street, it's not just the channel, but the funder that has come under attack. Driver Gamal Abu Seif is angry at both Al Jazeera and Qatar, saying Egypt should severe relations with them both. He says they've turned the whole world against his country.

Coverage by Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite powerhouse, fanned the spirit of revolution from Tunisia to Syria.  It reveled in the election last year of Egypt's first Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Nancy Pelosi Drums Up Democrat Support for Syria Intervention

September 5th 2013

Click to select Image

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is highlighting the restrictions of the Senate's use-of-force resolution to drum up support for President Obama's plan to strike Syria. In her third public letter to her caucus this week, Pelosi emphasized that the Senate proposal, passed Wednesday by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “addresses some of the concerns expressed by many of our House members.”

“Specifically, the resolution prevents boots on the ground, ties the authorization more closely to the use of chemical and other weapons of mass destruction, and has a limited timetable,” Pelosi wrote. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Congressional Black Caucus Leader Silences Members on Syria Intervention

September 5th 2013

The head of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has asked members of the group to stay largely silent on Syria until lawmakers receive more information about President Obama's plan for missile strikes against the war-torn nation.
CBC Chairwoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) sent an email Tuesday – via CBC staff – to CBC members asking them “to limit public comment on the issue,” Fudge spokeswoman Ayofemi Kirby said Thursday.

“The chair believes Congress and the American public need more information, and she awaits more briefings between now and early next week before commenting further,” Kirby said.

With a growing number of rank-and-file Republicans lining up in opposition to Obama's intervention proposal, the president will likely need a robust show of support from Democrats to get a use-of-force resolution through the House. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Iran Lurks Behind Washington's 'Red Line' On Syria

September 5th 2013

Rowhani

Prior to this week, Iran was rarely mentioned in connection with the August 21 chemical-weapons attack around Damascus that Washington says killed 1,429 people.

Instead, Western powers discussed the need to enforce a global "red line" against governments using chemical weapons. The target for the message: the regime of Bashar al-Assad, which Western intelligence agencies say launched the attack.

But now the talk in Washington is about a second "red line" that also needs to be enforced. And this time the government to receive the message is Iran.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry mentioned Iran repeatedly as he sought U.S. Congressional support on September 4 for military action against Syria. "Iran -- I guarantee you -- is hoping we look the other way," he said. "And surely they will interpret America's unwillingness to act against weapons of mass destruction as an unwillingness to act against weapons of mass destruction." Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Bill Clinton Says GOP Has Duty to Help Fix ObamaCare 'Glitches'

September 4th 2013

Obama Clinton

Former President Bill Clinton on Wednesday said Republicans have a duty as elected officials to help fix the “glitches” in ObamaCare. Clinton lent his reputation as "explainer in chief" to the healthcare law's rollout, delivering a roughly hourlong speech in which he praised ObamaCare and criticized congressional Republicans for their steadfast opposition.

"It is the law," Clinton said. "We've all got an interest in trying to faithfully execute the law. To get one of these elected jobs, you actually take an oath to do that." In the speech at his presidential library in Little Rock, Ark., Clinton said the healthcare law does have problems — and that Republicans should try to solve them. "We all get paid to show up for work, and we need all hands on deck here," Clinton said.

The former president, who unsuccessfully pursued comprehensive healthcare reform in his first years in office, said ObamaCare is "the best chance we've had" to provide near-universal coverage and repair an inefficient healthcare system. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

U.S./Israeli Missile Test Causes Jitters in Mideast and Affects Markets

September 3rd 2013

Click to select Image

The Israeli Defense Ministry announced on September 3 it has carried out a joint missile test with the United States in the Mediterranean Sea earlier on the same day. This followed reports by Russia’s defense ministry that it had detected the launch of “ballistic objects” region, which came at a time of increased tensions in the Mideast as President Barack Obama continues to mull the possibility of a military response to a deadly gas attack that killed more than 1,000 people on August 21 in Syria’s ongoing civil war.

For its part, the IDF said that it had launched one Ankor-type (Sparrow) missile that was controlled from a military base “near the center of Israel.” The United States provided no immediate comment on the joint exercise. There were no reports of missile strikes in Syria.

Syrian state sources said the missiles had fallen harmlessly into the sea and there were no explosions in the capital Damascus, Russian news agencies reported. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Labor Union Frustration Boils Over ObamaCare

September 2nd 2013

Obamacare

Unions are frustrated the Obama administration hasn’t responded to their calls for changes to ObamaCare. Labor has watched with growing annoyance as the White House has backed ObamaCare changes in response to concerns from business groups, religious organizations and even lawmakers and their staffs.

They say they don’t understand why their concerns so far have fallen of deaf ears. “We are disappointed that the non-profit health plans offered by unions have not been given the same consideration as the Catholic Church, big business and Capitol Hill staffers,” Unite Here President D. Taylor said.

It's an issue that Obama may have to face when he speaks to the AFL-CIO convention a week after Labor Day. Most unions backed ObamaCare’s passage, but labor argues provisions in the law could cut employee hours, unfairly tax their plans and force workers off their union health plans into the law’s potentially more costly insurance exchanges. Read more ..


Japan After Fukushima

Fukushima Radiation Readings 18 Times Higher Than Thought

September 1st 2013

Rad monitor Japan

An operator at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan has said radiation readings are 18 times higher than previously measured. The staff member said they had found highly radioactive water dripping from a pipe used to connect two coolant tanks and that it had been patched up using tape. The discovery of the pipe came a day after Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) said it found new radiation hotspots at four sites around coolant tanks, with one reading at 1,800 millisieverts per hour - a dose that would kill a human left exposed to it in four hours.

Last week the plant operator admitted 300 tonnes of toxic water had seeped out of one of the vast containers - one of around 1,000 on the site - before anyone had noticed. The spill sparked fears the toxic water may have seeped into the nearby ocean and was categorised as a Level 3 event, the most serious category since the meltdown itself. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

US Intervention in Syria May Come over Labor Day Weekend

August 30th 2013

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the United States will continue to seek an international coalition in response to Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons, despite opposition by British lawmakers to any military action. "Our approach is to continue to find an international coalition that will act together," Hagel said in The Philippines on August 30 while visiting Manila.

Syria's government has denied responsbility for the attack, noting that some of its own soldiers were killed. It blamed the rebels now arrayed against. UN inspectors are now on the scene to ascertain the type of toxic chemical used in an attack that killed hundreds. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

French Military Ready for Syria but Hollande Non-committal

August 29th 2013

French troops Mali

The French military is ready to commit forces to an operation in Syria if President Francois Hollande decides to do so, the defence minister said Thursday. But the chief of state, who met with the head of the Syrian opposition, stopped short of announcing military intervention over a suspected chemical weapons attack.

Hollande offered his political and humanitarian support for the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition, but said the group will only be a viable alternative to Syrian President Bashar Assad if it has military credibility — and if the international community can stop the spiral of violence.

The United States, France and Britain are believed to be preparing possible military action against Assad's regime after an apparent poison gas attack in Syria on Aug. 21. U.N. experts are currently in Syria investigating the attack. Read more ..


Broken Bookselling

Barnes & Noble's CEO Dumps Most of His Stock in Failing Retailer

August 28th 2013

Barnes-and-Noble store shot

Mitchell Klipper, the CEO of Barnes & Noble's retail group, which includes its bookstores but not its Nook unit, sold about 67% of his shares of the company, according to an SEC filing late Monday. Klipper sold a total of about 400,996 shares for between $13.99 and $14.53 per share. He had about 598,371 shares as of July 17, according to FactSet, equivalent to a 1% stake in the company.

The crumbling Barnes & Noble is said to be in "a transition period" following the departure of CEO William Lynch. It is reviewing its strategy related to its Nook e-book readers, which it invested heavily in as consumers increasingly turn online to buy books. In its most recent quarter, its net loss nearly doubled and revenue fell nearly 9% to $1.33 billion. Last week, Barnes & Noble founder Leonard Riggio took his offer to buy the company's retail operations off the table. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Gas Mask Supply Limited Due to Budget Cuts as Israelis Scramble to Prepare for Syria Attack

August 28th 2013

Syrian Chemical Weapons

Members of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, pointed to budget cuts Wednesday as the reason why 40% of the country’s population has been left without access to gas masks, as Israelis scramble to prepare for potential retaliation by Syria if the U.S. moves forward with an expected attack on the regime as a response to its use of chemical weapons.

MK Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Communications Minister, who is responsible for Israel’s postal authority, which distributes the gas mask kits and atropine syringes used as an antidote to some chemical weapons, called a meeting for late Wednesday with representatives of the Home Front Command and the National Emergency Authority for a new assessment of what preparations are still required, Israel’s Channel 10 reported.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Home Front Command call center lines collapsed due to the high number of inquiries for the gas mask kits. In Jerusalem, a distribution center was mobbed, and gas mask kits were looted, while in Sharon, Israelis rioted and the Army requested police to help restore order. Read more ..


Inside Ukraine

Russia Stymies Ukraine's Plans to Join the European Union

August 27th 2013

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Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev

Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov says Ukraine cannot be in the European Union and the Russian-led Customs Union at the same time. Shuvalov made the remark after talks between Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov in Moscow.

Earlier, Medvedev urged Azarov to discuss "the legal, organizational, and economic consequences" if Kyiv signs a free-trade agreement with the European Union.

Moscow wants Kyiv to abandon a possible association agreement with the EU and is pushing it to join the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan instead.
Read more ..



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