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The Edge of Terrorism

Egyptian Army Foils Hamas Sinai attack

December 29th 2013

Gaza Qasam Rocket

The Egyptian army said Wednesday it had foiled a plan by Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas to attack a strategic security building in North Sinai, where militants have increased activity in recent months.

A member of the movement revealed the plan when the army interrogated him, military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Ali said in a statement.

Ali said the army arrested "a Palestinian belonging to Hamas who illegally entered Egypt... in a car with North Sinai license plate".

During questioning "he confessed he planned to blow up (his car) in front of a strategic security building," Ali said. In October, Gaza's Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya had denied reports his movement was involved in fighting in the Sinai where militant attacks on security forces have increased since the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi on July 3. Read more ..


Inside Politics

Five Senate Races to Watch

December 28th 2013

Congress-senate

Democrats and Republicans are amassing enormous war chests for a midterm battle that will decide who controls the Senate for the remainder of President Obama’s term.

Republicans need a net gain of six seats to reclaim the Senate majority, and are gunning for Democratic incumbents in conservative-leaning states like Arkansas, Alaska, North Carolina, West Virginia and Louisiana. Democrats are mostly playing defense, but see a few opportunities to peel away seats from the GOP column. Here are the five Senate races to watch in 2014.

KENTUCKY
The reelection bid of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is the marquee race of the election cycle. Outside groups on both sides have already spent more than $3.5 million dollars on the race, and are prepared to spend tens of millions more. Read more ..


Broken Intelligence

NSA Snooping is Legal, Says Federal Judge

December 27th 2013

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A federal judge on Friday ruled that the National Security Agency’s (NSA) collection of records on virtually all U.S. phone calls is legal.

Judge William Pauley of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York found the program is needed to combat terrorism and moved to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

"The question for this court is whether the Government’s bulk telephony metadata program is lawful. The court finds that it is,” Pauley wrote. The NSA program collects “metadata,” such as call numbers and times, and its existence was revealed in documents leaked by Edward Snowden. Pauley reaffirmed a Supreme Court ruling from 1979 that says the Fourth Amendment does not protect the records because the caller is voluntarily ceding the information to a telephone company. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Muslim Brotherhood a Terror Group

December 25th 2013

Morsi

Egypt’s military-run government has declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group. The move comes months after the military removed Mohammed Morsi from the presidency. Morsi was the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate in the 2012 election.

The new government's minister of education read a statement announcing the decision, which will give more power to authorities to crack down on the group.

"The Cabinet has declared the Muslim Brotherhood group and its organization as a terrorist organization," the statement from Minister of Higher Education Hossam Elssa read, according to a Fox News report. The organization has long been a power in Egypt, and was an illegal group in that country until after the 2011 revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak. But under Morsi, serious opposition developed against the group. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Millions of Americans Flood Obamacare Website

December 24th 2013

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Millions of consumers are flooding the online federal healthcare portal ahead of Tuesday’s deadline to purchase insurance that would be effective on Jan. 1, according to the Obama administration.

The HealthCare.gov website set a record for Internet traffic on Monday, with nearly 2 million people visiting the site, and an additional quarter of a million phoning the call centers, according to the administration’s Twitter account. An additional 1 million visited the site and 200,000 called in over the weekend.

Monday was supposed to be the cutoff date for obtaining ObamaCare coverage that takes effect on Jan 1, but in the latest delay to the law, the administration announced people who have begun the enrollment process would actually have until Christmas Eve to complete it. Read more ..


Broken Education

Dozens of U.S. Universities Reject Academic Boycott of Israel

December 24th 2013

Statue of John Harvard by Daniel Chester French, in Harvard Yard, Harvard University

Dozens of American colleges and universities are rejecting an academic boycott of Israeli universities recently approved by the academic American Studies Association, the nation’s oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history. And a few schools said they are withdrawing from the organization. The association’s membership — or, rather, 66.05 percent of the 1,252 votes that came in from the group’s 5,000 members — approved the boycott last week over the objections of numerous former presidents of the organization and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who angered activists by saying that he does not support a boycott of Israel (though he does support a boycott of Israeli products in the occupied territories). Read more ..


Intelligence on Edge

US Lawmakers to Debate Proposed Intelligence Reforms

December 23rd 2013

Congress-senate

A U.S. lawmaker says the data collection practices of the National Security Agency will be the focus of a congressional hearing next month.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democrat Patrick Leahy, says the already embattled U.S. National Security Agency will be subjected to further scrutiny when lawmakers return to Washington in January. Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press program, Leahy said the committee will review a presidential panel’s recommendations for overhauling bulk data collection that has provoked outcries at home and abroad. “The first public exposure to what the panel has said is going to be [examined] before the Senate Judiciary Committee in a couple weeks,” said Leahy.

Last week, President Barack Obama said he is reviewing 46 recommendations put forth by the panel to better protect private communications and personal information while satisfying U.S. intelligence needs.  Leahy says the saga of fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden makes it clear to all that the agency must be reformed. “They did such a poor job, the NSA, that a sub-contractor was able to steal all their secrets,” said Leahy. Read more ..


Inside Washington

Senate Waters Roiled by Baucus' Departure to China Ambassadorship

December 22nd 2013

President Obama’s nomination of Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) as U.S. ambassador to China is the latest shake-up in the tumultuous battle for the Senate majority.

Democrats believe the nomination will increase their chances of winning seats in Montana and potentially in Louisiana, where vulnerable Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) is in line to pick up the Energy Committee gavel thanks to Baucus’s exit.

But Republicans say their chances of recapturing the majority are rising due to President Obama’s sagging poll numbers. They hope to make races in New Hampshire and Michigan competitive, and are looking to land a strong candidate in Virginia to put the state in play.

Republicans need a net gain of six seats to win the Senate majority in 2014, and are counting on victories against Democratic incumbents in states like Arkansas, North Carolina and Louisiana to get them there. Read more ..


Broken Government

Making or Breaking Obamacare in 2014

December 21st 2013

President Obama is taking a bruised and bandaged ObamaCare into 2014 after a year of unprecedented problems for his administration and its signature law.

While the White House insists its efforts are on-track, the blundering on display in key portions of the reform's rollout surprised even Obama's most ardent critics in 2013.

Obama sought to ward off criticism on Friday, even as he indicated that the botched rollout was his biggest mistake of the year. "The basic structure of that law is working. Despite all the problems, despite the website problems, despite the messaging problems, despite all that, it's working," he told a news conference.

"You don't have to take my word for it. We've got a couple million people who are going to have health insurance just in the first three months," he added. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Christians Seek Refuge in Turkey

December 20th 2013

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The growing presence of fighters from radical Islamic groups battling the Syrian regime is increasing pressure on Syria’s ancient Assyrian Christians, many of whom are fleeing to neighboring Turkey. At the Mort Smuni Church in the Turkish city of Mardin near the Syrian border, the service of St. John the Baptist is part of Advent, when an individual saint is celebrated every Sunday in the run-up to Christmas. The members of the small Assyrian Christian community gathered for services are joined by fellow Assyrians who have fled from Syria, just a couple hours drive down the road.

After the services, Father Gabriel meets with church community elders to discuss how to assist the growing numbers of refugees. Currently, they are supporting over a hundred families. He says the rise of Islamic groups fighting the Syrian regime is forcing many Christians to flee.

"In Syria, the conditions for Christians is very bad," he said. "Last week they have kidnapped 12 nuns and, before, two bishops, and they killed many, many Christians and kidnap many persons and told them you must become Muslims. " Read more ..


Broken Government

Senate Hatches Last-Minute Deal

December 20th 2013

The Senate reached a last-minute procedural agreement late Thursday that spared them from horribly-timed votes on Friday and Saturday, and should let everyone fly home Friday for Christmas.

Before the deal, senators were facing a bitter end to a bitter year.

Senate Republicans were forcing Democrats to take as much time as possible working through nominations. They had even planned to skip town after a vote on a key defense bill, and leave Democrats to suffer through a long series of cloture votes and nomination votes starting at 4 a.m. Friday. That raised the prospect that several nomination votes would have been run through the Senate with only a handful of Republican senators around.

But late Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced a deal that allows for a more normal voting schedule. After two late votes Friday, Reid said the 4 a.m. votes were called off, and voting would start mid-morning.

"There will be a series of six roll call votes tomorrow [Friday], beginning at about 10 a.m.," Reid said.

Few lawmakers were around to hear him, but most Republicans were expected to call off their plans to leave town, and instead stick around for the votes. Then, in a tiny sign of bipartisanship — in a year marred by endless partisan divisions —both Republicans and Democrats are expected to leave town together sometime Friday. Read more ..


The Mideast on Edge

Saudi Arabia Prince Shakes Hands With Former Israeli Diplomat, Slams U.S. Mideast Policy

December 19th 2013

Prince Turki al-Faisal

Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia reportedly met with Israeli officials at the World Policy Conference in Monaco on Sunday.

According to Maariv, al-Faisal publicly shook hands with former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Itamar Rabinovich and also held a discussion with MK Meir Sheetrit. The report added that Sheetrit invited al-Faisal to speak to the Israeli Knesset.

During his remarks at the conference, al-Faisal was critical of U.S. President Barack Obama’s Mideast policy.

“We’ve seen several red lines put forward by the president, which went along and became pinkish as time grew, and eventually ended up completely white,” said al-Faisal, the former intelligence chief of Saudi Arabia, the New York Times reported. Read more ..


Broken Government

US-India Relations Roiled by Arrest of Indian Diplomat

December 18th 2013

An Indian diplomat arrested in the United States last week said she faced repeated handcuffing, stripping and body cavity searches while being held on visa fraud charges in New York City, fueling a diplomatic dispute between the U.S. and India. In an email published in Indian media on December 18, Deputy Consul General Devyani Khobragade, said she broke down in tears multiple times while undergoing cavity searches and other indignities. She said she was also held in a space with common criminals and drug addicts despite her repeated assertions that she had diplomatic immunity.

India has reacted with outrage to Khobragade's arrest. Supporters of a small opposition party staged an anti-U.S. protest in New Delhi on December 18. On December 17, Indian authorities asked U.S. consular officers to return their identity cards, rescinded airport passes and removed concrete security barriers from in front of the U.S. embassy in New Delhi. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Ukrainian Opposition Greets Putin's Promises with Skepticism

December 18th 2013

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov says his country's new bailout deal with Russia will allow Ukraine to revitalize its economy and avoid collapse, but pro-European Union demonstrations continue in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities.

Azarov made the statement on December 18, a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych held talks in Moscow.

Putin has promised to reduce the price of natural gas exports to Ukraine by a third and lend it $15 billion.

Opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko greeted Putin's announcement with skepticism on December 17, telling supporters that Yanukovych had handed over Ukraine's national interests, independence and every Ukrainian's prospects for a better life. Anti-government protests in Ukraine began a month ago when Yanukovych refused to sign an EU trade deal in favor of closer ties with Russia. Read more ..


Broken Government

US Likely to Appeal Surveillance Ruling

December 17th 2013

NSA

The U.S. government is expected to appeal a judge's ruling that the National Security Agency's secret collection of telephone records from millions of Americans is likely unconstitutional.

The decision has triggered new conjecture about the legality of U.S. surveillance. Former national security contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked a vast trove of details about the U.S. spying before fleeing to asylum in Russia, praised the ruling, but two national security legal experts told  VOA Tuesday that courts could ultimately uphold government surveillance programs.

Robert Turner of the University of Virginia's Center for National Security Law said that a 1979 U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the collection of telephone data is still relevant even though cell phones had not been invented at the time, nor their widespread usage throughout the world even imagined.

He compared the government's limited collection of telephone records - the numbers called, and the length and date of them, but not the content - to the much more intrusive searches of travelers at airports. Those searches have been ruled legal, and not a violation of the U.S. Constitution's prohibition of illegal searches of individuals. Read more ..


South Africa on Edge

Mandela’s Death Sparks Political Debates in South Africa

December 16th 2013

Nelson Mandela 1995

The death of South African icon and former president Nelson Mandela has pushed the nation into a mass political debate ahead of next year's elections.  Voters are increasingly upset with the party that Mandela brought to power, the African National Congress.

Mandela became South Africa’s first black president in 1994.  His death has now sparked a serious political debate over the nation’s future and that of the ruling African National Congress party.  

An indication of public sentiment came on December 10 when current president, and ANC leader, Jacob Zuma, was roundly booed by a crowd of some 60,000 people who had gathered at Soweto’s FNB Stadium to mourn Mandela. While the action was widely condemned as inappropriate at such a solemn occasion, it underscores a growing frustration here in South Africa by the general population as well as some longtime ANC supporters. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Ukrainians Take To the Streets in Favor of EU Accord

December 15th 2013

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An estimated 200,000 pro-EU protesters gathered on December 15 in Kyiv's Independence Square, as demonstrators continued their protests against President Viktor Yanukovych's rejection of an association accord with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) addressed the opposition rally, telling demontrators that "Ukraine will make Europe better and Europe will make Ukraine better."



McCain told the cheering crowd, "America stands with you. We are here because your peaceful process and peaceful protest is inspiring your country and inspiring the world,” McCain said. “We are here to support your just cause -- the sovereign right of Ukraine to determine its own destiny freely and independently. And the destiny you seek lies in Europe."



McCain visited the rally together with Senator Chris Murphy (CT-D) had earlier met with opposition leaders and demonstrators.

 Read more ..


Broken Government

Big Business Applauds Boehner's Budget

December 14th 2013

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Business lobbyists are pumping their fists over Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) slap-down of conservative groups. Executives at trade groups told The Hill they were pleasantly surprised by the strident remarks this week from the typically laid-back Speaker.

“You didn't hear all the applause across downtown?” said Dirk Van Dongen, president and CEO of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors (NAW). “Folks were absolutely pleased that he said it. … It needed to be said.”

Boehner this week said conservative groups had “lost all credibility” by opposing the budget pact before it was even released. He said the activist organizations are “using our members, and they’re using the American people for their own goals.” Read more ..


Israelis and Palestinians

IDF Opens Crossing Into Gaza to Facilitate Humanitarian Aid During Freak Snowstorm

December 13th 2013

Rafah crossing

The Israel Defense Forces said Major General Eitan Dangot has called for his troops to open the Kerem Shalom Crossing into the Gaza Strip to facilitate the arrival of humanitarian aid, responding to a request by United Nations officials, as the region’s desert dwellers brace for continued heavy snow fall in a region that usually features a very temperate climate.

The IDF said that, earlier on Friday, tanks with heating gas for warming houses were transferred into the strip. Later in the day, as part of a combined effort, the Ministry of Defense, the Israeli National Water Company Mekorot, and UN agencies will transfer four water pumps into Gaza to address flooding from the snow.

Additionally, the Civil Administration has established a combined Israeli-Palestinian command center to address the civilian needs in Judea and Samaria concerning traffic and power cuts from the snow. Read more ..


India and Afghanistan

Eyeing Pakistan, India Treads Carefully As It Mulls Expanded Afghan Role

December 13th 2013

Karzai

As the U.S. presence in Afghanistan continues to diminish, Kabul is bolstering regional alliances to shore up its security and economic future.

That would explain Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s four-day visit to India that ends on December 15 and comes after recent meetings with neighbors Pakistan and Iran.

New Delhi has poured billions of dollars into the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan and trained hundreds of Afghan officers. And Karzai is expected to plead for further assistance, including lethal military hardware, during his trip.

But any expanded Indian role in Afghanistan after the drawdown of international forces next year will set off alarm bells in neighboring Pakistan, which is already suspicious of New Delhi’s activities in the country.

Michael Kugelman, South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, says as a regional military and economic power, New Delhi can play a key role in terms of regional security and developing Afghanistan’s aid-dependent economy. Kugelman says New Delhi has a long-term stake in Afghanistan: countering the influence of archrival Pakistan while exploring trade and business opportunities.

“India has a very strong stake in the Taliban not returning to power, and the Taliban having no influence or significance in any post-2014 dispensation," Kugelman says. "That’s because the Taliban and its allies are extremely hostile to India. In Afghanistan, India also has business interests in natural resources, particularly in the mining industry.” Read more ..


Broken Government

House of Representatives Votes Today on Budget Compromise

December 12th 2013

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The House is expected to vote Thursday on a two-year deal that would represent the first bipartisan budget compromise of the new divided-government era.

GOP leaders expect their measure will pass, despite complaints from House Democrats that it includes a fix to prevent a cut in doctor payments but does not extend federal unemployment benefits set to expire this month.

Most Republicans appear to be backing Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and GOP leaders, although some conservatives will oppose it over concerns it does not cut spending deeply enough.

The agreement would set a $1.012 trillion spending ceiling for fiscal 2014 and eliminate $63 billion in proposed sequester spending cuts. Read more ..


Broken Government

Budget Deal Reveals Republican Rift

December 12th 2013

The rift between House Republican leaders and outside conservative organizations broke into the open Wednesday as Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) rebuked groups that had preemptively denounced a budget deal. Distrust between Boehner and conservative groups has been a theme of his Speakership, but it boiled over the day before an expected vote on a two-year budget deal likely to hand the Speaker’s team a victory.

Conservative groups, including Heritage Action and FreedomWorks, had assailed the agreement even before it was struck, prompting Boehner to lash out at them. “They’re using our members, and they’re using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous,” Boehner told reporters at a press conference after the GOP meeting. Read more ..


Broken Government

Congressional Budget Deal is Good News for DoD

December 11th 2013

The deal struck Tuesday by Budget Committee leaders would give the Pentagon $22 billion in sequester relief in fiscal 2014.

While the budget deal provides some sequester relief for the military that Pentagon leaders have clamored for, it does not raise spending back up to pre-sequester funding levels.

In all, the agreement will increase defense spending by $31.7 billion above the sequestration caps over the next two years, with an equal amount of relief going to non-defense discretionary spending.
Members of the military would help pay for the boost in spending.

A summary of the agreement says that veterans under the age of 62 will have to pay more into their retirement accounts. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Congressional Democrat Voices Concern over U.S. Parts for Iran's Jets

December 10th 2013

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A senior Democrat is lashing out at a provision of the nuclear deal with Iran that could make it easier for the country to repair its aging fleet of civilian aircraft.

A little-noticed provision of the deal paves the way for U.S. companies such as Boeing and General Electric to inspect and repair Iran's American-made planes inside Iran. But Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs panel and a hawk on Iran, says the planes could be used to promote terrorism and support Syria's Bashar Assad.

“America should exploit some of the vagaries in the agreement’s language and prevent Boeing from repairing Iranian aircraft until we have a final deal,” Sherman said in a statement Tuesday. “Otherwise we will have made a permanent irreversible concession in a 'temporary' agreement.” He said he opposes “licensing parts and services needed to repair Iran's American-made planes because they have been used to support some of Iran's worst activities.” Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Senate Pushes Through Defense Bill but Dodges Iran Sanctions

December 10th 2013

The push for Iran sanctions took a major hit on Monday as lawmakers on the Armed Services panels moved to rush through a $607 billion Pentagon spending bill without amendments. The leaders said they wanted their mammoth bill to be rushed through both chambers because the House plans to adjourn at the end of the week.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) argued there simply isn’t time to consider amendments on Iran or anything else. “This is the only way we can pass a bill this year,” Levin said at a press conference unveiling the committees’ agreement on the Pentagon policy bill. Read more ..


After Fukushima

Record Outdoor Radiation Level at Fukushima ‘Can Kill in 20 Minutes'

December 9th 2013

Rad monitor Japan

Outdoor radiation levels have reached their highest at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant,warns the operator company.Radiation found in an area near a steel pipe that connects reactor buildings could kill an exposed person in 20 minutes,local media reported.

The plant’s operator and the utility responsible for the clean-up Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) detected record radiation levels on a duct which connects reactor buildings and the 120 meter tall ventilation pipe located outside on Friday. TEPCO measured radiation at eight locations around the pipe with the highest estimated at two locations - 25 Sieverts per hour and about 15 Sieverts per hour, the company said. This is the highest level ever detected outside the reactor buildings, according to local broadcaster NHK. Earlier TEPCO said radiation levels of at least 10 Sieverts per hour were found on the pipe. Read more ..


Israel and Iran

Netanyahu Willing to Give Diplomacy a Chance on Iran's Nuclear Program

December 8th 2013

Bibi

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he’s willing to give diplomacy a chance to weaken Iran’s nuclear program. 

For diplomacy to succeed, however, “it must be coupled with powerful sanctions and a credible military threat,” he said during comments at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum, adding that "Israel is prepared to do what is necessary to defend itself."

Two weeks ago, Netanyahu condemned the deal the United States reached with its allies over Iran’s nuclear program. The six-month deal requires Iran to slow its program. If Tehran meets those guidelines, a final deal could be achieved. Netanyahu’s comments indicate Israel is toning down its rhetoric over the threat of Iran. Israeli President Shimon Peres, whose post is ceremonial, said Sunday in Tel Aviv that he’s even willing to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

ObamaCare Navigators Ordered to go Paperless

December 7th 2013

Federal health officials have been advising ObamaCare counselors this week to stop using paper applications to enroll people — out of fear that the applications wouldn’t be processed in time.

Based on interviews the Associated Press conducted, enrollment counselors and brokers facilitating the insurance sign-up process have been advised by the Obama administration to stop using paper.

Uninsured consumers in the United States must sign up for health insurance by Dec. 23 in order to receive coverage starting Jan. 1.

“We received guidance from the feds recommending that folks apply online as opposed to paper," Mike Claffey, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Insurance, told the AP.

Counselors who spoke to the AP said federal officials discussed the paper application issues on a conference call Wednesday. Read more ..


Broken Bookselling

Did Barnes And Noble Fake the Financials on Nook?

December 7th 2013

Barnes and Noble store

The retailer’s stock closed down 12% today after it disclosed in an SEC filing that the agency is investigating two matters involving the company’s recent financial reports. On October 16 the SEC’s New York regional office told Barnes and Noble that it’s looking at a company earnings restatement in July. In addition, the SEC is curious about a charge by a “former non-executive employee” that some Information Technology expenses had been ”improperly allocated” between the Nook and Retail segments. “The Company is cooperating with the SEC, including responding to requests for documents,” Barnes and Noble says in the filing. Did the chain lose $117M of its market value today just because of an investigation? Probably not. Many investors have also become pessimistic about the number of Nook tablets and e-readers that Barnes and Noble will sell this holiday season — especially after Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos attracted so much attention on 60 Minutes last week when he disclosed his experiments with delivery drones. Read more ..

Central Africa on Edge

Central African Republic: Religious Leaders Hopeful UN Troops Will Settle Tense Situation

December 7th 2013

Catholic Church leaders in the Central African Republic are hoping the arrival of French and African troops will help settle a situation that has effectively left people barricaded in their homes in the capital, Bangui. "It's tense and dangerous on the streets and everyone is afraid," said Monsignor Cyriaque Gbate Doumalo, secretary-general of the Central Africa Republic’s Catholic bishops' conference. "We've long appealed for the international community to intervene, since no one here can do anything. We hope the new forces will now act quickly to bring this crisis to an end," he told Catholic News Service (CNS) by phone on December 5.

Doumalo said he had been unable to leave his residence because of "constant shooting everywhere," and said local radio stations, deprived of staff, were playing music rather than broadcasting news. He said St Bernard Parish in the northern part of Bangui had appealed for help after refugees from the fighting, some with gunshot wounds, sought shelter in the church. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

New Evidence of the Dark Side of Olympic Sochi emerges

December 6th 2013

Sochi 2014 Olympic games torch

A documentary detailing the irregularities marring the run-up to next year's Sochi Olympics premieres in Russia this week, in defiance of what its makers say were attempts by Moscow authorities to block the film.

"Putin's Games" offers a rare glimpse into the pervasive corruption, rights abuses, and environmental damage that critics say has pervaded the Black Sea resort as Russia scrambles to prepare it for the Winter Games in February 2014.

Producer Simone Baumann says she was approached on three occasions by Russians proposing to buy the controversial film. Baumann, who has refused to enter into negotiations, claims to have turned down lucrative offers not to show the film.

"I was not surprised by these requests," Baumann says. "I spend a lot of time in Russia and the notion that money buys everything infuriates me." Read more ..


Broken Government

Obama Denounces Income Disparities and Pushes for Minimum Wage Hike

December 4th 2013

President Obama on December 4 declared that addressing income inequality would be the focus of “all” of the White House’s efforts “for the rest of my presidency.” In a sweeping address that touched on raising the minimum wage, investing in infrastructure and ending tax breaks for the wealthy, Obama warned that the American economy has become “profoundly unequal,” declaring economic mobility the “challenge of our time.”

“The combined trends of increasing inequality and decreasing mobility pose a fundamental threat to the American dream, our way of life, and what we stand for around the globe,” he said in an hour-long speech from a community center in one of Washington, D.C.’s poorest neighborhoods, Anacostia.

Obama’s speech came as the president has seen his approval ratings drop with the disastrous rollout of ObamaCare. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Islamists Invade Christian town in Syria and Kidnap Nuns

December 4th 2013

Rebel fighters

Islamist rebels from an al-Qaeda-affilated group on Monday invaded a Syrian town comprised primarily of Christians and abducted approximately 12 nuns, according to former U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials monitoring the scene. The jihadists took total control of the Christian town of Maaloula, which is located north of Damascus. The heavily armed Muslim terrorists began burning houses inside of Maaloula, the news media reported, and the rebels also abducted and tortured at least a dozen Catholic nuns from the nearby Mar Thecla Monastery, the largest Christian compound in that region.

Maaloula is one of the original strongholds of Christianity in Syria during the time of the early church. The town of Maaloula has experienced several battles between President Bashar al-Assad's troops and the mostly Islamist rebels.

Read more ..

Broken Government

Congress Blows its Own Budget Deadline and Ponders Increased Revenue

December 3rd 2013

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Congressional budget conferees on December 2 failed to meet a deadline set by appropriators for a top-line budget number.

The blown deadline raises the odds that Congress will need at least a stopgap spending bill to keep the government running after Jan. 15.

Appropriators had called on the House-Senate conference to get a deal by Dec. 2 to ensure they had time to complete detailed spending bills, but the informal deadline was never endorsed by the leaders of the conference.

Sources say a small budget deal remains possible before the committee’s official deadline on Dec. 13, though this week is pivotal. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syria Insurgents Attack Christian village

December 3rd 2013

Syrian Rebel w/SAW

Syrian Christians have again been subjected to armed attacks by the largely Islamist insurgents currently battling to bring down the Assad regime in the Mideastern nation. Rebel militias attacked Maalula, a predominantly Christian settlement approximately 45 miles west of Syria's capital, on November 30. This is the second such attack in recent months on the city. Picturesque Maalula is one of the few places left in the Mideast where there remain speakers of Aramaic - the language spoken by Jesus. The news was confirmed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (which is affiliated with Assad opponents based in the UK) and the Syrian government news agency (SANA). Militants serving in the Jabhat al-Nusra Islamist organization were among the attackers. The November 30 attack is the second such assault in the last 3 months. In Maalula are located the St Thekla Greek Orthodox convent and a pilgrim site dedicated to the memory of Saints Sergius and Bacchus.
Read more ..

China on Edge

Biden Junkets to China over Concerns about New Air-Defense Zone

December 2nd 2013

Vice President Joseph Biden will directly raise concerns over China's new air-defense zone with officials in Beijing during his trip to the region, the White House said Monday.

"This is an opportunity for Vice President Biden to raise our concerns directly with policymakers in Beijing and to seek clarity regarding the Chinese intentions in making this move at this time," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

"It is also an opportunity to confer with our allies Japan and the Republic of Korea, both of whom are directly affected by China's actions." Biden is on a week-long trip to Japan, China and South Korea.

Late last month, China declared a disputed area off its coast an “Air Defense Identification Zone" and asked to be notified of any air travel through the region. Read more ..


Iraq on Edge

Terrorists Slaughter over 60 Iraqis in One day in Mass Executions

December 2nd 2013

Revolutionary Guards

Suspected terrorists murdered more than 60 Iraqis, many of them in mass executions, throughout Iraq on Friday. Friday’s violence makes the death toll more than 200 this week. Overall, well over 6,000 people have been killed this year in Iraq, and the government in Baghdad has practically begged for help from other nations to stop the increased number of militants Islamists especially those from al-Qaeda in Iraq, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

The terrorist attacks occurred in and around Baghdad and in mostly Sunni Arab parts of the country, such as Nineveh and Salaheddin provinces, as well as in the city of Kirkuk.

This latest tidal wave of violence has resulted in victims being kidnapped from their homes and later their corpses are usually found beaten and bullet-ridden. On Friday morning, Iraqi police officials reported they discovered the remains of 18 men. Two of the victims were tribal chiefs, while four police officers and a military officer were found dumped in farmland near the Sunni Arab town of Tarmiyah, just north of Baghdad. According to Iraqi police officials all 18 victims had been shot execution-style in their heads and chests and their bodies were discovered only a few hours after the mass-execution.

Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Israel Takes Fire from Syria

December 2nd 2013

Israeli army units fired back into Syria after receiving fire from an outpost on the Syrian side on December 2. No Israeli casualties were reported following the exchange on the Golan Heights, even though local media reports that at least one Syrian soldier was hit by Israeli fire.

The clash of arms came after Israel was subjected by mortar fire that originated in Syria earlier in the day. The mortar round struck approximately 160 feet from a home located in Majdal Shams - a village of Israeli Druze. No injuries or damage were reported following the attack. Israeli Defence Forces are investigating the incident. 

Majdal Shams is one of several Druze towns in the Golan Heights area. According to Israeli National News, residents there are loyal to Syria. Druze living there have spied for Syria, according to the INN report, and some have gone to fight with the insurgents currently battling the Syrian regime of President Bashr al-Assad. Even so, some Druze - as do other non-Jewish Israelis -serve in the Israel Defence Forces, usually in combat. For example, the incoming Golani Brigade commander is a Druze. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Netanyahu Predicts Obama's Iran Deal will Collapse

December 1st 2013

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, visiting Rome on an official visit, reiterated his opposition to an agreement between Iran and several world powers about the Islamic Republic's nuclear weapons program.

Speaking at a Hanukah ceremony at the Great Synagogue on December 1, Netanyahu expressed concern over what he described as a rapid weakening of the international sanctions regime against Iran.

“As we have warned, and I say this with regret, the sanctions regime has started to weaken and very quickly. If tangible steps are not taken soon, it is liable to collapse and the efforts of years will vanish without anything in exchange,” said Netanyahu.

Citing the example of Judah Maccabbeas, who lead Jewish patriots in a fight to the death with Roman invaders during the 2nd century BCE, former Israeli commando Netanyahu promised that Israel will take all the steps necessary to prevent the Islamic Republic from achieving the capacity to fabricate nuclear weapons.

“I tell you and promise in the spirit of the Maccabees, we will not allow Iran to receive a military nuclear capability,” he said.

He also appeared to respond to criticism leveled against him by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert earlier on the same day. Israeli premier Netanyahu said that he would not be silenced in his campaign for stronger action against Iran’s nuclear weaponization program. Read more ..


Broken Economy

Tax Hike Spooks Struggling Homeowners

December 1st 2013

Home Foreclosure

The housing industry and consumer advocates are preparing for a frantic eleventh-hour push to save struggling homeowners from a hefty tax bill next year.

Congress has a light end-of-year workload compared to 2012, when lawmakers scrambled to avoid the “fiscal cliff.” But industry and advocates are joining forces to highlight one particular provision, warning that allowing it to expire could push more homeowners into foreclosure just as the housing market is recovering.

The provision in question exempts homeowners that have some portion of their mortgage forgiven, typically by a short sale, from having to pay taxes on that forgiven debt. Under normal tax law, such forgiven debt is taxed as income, but the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act, enacted in 2007 as the subprime bubble was bursting, freed struggling homeowners from that hefty tax bill. Read more ..



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