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America's Darkest Edge

Texas Republican says Gun Show Loop-Hole 'Doesn't Exit'

January 20th 2013

NRA shotgun ammunition

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Sunday declined to criticize a controversial new National Rifle Association (NRA) ad, instead charging proponents of gun control with “hypocrisy” in the debate over gun violence. The freshman Texas Republican was asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” about the NRA ad released last week which referenced the president’s daughters.

"Look, I'm going to let people decide to run what ads they want,” said Cruz. “I do think there is a fundamental point here and that there is a point of hypocrisy when it comes to gun control, that many of the proponents of gun control are very wealthy, live in communities where they can outsource police protection, but you have a lot of people who are worried about preserving the safety of their own home." Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Advisor Suggests Economy is Focus for Obama's Second Act

January 20th 2013

Unemployment

Senior Obama adviser David Axelrod suggested Sunday that the president would take a broad approach to the nation’s economic woes, beyond the upcoming set of fiscal crisis facing Washington. “There's a larger priority of which this is part, which is how do you create an economy, rebuild an economy, in which the American dream, the American compact, is fresh, where people who work hard feel like they can get ahead?,” said Axelrod on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The White House and Congress are faced with a number of fiscal challenges in the weeks ahead from raising the nation’s borrowing limit, to avoiding a set of sequester cuts slated to take effect on March and finding a way to continue funding the government. Axelrod, though said that beyond budget battles, much remained to be done to continue restoring the nation’s prosperity. “That's not just about dealing with the fiscal crisis, it's about education, it's about research and development, it's about controlling our energy future. All of these are part of the equation,” he added.  Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Party Organizers Pull Plug On Lupe Fiasco After Anti-Obama Performance

January 20th 2013

Obama

The organizers at an event celebrating startup companies pulled the plug on rapper Lupe Fiasco Sunday night after he reportedly performed an an anti-war song criticizing President Obama for half an hour. "Lupe Fiasco performed at this private event, and as you may have read, he left the stage earlier than we had planned," organizers said in a statement. "But Lupe Fiasco was not 'kicked off stage' for an 'anti-Obama rant.' We are staunch supporters of free speech, and free political speech. This was not about his opinions. Instead, after a bizarrely repetitive, jarring performance that left the crowd vocally dissatisfied, organizers decided to move on to the next act."

Video of the performance posted to BuzzFeed shows the artist criticizing the president along with prominent conservative commentators. Read more ..


Islam's War on Christians

Egypt's Christians Have a Terrible Week

January 18th 2013

Coptic Christian prays at blood splattered wall

Businesses owned by members of Egypt’s Coptic Christian community were burned overnight January 17-18 in the southern village of Marashda in Qena province. Four stores owned by the Christian minority were attacked by incendiaries after Muslim villagers accused one of the store owners of the sexual assault of a 6-year-old girl. Villagers are demanding an investigation into the alleged assault by the Christian man. Hundreds of protesters have since assembled outside a Coptic Christian church in the village, while police have fired tear gas in an effort to disperse hundreds of enraged Muslims. Protesters threw rocks at the church during the daylight hours of January 18.

Police are now investigating the accusations against the Christian merchant. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

IAEA and Iran Fail to Reach Deal on Nuclear Inspections--Crisis Heightens

January 18th 2013

iran_nuclear_scientist

The chief United Nations nuclear inspector says no deal has been reached with Iran to investigate its controversial nuclear program, but that a meeting will take place next month. International Atomic Energy Agency team leader Herman Nackaerts and his team of U.N. inspectors arrived Friday at Vienna airport following two days of "intensive discussions" in Tehran. Citing unspecified differences, Nackaerts said they were unable to produce an agreement on access to Iranian nuclear facilities. "We could not finalize the structured approach to resolve the outstanding issues regarding possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program," he said. Nackaerts said another round of talks will take place on February 12 in Tehran.
 
The IAEA had hoped to gain access to the Parchin military site, which Western nations suspect is related to nuclear weapons development. Iran says it is a conventional military site and that its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful purposes. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Tuesday that a religious decree issued by Iran's supreme leader banning nuclear weapons is binding on the Iranian government.
Read more ..

The Edge of Justice

Russia Feels Court Penalty for Grab of Chabad Papers

January 17th 2013

Nathan Lewin and Alyza D. Lewin
Attorneys Nathan and Alyza Lewin

The Russian government is about to feel the sting of American Justice. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has announced a substantial financial penalty to be assessed against the Russian Federation, the Russian Ministry of Culture, the Russian State Library, and the Russian State Military Archive for their disobedience of a July 30, 2010 order directing the Russian government to return to Agudas Chasidei Chabad a sacred collection of Jewish books and manuscripts that had been seized by the Russians during the Bolshevik Revolution and World War II. Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth imposed civil contempt sanctions against the defendants in the amount of $50,000 per day until the defendants comply with the Court’s order.

Agudas Chasidei Chabad of United States first sued the Russian government under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act in 2004 for the return of the library and archives. The Russian government participated in the case for five years as the parties litigated over whether or not the U.S. courts had jurisdiction over the matter. In 2009, after the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decided the jurisdictional issues in favor of Chabad, the Russian government informed the Court that it would no longer participate in the case. Read more ..


Technology on Edge

International Carriers Ground Boeing Dreamliner Fleets

January 17th 2013

Boeing 787

Aviation regulators in Asia and other parts of the world are grounding the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. They are concerned about the risk of a fire occurring in flight because of issues with the new jet's batteries.

After the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration ordered an indefinite halt to Dreamliner flights, regulators in Japan, India and Chile quickly issued similar directives.

Japan's Vice Transport Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama says the safety of airline passengers is paramount. He explains that the precise nature of the problem with the jet's batteries is not known because the aircraft has a complex electrical system and it will take a thorough investigation to provide answers. Japanese authorities say their initial inspection leads them to believe the batteries are overheating. Airlines and regulators began halting flights of the 787 following a Wednesday morning incident in Japan. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Mass Carnage as Algeria Bombs Hostage Scene at Gas Factory

January 17th 2013

Algerian Air Force Military Cargo

There are reports that dozens of people have been killed in Algerian airstrikes on a natural gas complex where al-Qaida linked militants took hostages Wednesday. The reports say at least 34 hostages and 15 of their captors were killed in airstrikes on Thursday at the complex at In Amenas, in east central Algeria. Details on the situation are sketchy.  The Mauritanian news agency ANI said it received word on the casualties from one of the militants at the complex. Earlier, the Algeria Press Service said 30 Algerians had escaped from the site, while other reports indicated some of the foreigners had escaped.

Retaliation
Al-Qaida-linked Islamist militants say they kidnapped as many as 41 foreigners at the complex on Wednesday, in what the militants call retaliation for French military action in neighboring Mali. A spokesman for the al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) affiliate in Mali told VOA seven Americans were among the hostages. Read more ..


The Edge of Terror

Americans Held Hostage by Algerian Terrorists

January 16th 2013

Taureg dude

The State Department confirmed on January 16 that Muslim terrorists seized the Ain Amenas gas field in Algeria, taking at least 20 foreign hostages. Some of the hostages taken at the foreign-owned facility are American citizens.

The official Algerian news agency said that the attack was an apparent retaliation for military intervention by France in neighboring Mali. France also conducted raids over the last few days in Somalia in an effort to release a French intelligence agent.

The Algerian news agency reported that at least two persons were killed in the attack by insurgents at the gas field. One of the dead was from the United Kingdom. Other nationalities represented among the hostages include Japanese, British, French and Norwegians. The Irish government stated that at least one of its nationals is among those being held. Six persons were wounded in the the attack, including two foreigners, two police officers and two security agents, the state news agency reported. Hundreds of Algerians work at the plant and were taken in the attack, but the state news agency reported that they have gradually been released in small groups, unharmed by the late afternoon. Read more ..


The New Egypt

White House Condemns Morsi’s Anti-Semitic Remarks, Calls for His Affirmation of Respect for all Faiths

January 16th 2013

Morsi

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s antisemitic proclamations, including that Jews are “the descendants of apes and pigs,” may be coming back to haunt him. The comments, made during two separate 2010 interviews, but just now being brought to light because of access to their English translation, also urge violence against Zionists and refers to Jews as bloodsuckers and warmongers. The New York Times reported Tuesday that Morsi’s representatives have repeatedly declined comment over the past three days. The article proceeds to surmise that his camp’s silence can be attributed to “a political bind. While his past comments may be a liability abroad, he faces a political culture at home in which such defamation of Jews is almost standard stump discourse. Any attempt to retract, or even clarify, his slurs would expose him to political attacks by opponents who already accuse him of softness toward the United States and Israel.” Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Assad Reportedly Orders Army to Fire Missiles at Israel and Egypt if He is Killed

January 15th 2013

al-Assad and Generals

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has ordered his military to launch ballistic missiles at Israel if he is killed,  according to the Israeli online newspaper Inyan Merkazi. The website reported that Assad met with his top generals recently to express concerns that he could be killed by advanced American missiles recently provided to rebel forces, or by a violent mob similar to the one that violently murdered Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Should either of those scenarios become reality, Assad reportedly told the generals to unleash Syria’s considerable missile arsenal on Israel and Egypt.

The thinking behind the attack on Israel would be for Assad to preserve a lasting legacy as someone who confronted, and ultimately tried to destroy Israel. As for the attack on Egypt, Assad is angry at the country because of the new Muslim Brotherhood-controlled government’s support for Syrian rebel groups, many of which are fellow Islamists. Read more ..


Broken Government

Obama Says Failure to Raise Federal Debt Ceiling is 'Irresponsible'

January 14th 2013

Obama

President Barack Obama is calling on Congress to quickly approve an increase in the country's borrowing limit and says he supports "sensible" new gun controls to try to prevent more mass shootings in the country.

Less than a week before he starts his second term, Obama said at a White House news conference on January 14 that it would be "irresponsible" for his political opponents in Congress to even consider not raising the country's $16.4 trillion borrowing limit in the coming weeks. "So to even entertain the idea of this happening, of the United States of America not paying its bills, is irresponsible. It's absurd," he said.

The U.S. has already reached the debt ceiling, but has enough money to continue paying its bills for several weeks. The president said the borrowing limit needs to be increased, not so that government spending can be boosted, but so the U.S. can meet financial obligations it has already incurred. "Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize us to spend more. All it does is say that America will pay its bills, and we are not a deadbeat nation," he said. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Mideast Winter Storm Deepens Misery of Syrians

January 14th 2013

Damascus winter

A winter storm in the Middle East has brought heavy snowfall and flooding and caused at least eight deaths. The storm, called the worst in more than 20 years, disrupted life across the region and deepened the misery of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.

Weather experts say the storm dumped the precipitation of an entire average winter during the course of just a few days. The storm paralyzed life in many cities from Gaza to Istanbul and aggravated the hardship of Syrians already suffering from nearly two years of conflict. People who remained in Syria's war-battered cities huddled in their homes, making fires from books and furniture because of a lack of fuel for heaters.

The situation was even worse for hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled into neighboring countries and the one million people displaced inside Syria. An elderly refugee in a camp in Lebanon, who would not give her name, said they face death every day. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Confirms US forces Supported France in Failed Rescue Mission

January 14th 2013

KC-135, A-10s, and F-16s

President Obama on Sunday informed Congress that U.S. forces provided "limited technical support" for a French raid in Somalia that unsuccessfully tried to free a French intelligence agent. In a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate, Obama said U.S. forces took no direct part in the assault. He said combat aircraft briefly entered Somali airspace, but did not fire any weapons. He sent the letter to comply with the War Powers Resolution, which requires the president to inform Congress within 48 hours of sending any troops into action. On Friday night, French forces stormed a Somali compound where they suspected Islamic militants were holding the French citizen.

The resulting shoot-out left one French soldier and 17 militants dead, according to the Associated Press. French officials said they believe the hostage, Denis Allex, was also killed. He had been held captive for more than three years. Read more ..


The New Egypt

Egyptian Court Orders Mubarak Re-trial

January 13th 2013

Hosni Mubarak headache

An Egyptian court has accepted an appeal by ousted President Hosni Mubarak and his former interior minister, allowing him to be retried over the killings of protesters in the 2011 uprising. "The court has ruled to accept the appeal filed by the defendants ... and orders a retrial," Judge Ahmed Ali Abdel Rahman read out the ruling during Sunday's brief hearing. No date has been set for the start of their retrial.

Mubarak and Habib el-Adly, the former interior minister, were sentenced to life in prison in June last year in a court ruling that held them responsible for the deaths of protesters killed by security forces trying to put down the uprising. Crowds of Mubarak supporters attending the trial cheered. The 84-year-old former leader was moved from prison to a military hospital in late December after breaking ribs in a fall. Read more ..


The graphene Edge

UK Funds "Super material"

January 13th 2013

Royal Holloway is among a select group of universities to receive £21.5 million in government funding to explore commercial uses for graphene. Announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne just after Christmas, the funding will focus attention on the so-called ‘super-material’ graphene, one of the thinnest, strongest and most conductive materials known to man.

The project at Royal Holloway will focus on using graphene to develop new equipment that can operate at high frequencies. This could include devices useful for security purposes, which can detect the presence of explosives and drugs remotely, as well as those that could be used in health screening to produce detailed images of blood vessels. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Iran Claims It is Willing to Resume Nuclear Talks as Sanctions Bite Hard

January 12th 2013

Iran centrifuges

Iran says it is prepared to return to talks, possibly later this month, with major world powers over its nuclear program.  As the country's uranium enrichment program continues, Western countries have tightened economic sanctions against Tehran.

U.S. President Barack Obama last week signed off on a new round of sanctions targeting Iran’s energy and shipping sectors.  They build on a range of unilateral and multilateral sanctions against Iranian industry and banks.

The measures are aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program.  The West claims Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons; Tehran says the program is for civilian purposes. Iran has indicated it is ready to hold a fresh round talks with international powers - the so-called P5+1 - the United States, Britain, Russia, China, and France, plus Germany. Jamie Ingram, of IHS Global Insight, says the sanctions are forcing Iran to the negotiating table. Read more ..


North Africa on Edge

France Exercises Military Muscle in Mali and Somalia

January 12th 2013

Tuareg warriors

France's prime minister says French forces continued air strikes in Mali on January 12, driving Islamist militants out of the northern town of Konna. Militants had captured the town earlier this week. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said French forces are also preparing for any rebel surge on the Malian capital, Bamako. He said troops will remain in the area as long as necessary, saying the militants are behind much lawlessness, including kidnappings.

French defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on January 12 that a helicopter pilot was killed during the air strikes, which began on January 11. France announced that day that it had deployed troops to Mali at the request of the government. Troops from Nigeria and Senegal are also reported to be in Mali to help government forces. France's Foreign Ministry has advised French citizens in Mali to leave the country "temporarily," while the U.S. embassy in Bamako is urging Americans against all travel to the West African country. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States is consulting very closely with France's government. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Terrorists Kill Scores of Pakistanis

January 11th 2013

Terrorist Bombing

Radical Islamists appear to have kicked up the violence a notch against innocent citizens by perpetrating a number of bombings in Pakistan killing at least 120 people on Thursday, including 65 who died in a sectarian attack on a busy pool and billiards hall in the city of Quetta.

According to sources, the bomb blasts have made Jan. 10, 2013, the deadliest day in Pakistan in over a year. Despite having a relatively large, modern military complete with state-of-the-art weaponry, the government continues to experience a bloody terrorism war with the Taliban in the northwest and the Baluch militants in the southwest, the source said.

Patrons in a pool hall in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, experienced two blasts detonated about 10 minutes apart on Thursday night. According to the Middle Eastern news media, about 65 people were and more 160 others were wounded. Read more ..


Broken Labor

Walmart Added to Lawsuit Alleging Wage Theft at California Warehouse

January 11th 2013

Walmart

A federal judge ruled Thursday that Walmart can be added to a lawsuit alleging widespread wage theft at a Southern California warehouse.

Lawyers for contract workers at the Schneider Logistics warehouse in Mira Loma, Calif. – whose sole customer is Walmart – had moved to add the retailer to the case in November.

Monday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder will force Walmart to defend itself against allegations that Schneider, at Walmart’s behest, cheated as many as 1,800 low-wage workers out of millions of dollars.

Walmart fought becoming a late addition to the case, but Snyder wrote that the plaintiffs had a “good faith explanation that they did not seek to name Walmart as a defendant until this stage of the litigation because they only recently uncovered evidence in discovery that justifies a lawsuit against Walmart.”

The lawsuit, filed in October 2011, claims that Schneider and two staffing agencies, Premier Warehousing Ventures LLC and Impact Logistics Inc., failed to keep proper payroll records, falsified time sheets and misled workers about the amount of money they had earned. Read more ..


The New Egypt

Morsi Invites Ahmadinejad to Cairo

January 11th 2013

Ahmadinejad triumphant

During a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi today in Cairo, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi extended an invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to attend an Islamic summit scheduled for February 7th in Cairo, Gaza-based Palestine Today reported. The summit is expected to address the “Palestinian cause,” the Syrian crisis, combating poverty, the situations in Afghanistan and Somalia as well as Islamaphobia. Salehi also announced that he had extended an invitation on behalf of Ahmadinejad for Morsi to visit Tehran.

Egypt’s foreign ministry said that the two leaders “exchanged views on the Syrian crisis and means of finding a solution” to the conflict which the UN says has killed more than 60,000 people. On Tuesday Iranian officials threw their support behind a speech made Sunday by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that was rejected by the Syrian opposition and western governments.

The two countries have been cozying up to one another in recent months as relations continue to thaw following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak and the rise of the Islamist government in Cairo. Relations between Iran and Egypt were almost non-existent while Mubarak was in office. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Pakistan Bombs Kills More Than 110

January 10th 2013

Pakistani military brass

Four separate bombings killed more than 110 people across Pakistan Thursday, including 92 deaths in Quetta. Police in the capital of Baluchistan province said a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a crowded billiard hall, followed by a second bomber there minutes later. The twin blasts killed 81 people, including police and rescue workers. More than 100 people were wounded. The billiard hall attacks came just hours after a bomb blast at the Quetta market killed 11 people. Authorities said paramilitary soldiers may have been the target. Baluchistan has grappled with a separatist insurgency, Islamic militancy, and sectarian violence for decades. Elsewhere in Pakistan Thursday, at least 21 people were killed and dozens wounded in a bombing in the city of Mingora, where a crowd had gathered to hear a speech by a religious leader. Read more ..

Edge of the Cliff

Boehner Faces Headwinds for Stance on Defense Spending

January 10th 2013

Congress-senate

House Republican defense hawks are pushing back strongly against Speaker John Boehner’s claim that he has GOP support to allow steep automatic budget cuts to take effect if President Obama does not agree to replace them with other reductions.

Party leaders have for more than a year railed against the Pentagon portion of the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration, but in an interview published Monday, Boehner pointed to the reductions as leverage and said he had significant Republican support, including from defense hawks, in his “back pocket.”

Not so fast, two defense-minded House Republicans told The Hill.

“I don’t support that,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a member of the Armed Services Committee whose district includes one of the nation’s largest military installations. “You get into dangerous territory when you talk about using national security as a bargaining chip with the president.” Read more ..


America's Darkest Edge

Curbing Gun Violence Requires 'Urgent' Action

January 9th 2013

Guns for sale

Vice President Joe Biden began three days of meetings with various groups Wednesday to discuss gun violence. The vice president will advise President Barack Obama on ways to tackle the problem. 

Vice President Biden sat down with victims’ groups and gun safety organizations to hear their stories of gun violence. He said the problem requires immediate action. “The president and I are determined to take action.  This is not an exercise in photo opportunities or just getting to ask you all, well, what your opinions are.  We are vitally interested in what you have to say," he said. 

The push for increased gun control came after 20 children and six adults were shot and killed last month at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Days later, President Obama directed Biden to deliver policy proposals by the end of January.  Read more ..


America's Darkest Edge

Giffords Launches New Gun-Control Initiative

January 9th 2013

Guns for sale

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) on Tuesday launched a new effort to promote gun control, on the two-year anniversary of her shooting at a constituent event in Tucson, Ariz. In an op-ed in USA Today, Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, said their new group, Americans for Responsible Solutions, would “raise the funds necessary to balance the influence of the gun lobby, and will line up squarely behind leaders who will stand up for what's right.”

“Until now, the gun lobby's political contributions, advertising and lobbying have dwarfed spending from anti-gun violence groups. No longer,” they added. “With Americans for Responsible Solutions engaging millions of people about ways to reduce gun violence and funding political activity nationwide, legislators will no longer have reason to fear the gun lobby.”

Giffords and Kelly expressed dismay that, even faced with the number of mass shootings over the last two years, Congress had done “nothing at all.” “America has seen an astounding 11 mass shootings since a madman used a semiautomatic pistol with an extended ammunition clip to shoot me and kill six others,” Giffords wrote. Read more ..


The Darkest Edge

Conspiracy Theorist Blows Up on CNN Talk Show

January 8th 2013

CNN Alex Jones and Piers Morgan

A heated on-air confrontation between broadcaster Alex Jones and CNN's Piers Morgan on Monday night capped a day of attention-getting controversy for the conservative radio host, who had earlier complained of being unfairly targeted by the Transportation Security Administration.

Jones's website InfoWars.com accused the TSA of detaining him — as he attempted to board his flight to New York to be interviewed by Morgan — because he refused to remove his shoes at a security checkpoint. Jones later angrily debate Morgan over the CNN host's frequent calls for gun-control measures in the wake of the Newton, Conn., elementary school shootings that stirred national debate last month. Read more ..


The Darkest Edge

V.P. Biden and NRA in 'High Noon' at the White House

January 8th 2013

NRA shotgun ammunition

Vice President Joe Biden will meet this week with the National Rifle Association and a variety of other groups as his task force on guns intensifies its efforts.

Biden will meet Wednesday with gun-safety organizations and shooting victims groups and on Thursday will meet with gun ownership organizations and sportsmen who use guns recreationally, according to the White House.

NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said the organization accepted an invitation received from the White House late Friday. "We are sending a rep to hear what they have to say," Arulanandam said. Biden will also meet with members of the video game and entertainment industry, which have come under scrutiny in the debate over gun violence. Read more ..


China on Edge

China Free Speech Protests Spread Online

January 8th 2013

China-Internet-Users

Free-speech protesters clashed with Communist party supporters in southern China on Tuesday, as a local dispute about government censorship spilled over into a nationwide online protest. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered Tuesday for a second day outside the progressive Southern Weekly in Guangzhou, where some journalists have gone on strike to protest alleged government editorial interference. Minor scuffles broke out after activists holding signs and chanting slogans calling for media freedom were confronted by a small group of  party loyalists who waved Chinese flags and held posters of Chairman Mao. The protesters are calling for the resignation of the provincial propaganda chief after censors last week allegedly blocked a New Year's editorial urging greater constitutional rights. The article was replaced with another praising the party's achievements. Read more ..


Broken Banking

US Banks to Pay $8.5 Billion Settlement on Foreclosure Abuse

January 7th 2013

JP Morgan Chase

Some of the largest U.S. banks have agreed to an $8.5 billion settlement to resolve claims that they abused financially troubled homeowners as they sought to foreclose on their home purchase loans at the height of the country's financial downturn.

As millions of U.S. homeowners lost their jobs in 2009 and 2010, they often fell behind on their monthly loan payments, prompting their lenders to take ownership of their properties.  But as they moved to foreclose, banks often took shortcuts, automatically signing off on documents, even as they falsely claimed they had individually reviewed each homeowner's loan.

Ten banks agreed to the settlement Monday with the country's central bank, the Federal Reserve, and U.S. financial regulators at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.  Among them are such well-known institutions as Bank of America, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, PNC and Wells Fargo.  Regulators are still negotiating a settlement with four other financial institutions. The regulators have said they found "critical deficiencies and shortcomings" in the way the banks handled the foreclosures.

For the first time, homeowners affected by the abuse will be compensated, with more than 3.8 million homeowners facing foreclosure in 2009 and 2010 getting payments ranging from hundreds of dollars up to $125,000.
Bank analyst Bert Ely told VOA the affected homeowners fall into several groups of people, including those who still could keep their homes.
Read more ..


India's Darkest Edge

Indian Rape Hearing Closed to the Public

January 7th 2013

India Gang Rape Protest Placard

The court proceedings of five of the six suspects in a brutal gang rape in the Indian capital will be closed to the public. The magistrate hearing the case, Namrita Aggarwal, made the announcement Monday shortly after the suspects arrived at the fast-track court hearing in New Delhi.  She said the next hearing will be on January 10 but did not indicate when the case will go to trial.

Aggarwal also cleared the packed courtroom after noisy protests from lawyers objecting to the suspects being given defense counsel and a mob of local and foreign journalists jostling to hear the proceedings. Six suspects, including a teenager, are accused of attacking a 23-year old woman and her male friend after luring them onto a bus in New Delhi on December 16.  They were both beaten with a rod.  The woman was gang-raped and both victims were thrown from the bus. Read more ..


Israel's Next Northern War

Israel Announces Fence on Syrian Border

January 6th 2013

Bibi

Israel's prime minister has proposed construction of a security fence in the Golan Heights to separate territory controlled by Israel from Syria. Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday at the weekly Cabinet meeting the new fence is needed because "the Syrian army has backed off and global jihad operatives have taken its place."

The prime minister said he is also concerned about Syria's chemical weapons. It was not immediately clear when the fence along the armistice line in the Golan Heights would be built.  Israel captured the Golan from Syria in 1967 and annexed it in 1981, in a move never recognized by the international community. Israel has a new fortified fence along its border with Egypt that Netanyahu says has stemmed the flow of African migrants into Israel.

The Edge of Space

Milky Way Could Contain 100 Billion Planets

January 6th 2013

protoplanetary disk

It seems like hardly a week goes by without another planet being discovered in some far off stellar system, but a new study, released by the California Institute of Technology, indicates there will likely be many, many more such discoveries.
 
The Caltech team made this conclusion based on analyzing the planets orbiting the Kepler-32 star, which contains five planets and which the scientists say is representative of the vast majority of stars in our galaxy. Kepler-32 is classified as an M dwarf, and scientists say three out of every four stars in the galaxy are M dwarfs, also known as red dwarfs. "There's at least 100 billion planets in the galaxy—just our galaxy," says John Johnson, assistant professor of planetary astronomy at Caltech and coauthor of the study, which was recently accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. "That's mind-boggling."
Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Sen. Graham Blasts Hagel Pick As An ‘In Your Face Nomination’ From Obama

January 5th 2013

Chuck Hagel

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Sunday expressed dismay at reports President Obama would tap former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) for Secretary of Defense, calling it an “in your face” selection.

“I like Chuck Hagel. He served with distinction in Vietnam as an enlisted man -- two Purple Hearts. But quite frankly Chuck Hagel is out of the mainstream of thinking on most issues regarding foreign policy,” said Graham in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“He has long severed his ties with the Republican party. This is an in your face nomination of the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel,” he added. “I don’t know what his management experience is in regards to the Pentagon or global if anyway, so I think it’s an extremely controversial choice.”

Reports Sunday said that Obama had decided to name Hagel to replace current Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta as early as Monday.  Read more ..


Venezuela on Edge

Venezuela Faces Life without President Hugo Chavez

January 4th 2013

Hugo Chavez infirm

Venezuela's government says President Hugo Chavez is facing complications from a severe lung infection. Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said on January 3 that the lung infection has caused a "breathing insufficiency" that requires Chavez to strictly comply with medical treatment. He gave no further details.

The Venezuelan leader has not been seen in public since undergoing cancer surgery in Cuba on December 11. Rumors and doubts fill the air in Venezuela since the normally gregarious and outspoken Chavez has been silent. He was first diagnosed with cancer in 2011, but has never disclosed the type or severity. Earlier this week, Vice President Nicolas Maduro described Chavez's condition as "delicate." Venezuelan opposition leaders have been demanding more information about the president's condition Read more ..


America on Edge

Democrat Barney Frank Hopes Supreme Court will Annul Defense of Marriage Act

January 4th 2013

Click to select Image
Retired U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass)

The Supreme Court could take a narrow approach in upcoming cases on same-sex marriage — and that’s just fine with outgoing Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). Frank, along with some other supporters of same-sex marriage, said he hopes the court will strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), but doesn’t want the justices to go further. “I do not expect the Supreme Court to find in the near term that there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage,” Frank said. “And that’s not what the LGBT groups are asking for. We’re asking for a recognition by the federal government of state marriages.”

Frank, the first openly gay member of Congress, retired at the end of the 112th Congress. The Supreme Court announced shortly beforehand that it would hear two cases on same-sex marriage — one challenging the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and another challenging California’s statewide ban on same-sex marriage. DOMA is a federal law that prohibits states from offering many legal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples. Couples can’t, for example, be treated as married when applying for federal aid programs, or for tax purposes, even if they were married in a state that recognizes their marriage. Read more ..


The Edge of Justice

Pennsylvania Catholic Priest Sentenced on Federal Child Porn Charges

January 4th 2013

Bartley Sorenson

A suspended Catholic priest in Pennsylvania was sentenced in federal court on Wednesday for violating federal child sexual exploitation laws, according to the FBI.

Bartley Sorensen, who pleaded guilty last year to federal child pornography charges, was sentenced to eight years in federal prison. Sorensen was also ordered to pay a $25,000 fine, a police source told the Law Enforcement Examiner.

The 63-year-old former pastor of St. John Fisher Church outside of Pittsburgh, pleaded guilty in May 2012 to receiving and possessing thousands of sexually explicit images of exploited children. Sorensen was arrested in December 2011 after a parish lay employee who had undergone training to identify sexual predators saw him viewing child pornography on his computer and alerted law enforcement. Read more ..


India's Darkest Edge

Five Suspects Charged in Connection with India Gang Rape

January 3rd 2013

India Rape Protest

Police in India have formally charged five of the suspects in last month's gang rape of a 23-year-old woman, an attack that left her with such severe injuries she died two weeks later. The men are accused of gang rape, murder and criminal assault.  Authorities say they will push for the death penalty if they are convicted.  A sixth suspect is believed to be under 18 and is expected to be tried separately in juvenile court.

​​The government has promised quick justice following an outpouring of public anger against the rape.  The hearings for the adults will be held in fast succession in a newly created court.  Some expect the court to conclude the case by the end of next month -- a record in a country where trials can drag on for years.

The government also is expected to appoint attorneys to defend the men after bar association lawyers said they would not take part in their defense. Read more ..


Pakistan on Edge

U.S. Drone Strike Kills Taliban Commander and Militants in Pakistan

January 3rd 2013

 The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper

Intelligence officials in Pakistan say U.S. drone strikes have killed more than 14 al-Qaida-linked militants, including an important commander of the Pakistani Taliban in the country’s volatile tribal region bordering Afghanistan. Officials say several missiles were fired before dawn on suspected militant targets in two Pakistani tribal districts, known as South and North Waziristan. They say the deadliest strike was in the South Waziristan village of Angoor Adda, where the region's main militant commander, Mullah Nazir, and his two deputies were among those killed.

The Pakistani tribal warlord had long been accused of harboring Arab al-Qaida operatives and sending fighters for attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces across the border in Afghanistan. He was also an ally of the anti-U.S. Haqqani network of Afghan insurgents entrenched in the area. In May 2011, hundreds of his followers protested against killing of Osama bin Laden. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Orthodox Christian Priest Excommunicated for Support of Israel

January 3rd 2013

church in israel

Last weekend, Father Gabriel Nadaf (39), a Greek Orthodox priest from Nazareth, challenged a boycott against him and attempted to enter the church there to recite a prayer and light a candle. He was accompanied by Israeli Border Police officers and supporters, who came to ensure his safe passage into the church.

Nadaf was excommunicated by the Orthodox Church Council after he expressed his belief that Christian youth in Israel should fully integrate into Israeli society, serving in the IDF or in the National Service. Since then, he and others, like Father André Alamiya, have been the target of virulent attacks from the opponents to this idea. For example, Father Alamiya's tires were slashed last weekend, and a rag saturated with blood was placed at his doorstep in Nazareth.

Father Nadaf believes Israel serves as an anchor for its Christian minority and cares for its security, and from this he derives his commitment towards Israel. Since his excommunication from the Council, which is headed by Dr. Azmi Hakim, a member of the Israeli Communist party, he has been forced to move around with bodyguards. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Fructose Sugar Makes Maturing Human Fat Cells Fatter, Less Insulin-Sensitive

January 3rd 2013

Childhood Obesity

Fructose, the sugar widely used as high-fructose corn syrup in soft drinks and processed foods, often gets some of the blame for the widespread rise in obesity. Now a laboratory study has found that when fructose is present as children's fat cells mature, it makes more of these cells mature into fat cells in belly fat and less able to respond to insulin in both belly fat and fat located below the skin.

The results were presented at The Endocrine Society's 92nd Annual Meeting in San Diego by lead author Georgina Coade, a PhD student at the University of Bristol in the U.K. "Our results suggest that high levels of fructose, which may result from eating a diet high in fructose, throughout childhood may lead to an increase in visceral [abdominal] obesity, which is associated with increased cardiometabolic risk," Coade said. Read more ..



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