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Nigeria on Edge

Nigerian Presidential Commission to Discuss Boko Haram Amnesty

April 7th 2013

Boko Haram

Possible measures that would grant amnesty to members of the militant group Boko Haram are to be reviewed this week by a commission established by Nigeria's president, Goodluck Jonathan.

Barrister Solomon Dalong, a leading member of the Boko Haram Commission, says Nigeria has granted amnesty to several groups as part of efforts by previous governments to end violence and stabilize the country.

“It is a solution being brought in to assist a perennial problem that escalates on daily basis.  Simply put, we are trying to solve the problem in our own way.” Dalong dismissed suggestions that granting amnesty to members of Boko Haram is a bad precedent that will encourage people to take up arms against the government, terrorize citizens, and threaten the country’s investment potential.

“What is the basis of people carrying arms against the Nigerian state?  We must go back and look at it.  And that is one of the reasons why this committee that is going to handle the issue of amnesty should also be given time, to take a look at some of the remote causes and the fundamental issues that has generated this type of problem,” said Dalong. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Jordan Doubles Border Force as Syrian Rebels Advance

April 6th 2013

King Abdullah

Syrian rebels say they have overrun an army garrison that defends the main southern border crossing with Jordan on Friday and vowed to press on to take control of the major transit route.

Fighters from the Free Syrian Army said on Friday that they captured the Um al-Mayathen post on the main Damascus-Jordan highway in heavy fighting overnight that ended a more than week-long siege. Dozens died in the clashes, they added.

"It [the garrison] is a major defence and now we will lay siege to the border crossing and cut their [the government's] supply lines," Abu Omar, commander of the Lions of the Sunna Brigade, told the Reuters news agency by phone. Confirming the development, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said: "Rebel fighters took control of the Um al-Mayathen military checkpoint ... in Deraa province in clashes with regime forces. Read more ..


Broken Government

First Key Fight in Immigration Battle: What to Name the Bill

April 5th 2013

Immigration Protest

One of the first political issues negotiators must tackle in crafting an immigration reform bill is among the most important: what to name it. It’s a decision that will bruise egos, create legacies and deeply affect subsequent messaging battles.

“Every time the bill is mentioned in the press, you either have a brand that's positive or a brand that doesn't mean anything or even hurts you,” said Frank Sharry, the executive director of the pro-immigration reform group America’s Voice.

The wrong name, he warned, could doom a good bill. “If there's not a catchy name, it gets defined by others,” he said. “I'm sure there are people on the other side trying to come up with a phrase or a word.” No one knows what the House and Senate bills now being crafted in backrooms by select groups of lawmakers will be called, but it’s possible it could be named after some of the negotiators. They include Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). Read more ..


The Darkest Edge

Groups Worry Schumer, Manchin Watering Down Gun Control Bill

April 4th 2013

Guns for sale

Gun control groups say Sens. Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) are watering down a bill that expands background checks on gun purchases. The groups say the two Democratic senators are going too far in a bid to win Republican support for gun control legislation expected to hit the Senate floor next week.

“Everyone supports background checks except for NRA leadership,” said Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, one of the advocates alarmed by the changes Schumer and Manchin are suggesting. “I think we should be tough on this deal,” he said. “If the vote fails and a legislator votes down background checks, there’s hell down to pay.”

At issue is whether to exempt private gun sales between friends and acquaintances from record-keeping requirements that now only cover licensed gun dealers. Shortly before the Easter recess, Schumer and Manchin proposed that such transactions be subject to background checks but exempt from the record-keeping rules. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Rockets, Mortars Fired at Israel's South, IAF Strikes Gaza

April 3rd 2013

Fighter Jets

Terrorists fire two rockets, four mortar shells at southern Israel, no injuries reported • Israel Air Force mounts first strike on Gaza Strip terror sites since Operation Pillar of Defense in November • Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon: Hamas is responsible.

The preschool in Sderot where a rocket fired from Gaza exploded during U.S. President Barack Obama's trip to Israel two weeks ago.

Palestinian terrorists fired two rockets at the southern Israeli city of Sderot on Wednesday morning. The rockets exploded in an open area and no injuries or damage were reported. The attacks followed strikes by the Israel Air Force against two terror targets in Gaza Strip on Tuesday night, which in turn followed mortar fire at Israel's south on Tuesday afternoon.

The Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson's Unit said, "Israeli aircraft targeted two extensive terror sites in northern Gaza Strip in response to rocket fire from Gaza Strip at Israel." The statement further said that the pilots recorded direct hits. Read more ..


Broken Government

Defense Stocks Swell as Budget Sequester is Enacted

April 3rd 2013

Click to select Image

The biggest defense companies’ share value has soared faster than the stock market since sequester spending cuts began on March 1. While the S&P is up 3.7 percent and the Dow Jones industrial average has risen 4.3 percent, Boeing has jumped 9.6 percent, Lockheed Martin is up 8.3 percent. Northrop Grumman has climbed 6.1 percent and Raytheon is up 6 percent.

The jump in contractors’ shares prices is seen as a relief rally after the protracted uncertainties of the sequester debate, but the longer term impact of the cuts is still controversial. No major defense layoffs tied to the sequester have been announced under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, despite predictions during the heat of the 2012 presidential campaign when companies pressed Congress to turn off the automatic cuts. Read more ..


South America on Edge

Paraguayan President Tours Spain and U.S. to Pierce Trade Barriers

April 2nd 2013

Paraguayan president Federico Franco

Paraguayan President Federico Franco is visiting Madrid to meet with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Also on hand will be Paraguayan Foreign Minister José Félix Fernández Estigarribia, who is arranging Franco’s second official visit to Europe. This is the third official meeting of the two leaders.

Interviewed for a nationally televised talk show in Spain, Franco told viewers that Paraguay is seeking to expand its trade relations with Spain, which had been the colonial overlord of the South American republic for more years than it has been independent. Franco pointed out ties of language and culture that united the two countries, while he also touted Paraguay as the greatest producer of clean hydroelectric power in the world. Read more ..


The North Korean Threat

South Korea Takes North Korea's Threats Seriously

April 2nd 2013

South Korean marines

South Korean President Park Geun-hye, says she is taking “very seriously” the continuing stream of threats from the North that many fear could lead to hostilities on the peninsula.

“There should be a strong response in initial combat without any political consideration” if North Korea launches a provocation against the South,” said Park during a meeting with her defense minister and senior officials of the Ministry of National Defense.

During a briefing for the president, the ministry outlined a new plan allowing the military to launch a pre-emptive strike against North Korea should an imminent nuclear or missile attack on the South be detected, including pushing forward the deployment of a “kill chain” system designed to detect, target and destroy missiles.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has vowed to expand his nuclear arsenal.

Speaking to the central committee of the workers' party Sunday, Kim laid down a “new strategic line,” saying that under no circumstances would North Korea's nuclear weapons be a bargaining chip in the political or economic arena. Read more ..


The North Korean Threat

White House Sees No Large-Scale North Korean Mobilization

April 2nd 2013

NK Military Parade Apr 2012

The White House has renewed its call for North Korea to halt provocative rhetoric, but says the United States has not detected any military mobilizations by Pyongyang to back up threats against the U.S. and South Korea. Tensions remain high amid North Korean threats against South Korea, and South Korean President Park Geun-hye's vow to make a strong military response to any attack by Pyongyang.

In recent days, the United States sent B-2 and F-22 stealth aircraft to South Korea as part of joint military exercises with its Asian ally. On Monday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said those flights were part of "prudent" and important steps to reassure allies and demonstrate resolve to Pyongyang. But he said the U.S. and its allies look closely at both North Korean rhetoric and the situation on the ground, and so far Washington has not seen any large-scale changes. Read more ..


Broken Government

Texas Gov. Perry Doubles Down Against Obamacare Expansion

April 2nd 2013

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) doubled down Monday in his opposition to expanding Medicaid under President Obama's healthcare law, even though opposing it could cost his state $90 billion. At a press conference where he was flanked by other conservatives, Perry argued expanding the health insurance program for the poor would make Texas “hostage” to the federal government. “It would benefit no one in our state to see their taxes skyrocket and our economy crushed as our budget crumbled under the weight of oppressive Medicaid costs,” Perry said at the state capitol.

States can choose whether or not to allow the federal expansion of Medicaid under the Supreme Court’s decision last year to uphold ObamaCare. Allowing the expansion, in the case of Texas, would insure 1.5 million low-income Texans and bring $90 billion in federal funding to the state over the first decade, according to estimates. Read more ..


The North Korean Threat

South Korea Warns North Korea

April 1st 2013

North Korean missiles

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye has vowed "strong retaliation" to any provocation by North Korea. "If there is any provocation against South Korea and its people, there should be a strong response in initial combat without any political considerations," President Geun-hye told the minister of defence and senior officials at a meeting on Monday after Pyongyang declared it was formally at war with Seoul. In a meeting with senior military officials and Defence Minister Kim Kwan-Jin, Park said she took the near-daily stream of bellicose threats emanating from the North "very seriously".

"I believe that we should make a strong and immediate retaliation without any other political considerations if (the North) stages any provocation against our people," she said. Park, a conservative who had advocated cautious engagement with the North during her election campaign, has taken a more hardline position since assuming office in February, shortly after the North conducted its third nuclear test. Read more ..


Inside Christianity

Christians Around the World Celebrate Easter

March 31st 2013

Pope Francis1 March 2013

Pope Francis celebrated his first Easter Mass in Saint Peter’s Square attended by a huge crowd. In his Urbi et Orbi (to the city and the world) message and blessing, he called for peace in the world. Tens of thousands turned out for the first Easter Mass celebrated by Pope Francis, in a square beautifully adorned by multi-colored flowers and shrubs.

A procession of cardinals and priests filed out of Saint Peter's basilica at the start of the service. Pope Francis was among them dressed in simple white vestments. The icon of the resurrected Jesus was unveiled and the pope bowed his head as the Gospel was sung in Latin.

At the end of the Mass, the pope greeted the cardinals one by one. Then he toured Saint Peter's Square in his white open-air jeep as the thousands present cheered and waved flags. Pope Francis stopped to kiss babies. In particular, he hugged a disabled child for a few moments. In his Easter message from the central balcony of the basilica, Pope Francis called for peace for the Middle East, and particularly between Israelis and Palestinians, who he hoped might willingly and courageously resume negotiations to end a conflict that has lasted all too long. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Seeks $21 Billion in New Public Works Projects

March 30th 2013

Obama Crowd

President Barack Obama called Friday for $21 billion in public and private investment in roads, bridges and other public projects.  The president is aiming to reassure Americans that he remains focused on the economic recovery. President Obama said rebuilding infrastructure, with the help of private investment, is one of the best ways to put more Americans to work.

The president made his appeal at the port of Miami, Florida, where public and private money are paying for $2 billion in upgrades.

“There are few more important things we can do to create jobs right now and strengthen our economy over the long haul than rebuilding the infrastructure that powers our businesses and our economy - our roads, our bridges, our schools, and our ports, just like this one," said President Obama. The president wanted to show that the White House is still concentrating on the economy, despite prominent campaigns for gun control and immigration reform. Read more ..


The North Korea Threat

North Korea Readies Rockets After US Military Drills

March 29th 2013

North Korean rocket Apr 2012

North Korea put its missile units on standby on Friday, and the country's leader, Kim Jong Un, threatened to "settle accounts" after the United States flew nuclear-capable stealth bombers over the Korean peninsula as part of South Korean military drills.

Tensions in the region have been on the rise since Pyongyang's nuclear test in February, which led to additional sanctions and penalties from the United Nations.

According to the official North Korean news agency, Jong Un signed a rocket preparation plan at midnight and ordered troops on standby for a potential strike against South Korea or the United States.

The Korean leader "judged the time has come to settle accounts with the U.S. imperialists in view of the prevailing situation."  Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Thursday that the provocations were "very dangerous." "We must make clear that these provocations by the North are taken by us very seriously and we'll respond to that," he told reporters at the Pentagon. Read more ..


Broken Science

DOE Inspector General Recommends Consolidating National Labs

March 28th 2013

Test Tubes

Department of Energy Inspector General Gregory H. Friedman has told Congress that the agency should launch a program patterned on the military’s BRAC base closure program to streamline, downsize or shut some of the Energy agency's 16 national laboratories.

The agency’s chief internal watchdog is pushing to overhaul some of its nuclear and energy research labs and programs, saying that it is “highly questionable” whether a business-as-usual approach can continue in a time of budget cuts.

In an appearance before the House Science Committee’s subcommittee on oversight March 14, Friedman also called on the DOE to focus its sponsored research programs on those that could yield maximum short-term benefits. And he said the agency should concentrate its $6 billion annual environmental cleanup program on a few high-risk, high-priority sites rather than spread the effort out over dozens of sites in multiple states. Read more ..


South Africa on Edge

BRICS Raises South Africa's Profile as Economic Gateway

March 27th 2013

South Africa shopping

South Africa’s position as a gateway to Africa is a highlight of this year’s BRICS summit. Members of the BRICS bloc - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - top officials from the African Union and leaders of Africa’s regional economic communities are attending this week’s summit in Durban.

South Africa is the newest and financially weakest member of the BRICS bloc. But its membership, South African officials say, affords nations in the group a coveted gateway into Africa - and access to its economic resources, inexpensive labor and growing consumer base.

To that end, South African President Jacob Zuma said he had invited, in all, 15 African heads of state to the meeting. Among them are the new leaders of East African powerhouse Ethiopia and West Africa's economic and diplomatic hub Senegal - though both of those leaders will be representing regional organizations. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Apple Acquires Indoor WiFi Geolocation Technology

March 27th 2013

Mobile Wallet

Apple has acquired a Silicon Valley startup, WiFiSlam, which makes mapping applications for smart phones based on the triangulation of WiFi signals. The Wall Street Journal reported Apple may have paid around $20 million for the company. WiFiSlam develops technology that provides indoor tracking and similar services. Big tech companies such as Apple and Google have been racing to provide more and better map applications for users. Google's application, Google Maps, is widely accessed on Google's Android platform and rival Apple's rival iOS platform.

The startup uses a combination of methods to get better indoor locations, such as using WiFi fingerprinting, or measuring the strength of the signal to get an idea of what the materials and construction of a particular building do to WiFi signals. Read more ..


Broken Government

Obama Shifts Attention Away from Budget Woes to Immigration

March 26th 2013

Obama

The White House hopes to bolster President Obama’s political standing by shifting attention from the bruising budget battles of the last month to immigration reform and gun control. Democrats welcome the pivot after watching Obama’s standing in polls fall amid fights with Congress over the budget and the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester. They see immigration and gun reform as a better playing field for Obama that could provide political wins for the president.

“What the public wants to see right now is him achieving things, leading,” said Tad Devine, a former strategist to John Kerry and Al Gore. “For him, there's real opportunity on all these fronts, and… realistically in the next six months, he can have progress he can bring back to the American people.” Read more ..


The Cyber Edge

Draft House Judiciary Cybersecurity Bill Would Stiffen Anti-Hacking Bill

March 25th 2013

Shadowy Computer User

A draft cybersecurity bill circulating among House Judiciary Committee members would stiffen a computer hacking law used to bring charges against Internet activist Aaron Swartz.

The bill draft would tighten penalties for cyber crimes and establish a standard for when companies would have to notify consumers that their personal data has been hacked. It would also change existing law so that an attempt at a cyber crime can be punished as harshly as an actual offense.

Such measures could spark concern among advocates outraged over the death of Swartz, the 26-year-old Internet activist and computer programmer who killed himself earlier this year while facing a possible 35-year prison term for hacking. Advocates have called on Congress to make changes to what they say is a draconian law that led to too harsh a prosecution of Swartz. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syria ‘Red Line has been Crossed’ says Rep. Rogers

March 24th 2013

Syrian Chemical Weapons

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee on Sunday warned there was “mounting evidence” Syrian President Bashir al-Assad has used chemical weapons and said the red line calling for a U.S. response “has been crossed.”

“When you look at the whole body of information over the last two years, there is mounting evidence that the Assad regime has used at least a small quantity of chemical weapons throughout the course of this conflict," said Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” Rogers comments come after reports earlier this week of an unconfirmed chemical attack in Syria. President Obama, who was in Israel earlier this week during a three-day tour of the region, vowed that he would investigate the reports and said that the use of chemical weapons would be a “red line” inviting U.S. action. Such an attack would be a “game changer,” Obama added. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Pakistani Taliban Threatens Musharraf With Death

March 23rd 2013

Taliban in Pakistan

The Pakistani Taliban says it will try to kill former president Pervez Musharraf when he returns to the country to take part in upcoming parliamentary elections.

In a video released Saturday, Taliban representatives said a hit squad has been prepared to assassinate Musharraf, who is expected to return to Karachi on Sunday after more than four years of self-imposed exile in London and Dubai.

While he was president, Musharraf angered the Taliban by maintaining close ties with the United States and backing its efforts to fight terrorism.

In Dubai on Saturday, Musharraf said he was granted bail to avoid being arrested upon his planned return home. He has faced arrest for his alleged involvement in the 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. He denies involvement in the plot to kill her.

Musharraf had said several times that he would be returning to Pakistan, but never carried out those plans. On March 1, however, he pledged to return this month, as soon as a caretaker government is in place. Pakistan’s parliament and federal and provincial governments completed their five-year constitutional term earlier this month. A caretaker government will steer the country until the parliamentary elections on May 11. Read more ..


The New Egypt

Israeli Arab and Norwegian Tourists Kidnapped in Sinai

March 22nd 2013

Egyptian Tanks on the Move

Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Israel Attacked by Gaza Rockets During Obama Visit

March 21st 2013

Qassam_Rocket

 Four Gaza rockets were fired at Israel on Thursday, with two of them landing in the often rocket-battered city of Sderot, during the second day of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to the Jewish state, Reuters reported.

One of the rockets exploded in the courtyard of a home in Sderot, a city Obama had specifically mentioned during a news conference on Wednesday in Jerusalem. He visited Sderot in 2008 as a presidential candidate.

“I’ve stood in Sderot, and met with children who simply want to grow up free from fear,” Obama said Wednesday. “And flying in today, I saw again how Israel’s security can be measured in mere miles and minutes.” The Sderot resident whose home was hit by a rocket, Yossi Haziza, told Israeli Army Radio, “We will get through this. I only hope that Obama sees what the people here are going through. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

Bethlehem Arabs Vilify Obama with Shoes and Insults

March 20th 2013

Palestinians Villify Obama

INN reports: Arabs in Bethlehem had a “warm welcome” for American officials who on Monday came to prepare for President Barack H. Obama's visit to the city Friday, by throwing shoes and garbage at the vehicles in an entourage from the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem. Hundreds of Arabs mobbed the vehicles outside the Church of the Nativity, where Obama is scheduled to visit when he comes to Bethlehem. Sources in the city told Israel Radio that Arab protesters tore down posters with Obama's image, throwing them to the ground and spitting and stepping on them. The protesters threw shoes at other posters that were hung too high for them to easily tear down. The American entourage had entered Bethlehem unannounced, apparently in an effort to avoid such scenes. The entourage was said to be comprised chiefly of security officials who were there to ensure that Obama would be safe during his visit. PA police attempted to stop the crowd from throwing shoes and debris at the American vehicles, and were only partially successful, witnesses said. Sources in the PA said they were examining ways to ensure that Monday's protests were not repeated when Obama came to town. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Congress to Weigh Legislation to Arm Syrian Rebel Fighters

March 19th 2013

Rebel fighters

The top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs panel is expected to introduce legislation Monday to arm the Syrian rebels. It's the strongest signal yet that lawmakers are running out of patience with the administration's muted response to a conflict that has left more than 70,000 people dead.

The bill, from Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), calls on the Obama administration to provide up to $150 million in lethal and non-lethal security assistance to “appropriately vetted” groups seeking to overthrow Bashar Assad's regime. The 16-page “Free Syria Act of 2013” is being released ahead of House and Senate hearings this week marking the second anniversary of the uprising. It also comes just before President Obama's trip to Israel, where the Syrian conflict will be high on the agenda.
Read more ..


Cyprus on Edge

Cyprus Banks to Remain Closed Until Thursday

March 18th 2013

Euro Symbol

Cyprus banks will remain closed until Thursday to prevent a run on accounts as the Mediterranean island nation considers imposing a first-ever bank deposit tax. The proposed bank levy has rattled investors. Stock markets throughout the world dropped Monday in the aftermath of the bailout for tiny Cyprus. Stocks in Asia plunged two percent or more, with European and U.S. indexes falling by smaller amounts.

The proposed bank tax would hit everyone with money in Cypriot banks, including foreign nationals. Cyprus moved to revamp terms of the bank deposit tax imposed by its international lenders as part of a $13 billion bailout to keep from going bankrupt. Cypriot officials were working with the lenders to cut or eliminate the tax on small investors, while raising it on those with bigger accounts. For the second day in a row, Cyprus's parliament postponed a vote on a new plan and rescheduled it for Tuesday. Read more ..


Benghazigate

Lawmakers Say Benghazi Survivors Told to be Quiet in Apparant Cover-Up

March 17th 2013

libya-consulate

GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has told news organizations that wounded survivors of the bloody Benghazi terrorist attack were told by the Obama minions "to be quiet" about the details of the attack. According to Graham, the survivors, who have never spoken about their experiences in Libya, told him they can't come forward to tell their stories and that the public, including the news media, are not aware of their identities.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney denied the allegation, but Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, complained that the Obama administration failed to provide even one document on the subject of survivors and witnesses.

Top Republicans in both houses of the U.S. Congress are urging the State Department officials to identify those men and women injured by the terrorists on Sept. 11, 2012. However, efforts to make the diplomatic staff available to investigators continues to meet with negative results. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Romney Urges GOP to 'Learn From' Mistakes He Made in Campiagn

March 15th 2013

Romney

GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney appealed for the Republican Party to learn from the mistakes of his losing 2012 presidential campaign and, as conservatives chart their course forward, to look to GOP governors for a path to future electoral wins.

Romney received perhaps the most enthusiastic reception yet of any speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference, with a packed auditorium offering him an extended standing ovation before he began. He told the CPAC crowd that while he "left the race disappointed that we didn't win," he remained optimistic for future success — if the party learns from his campaign.

"We've lost races before, in the past, but those setbacks prepared us for larger victories. It's up to us to make sure that we learn from our mistakes, and my mistakes, and that we take advantage of that learning to make sure that we take back the nation, take back the White House, get the Senate and put in place conservative principles," he said. The speech marked a reemergence of sorts for Romney, who has quietly returned to private life following his defeat. Read more ..


Inside Israel

Netanyahu Forms New Coalition

March 14th 2013

Binyamin Netanyahu and flag

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party announced a new coalition with the secular Yesh Atid party, the far-right Jewish Home party, and the centrist Hatnua. Just two days before the March 16th deadline to form a new government, Israel's new coalition will control 68 of the Knesset's 120 seats. Yesh Atid, which won the second highest vote total, will lead the Finance and Education Ministries, controlling funding to ultra-orthodox schools and institutions. Jewish Home will lead the Economy and Trade Ministry with Likud retaining the Foreign and Defense Ministries.

For the first time in almost thirty years ultra-Orthodox parties, such as Shas and United Torah Judaism, were left out of the coalition. The exclusion amounts to "the boycott of an entire population," said Moshe Gafni of the United Torah Judaism. Many of the smaller ultra-Orthodox parties have played "kingmaker" in recent governments, and Netanyahu's previous right-of-center coalition achieved a governing majority with their help. Israel's left-leaning Labor Party will also sit on the opposition benches. The makeup of coalition suggests that Netanyahu will be focused more heavily on domestic social and economic issues than was previously the case. Read more ..


Azerbaijani on Edge

Brutal Police Crackdowns In Azerbaijan

March 14th 2013

Azerbaijani Tank

Hours before Azerbaijani activists gathered in Baku last weekend for an unsanctioned protest against military violence, blogger Habib Muntezir sent out a word of warning: "Sonic weapons with a horrible acoustic effect may be used to disperse the protests. Use cotton or earplugs to protect your ears."

In the end, riot police did not resort to using the LRAD, or Long-Range Acoustic Device, which can blast a pain-inducing 150-decibel beam of sound to deter unruly crowds. But the presence of the LRAD, a U.S.-manufactured device that is gaining international popularity as a crowd-control tool, still provoked a wave of outrage among the March 10 protesters, who say the West should not be helping to stock the Baku regime’s arsenal.

"Hopefully, this is not a part of U.S. assistance to Azerbaijan," one activist wrote on Facebook in the wake of the protests, which ended with police using tear gas and water cannons -- both manufactured in Israel -- to forcibly break up the crowd. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Covert Iranian Nuclear Dealings via Turkey Revealed

March 13th 2013

Iran centrifuges

An investigation conducted by the federal prosecutor's office of Germany has revealed that Iranian front companies based in İstanbul transported 941 items with nuclear applications through Turkey, the Bugün daily reported on Tuesday.
According to the report, in 2012 German police detected that materials with nuclear applications obtained in Germany and India were transported to the Mitech company in Iran through Turkey by an Iranian national, Hossein Tanideh. Mitech is under US and European Union-imposed sanctions.

Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office, which is also the German branch of Interpol, informed its counterpart in Turkey about Tanideh's dealings, and Tanideh was arrested after being referred to the Küçükçekmece Court in İstanbul on Jan. 19, 2013. As part of the investigation, Mesut Atasoy, who is the owner of one the front companies implicated in Turkey, was also taken into custody, while three other Iranian nationals are still on the run. Read more ..


Broken Government

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick Convicted of Corruption, Extortion

March 12th 2013

Prison bars

A federal jury in the Eastern District of Michigan convicted a high-ranking Democratic political leader in Detroit, Mich., on Monday following a five-month long criminal trial and a 14-day jury deliberation, according to a federal law enforcement official.

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame M. Kilpatrick, and 44-year-old Bobby W. Ferguson, also of Detroit, were convicted on federal charges that they used Kwame Kilpatrick’s positions as mayor of Detroit and Michigan State House Representative to perpetrate a racketeering conspiracy involving extortion, bribery, and fraud. The 42-year-old Kwame's father, Bernard Kilpatrick, 70, of Detroit, was also convicted of a felony tax offense in a separate trial.

Kwame Kilpatrick was convicted of 24 counts of extortion, mail fraud, tax violations, and racketeering, Bobby Ferguson was convicted on nine counts of extortion and racketeering. Two other co-defendants Victor Mercado, former director of the City of Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, and Derrick Miller, former chief administrative officer of the City of Detroit, were also indicted as being part of the criminal conspiracy, and both government officials pleaded guilty to their roles and are awaiting sentencing. Read more ..


Operation Pillars of Defense

UN Verifies that BBC Reporter's Son was Killed by Hamas

March 11th 2013

Gaza baby death

The UN Human Rights Council released an advanced version of its report on Operation 'Pillar of Defense', exonerating Israel and the IDF in many cases previously alleged that the IDF committed war crimes during the operation.

When it relates to Gazan civilians that died during the operation it concedes that there was a legitimate military target in the area in most incidents during which civilians were killed by IDF fire. The report is cautious when presenting its findings of alleged violations by Israel of international law:

"In some cases, more information would be required to make a more specific assessment. Based on the information available to Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the IDF did not consistently uphold the basic principles of conduct of hostilities, namely, the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions. Further, the effectiveness, sufficiency and adequacy of precautions taken remains questionable in several cases." Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Seven Foreign Hostages Confirmed Killed in Nigeria

March 11th 2013

Nigeria soldiers

Italy and Greece have acknowledged that seven foreign hostages kidnapped in northern Nigeria last month were killed as claimed by Islamist militants. British Foreign Secretary William Hague Sunday called it "an act of cold-blooded murder" and condemned it "in the strongest terms." He said it was "likely" the Briton was killed along with the six others. Four Lebanese citizens, and one each from Britain, Greece and Italy, were taken from Nigeria's northern Bauchi state on February 16. All seven were employees of Setraco, a Lebanese construction company with an operation there.

Italy and Britain said the hostages were killed by the al-Qaida-affiliated group known as Ansaru. Greece also confirmed one of its citizens was killed, while Lebanese authorities did not immediately comment. Read more ..


The Afghanistan War

Bombings and Rebuke Mar Hagel's Afghanistan Visit

March 11th 2013

Afgan Troops

In Kabul on Saturday, a suicide bomber detonated his vest outside the Afghan Ministry of Defense just hours after U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel arrived in the country, killing at least 10 people . Shortly after that attack, another suicide bomber detonated his vest just before he reached a joint Afghan-American checkpoint in the eastern province of Khost, killing eight children and one policeman. Both attacks appeared to have been timed to coincide with Hagel's visit, his first as Secretary of Defense.

Further darkening Hagel's visit to Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai asserted during an early-morning news conference that the United States is effectively colluding with the Taliban in order to perpetuate the conflict and justify the continued presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Karzai also accused the United States of sending mixed messages by calling the Taliban the enemy, while at the same time holding negotiations with the insurgent group "every day." And he called dismal predictions about the country's future "negative propaganda" created by and dispersed through Western media outlets.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Joseph Dunford, responded forcefully: "We have fought too hard over the past 12 years, we have shed too much blood over the last 12 years, to ever think that violence or instability would be to our advantage." Secretary Hagel, on the other hand, met Karzai for dinner on Sunday night, and attempted to reassure the Afghan president that the United States is not secretly conducting unilateral talks with the Taliban.  Read more ..


India's Darkest Edge

Gang Rape Suspect Commits Suicide in Indian Lock-Up

March 11th 2013

India Rape Protest

Indian police say one of the men accused in the gang rape of a female student on a New Delhi bus has committed suicide in jail. An official at Tihar jail says Ram Singh hanged himself with his own clothes on the morning of March 11.

However, Singh's parents and lawyer say Singh was murdered in prison, and that an old hand injury made him incapable of hanging himself. Singh's father said his son told him that he had been sodomized by other inmates who had repeatedly threatened his life. Singh was accused of driving the bus on which a 23-year-old student was raped for more than two hours in December. Her internal injuries were so horrific she died two weeks later. Singh was the leader of the gang of five men and a juvenile. The trial of the five adult men began in a special fast-track court last month while the juvenile's trial began last week. Read more ..


Kenya on Edge

Kenyans Pray for Peace following Presidential Victory for Uhuru Kenyatta

March 10th 2013

Uhuru Kenyatta
Uhuru Kenyatta

Kenyan election officials have finished their slow, week-long counting of ballots and named Uhuru Kenyatta the fourth president of Kenya. But, predictably, given the violence after the 2007 election, reactions from Kenyans are mixed. Kenya's Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission says Uhuru Kenyatta secured a slim majority - 50.07 percent of the vote. That eliminated the need for a runoff against his main rival, Raila Odinga, who plans to appeal, claiming election fraud.

The mood around the country varies, but most people are urging acceptance of the results and for peace to prevail. In the town of Dagoretti, a Kenyatta stronghold, people like Ann Benika are pleased with the outcome. “The election was fair and good, because there was no fight. There was no tension,” says she. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Iranian President Under Fire For Hugging Chavez's Mother

March 10th 2013

Ahmadinejad-Chavez mother

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is in trouble for embracing the mother of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who died last week following a battle with cancer.

Ahmadinejad has come under criticism over a picture that shows him holding the hands of Elena Frias, Chavez's mother, and comforting her during the March 8 funeral in Caracas. In the controversial picture, posted on some Iranian news sites and widely shared on social media, Frias is seen leaning on Ahmadinejad while they hold hands and appear to be crying. According to Islamic rules applied in Iran, unrelated men and women are not allowed to touch. Iranian officials and diplomats often bow instead of shaking hands with female foreign officials. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Microsoft Fined $730 Million Over Browser

March 8th 2013

Microsoft

The European Commission has imposed a 561 million euro fine (about $730 million) on Microsoft Corp. for failing to implement browser choice commitments it had previously made as part of a previous legal settlement.

The Commission said it is the first time it has imposed a fine on a company for non-compliance on a commitments decision. Microsoft had previously committed to offer users a browser choice screen to enable them to opt to use Microsoft's Internet Explorer or another browser as part of the user interface of its Windows operating system.

In the latest decision the European Commission has ruled that Microsoft failed to include the browser choice screen in its Windows 7 Service Pack 1 from May 2011 until July 2012. Microsoft has acknowledged that the choice screen was not displayed during that time, the EC said. Read more ..


Israel's Next Northern War

Israel Fears UN Will Pull Peacekeepers From Golan Heights

March 7th 2013

Military observers

Israel has expressed concern that the United Nations peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights may pull out altogether after Syrian rebels snatched 21 UN troops in the cease-fire zone bordering Israel, the French news agency AFP reported on Thursday.

An international negotiating team has been sent to Syria on behalf of the U.N. to secure the release of the 21 peacekeepers taken captive on Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Spokesman Farhan Haq told Army Radio on Thursday. “We certainly hope it will be resolved, and the secretary-general and the Security Council are united in calling for the immediate release of the prisoners,” Haq said. Haq said he did not know how long it would take to free the prisoners. “This kidnapping is likely to convince countries which participate in this force to bring their troops home, which would undoubtedly create a dangerous vacuum in no man’s land on the Golan,” an Israeli official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Since its creation, this force has fulfilled its mission which was to keep the peace.” Read more ..



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