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Broken Elections

Justices Clash Over Campaign Finance Law

October 8th 2013

Supreme Court at the 2010 SOTU

A sharply divided Supreme Court clashed Tuesday over campaign finance law, as the court’s conservatives pressed aggressively to lift certain restrictions.

The court heard oral arguments Tuesday in a challenge to campaign finance laws that limit the total amount of money one individual can contribute in each election cycle. The Republican National Committee and one of its wealthy donors urged the court to strike down the restrictions, calling them a violation of the First Amendment.

Several of the court’s traditionally conservative members appeared to agree, waving off the Justice Department’s warnings about the risk of corruption. “What I see are wild hypotheticals,” Justice Samuel Alito said as the government argued that lifting contribution limits would lead to corruption. Read more ..

Broken Government

GOP Centerists Won't Force 'Clean' CR Vote

October 7th 2013


House Republicans who have said they are open to supporting a “clean” government funding bill are not interested in forcing a vote on such a measure.

Democrats have launched a discharge petition aimed at forcing a vote on legislation that would end the government shutdown. Two hundred and eighteen signatures are required to compel a roll call, and that looks unlikely any time soon. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said a clean continuing resolution doesn’t have the votes to pass the House. President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Monday challenged Boehner to prove it by scheduling a vote.

On Monday more than two dozen House Republicans who publicly favor, or who have said they would consider voting for, a clean bill. Not one said they would join forces with the Democrats. A whip list that The Washington Post has compiled.
Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.), Lou Barletta (Pa.), Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), Devin Nunes (Calif.), Mike Simpson (Idaho), Rob Wittman (Va.), Charlie Dent (Pa.), Peter King (N.Y.) and Tim Griffin (Ark.) clearly stated they would not sign the petition. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Kerry Says Al-Qaeda 'Can Run But Can't Hide' Following Covert Raids

October 6th 2013

Click to select Image

After separate raids by U.S. military forces in Libya and Somalia, Secretary of State John Kerry has repeated America’s commitment to pursuing wanted terrorists, saying they "can run, but can’t hide." In operations thousands of kilometers apart on the African continent, U.S. military forces sought to capture two wanted terrorists on October 5.

U.S. officials confirm that a top al-Qaida member was detained in the Libyan capital of Tripoli, while Navy SEALs withdrew under gunfire from a raid in the Somali town of Barawe.

Commenting on the operations during his visit to the APEC summit on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, Kerry said the U.S. would continue efforts to bring known terrorists to justice.

“We hope this makes clear that the United States of America will never stop in its effort to hold those accountable who conduct acts of terror," Kerry said. "Those members of al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations literally can run but they can't hide. We will continue to try to bring people to justice in an appropriate way with hopes that ultimately these kinds of activities against everybody in the world will stop.'' Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

ObamaCare Site Under Scrutiny

October 5th 2013

Obamacare Protest

ObamaCare enrollment still faces technical challenges as the process enters its second week, raising the stakes for the administration as they seek to build momentum for the exchanges.

Visitors to healthcare.gov experienced prolonged waits as of late Friday, though the site was substantially faster and less error-ridden than earlier in the week. Federal health officials have blamed the problems on heavy traffic, estimating that 8.6 million people visited the ObamaCare site this week.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said its call center had fielded 406,000 calls and that there have been 225,000 requests for online chats. In a memo late Friday, HHS claimed "success" for week one and urged patience as technicians improve the system. "Experts are working around the clock to make the site better able to meet the volume created by consumers’ overwhelming interest in their new health coverage options," the department stated. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

As North Pole Ice Melts, More Ships Take Arctic Shortcut

October 4th 2013

Polar Bear

For centuries, polar bears have enjoyed Arctic waters in isolation. But now, they are getting company in the summer. Last summer, China sent its first icebreaker, the Snow Dragon, over the top of Russia, from Shanghai to Iceland.

This summer, the Yong Sheng, a freighter operated by China's COSCO shipping company, became the first Chinese merchant vessel to take the shortcut. It sailed from Shanghai to Rotterdam, cutting two weeks off the usual route, through Egypt’s Suez Canal.

Satellite photos by the U.S. space agency, NASA, show that the white Arctic ice around the North Pole shrinks every summer. It is replaced by more and more open water, which appears black in the photos.

Even Russian President Vladimir Putin agrees with the American scientists. "It is absolutely clear now that the climate is changing. Everyone is talking about this,” he told an Arctic Forum held here recently. “It is clear now that the northern latitudes can be open for shipping for 100 days or perhaps 150 days, and that new regions are opening up for economic activity." Read more ..

Japan After Fukushima

Radioactive Leaks from Fukushima into the Pacific

October 3rd 2013

Rad monitor Japan

A new leak of highly radioactive water is believed to be flowing into the Pacific Ocean from Japan's stricken nuclear plant after a storage tank overflowed. A Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) official said workers at Fukushima detected the toxic fluid dripping from the top of a tank when they were patrolling the site. Tepco estimates 430 litres of the water, which contains highly radioactive doses of strontium, has leaked outside a concrete barrier surrounding the tank. "(The contaminated water) went into the drain and we cannot deny the possibility of it having reached the ocean," Tepco official Masayuki Ono said.

It is the second time in as many months that radioactive water has leaked from storage tanks surrounding the plant, which was heavily damaged by an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. In August, toxic water was found to have leaked from another tank. Some of that contaminated water is also believed to have flowed into the Pacific Ocean. Massive amounts of water have been used to cool the reactors and fuel rods since the earthquake and tsunami caused some of Fukushima's reactors to melt down. Read more ..

Inside Politics

Congress’s Powerful Republican ‘Suicide Caucus’

October 2nd 2013

Ted Cruz

Their critics call them "anarchists" and accuse them of "political terrorism." Their supporters consider them principled and true to their word.

"They" are a group of around 80 hard-line Republican lawmakers in Congress, mostly the House of Representatives, whose conservative social and economic agenda has thrown sand in the gears of government and sparked open infighting within their party.

On September 30, this powerful bloc led House Republicans in refusing to pass a government funding bill that didn’t also weaken Obamacare, the 2010 law that requires all Americans to buy health insurance that most Republicans oppose. Senior Republican Senator John McCain called the shutdown "unnecessary," and so did President Barack Obama.

"At midnight last night, for the first time in 17 years, Republicans in Congress chose to shut down the federal government," Obama said. "Let me be more specific: One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government shut down major parts of the government -- all because they didn’t like one law."

William Galston, a governance expert at the Brookings Institution, describes what drives Congress’s "Tea Party Caucus," named for its members’ allegiance to the antigovernment grassroots Tea Party movement. Read more ..

Broken Government

The Shutdown Begins

October 1st 2013

Lincoln Headshot

The White House ordered federal agencies to shut down Monday night, with congressional negotiators unable to strike an agreement before the midnight deadline to keep the government open. Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Burwell directed agency and departmental heads to execute their plans for an "orderly shutdown" of the federal government in a memo released by the administration.

 The notice came shortly after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) rejected a last-ditch Republican plan to appoint conferees to negotiate a short-term continuing resolution. The final gambit came after the Senate repeatedly rejected attempts by House Republicans to link the continued funding of government to rolling back ObamaCare.

Burwell said she was ordering the action because there was no "clear indication" that Congress would strike an agreement on a continuing resolution before the end of the day Tuesday. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Terrorists Kill 3 Policemen Egypt's Sinai

September 30th 2013

Egyptian Mil. Police Alexandria

Gunmen shot dead three policemen in the northern Sinai Peninsula on Monday, Reuters' Aswat Masriya reported. Security sources said unknown gunmen stormed a police station in the North Sinai city of Al-Arish and opened fire "intensely" at security personnel on duty, killing three. The assailants fled by car.

Other media reports said the policemen were ambushed while on their way to the police station.

The Egyptian army is carrying out a weeks-long air and ground assault in the sparsely populated peninsula, which borders Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip, to uproot Islamist militants who have intensified their activities against the police and army amid a security vacuum following the overthrow of long-time autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Read more ..

Broken Government

House Republicans Say Dems Trying to Run Out the Clock

September 29th 2013

john boehner

House Republicans accused Democrats and President Obama of wanting to shut down the government for political gain Sunday afternoon. A handful of GOP lawmakers gathered outside an empty Capitol building to implore the Senate to come back immediately and consider the funding bill that the House passed late Saturday night to avoid a government shutdown.

Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.) charged that his Democratic colleagues are playing politics with the government shutdown. Holding a football in his hand, Griffin equated the Senate’s decision not to return on Sunday to vote on the House-passed funding bill – which includes provisions to delay parts of Obamacare – with “running out the clock” at a football game. Read more ..

Broken Government

Senate Passes Funding Bill, Puts Pressure on House

September 28th 2013

Capitol Hill

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

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

The Edge of Violence

Chicago Crime Gang Members Indicted on RICO Charges

September 27th 2013

Crime scene tape

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

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

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

The Edge of Nature

Pakistani Quake Survivors Search Rubble For Food, Wait For Help

September 26th 2013

Turkey Earthquake

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

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

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

The Iranian Threat

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

September 25th 2013


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

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

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

the US and China

US Investigation Spotlights China's Princelings

September 25th 2013

The East is Red

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

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

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

The Edge of Terrorism

African Union in Solidarity with Besieged Kenya

September 24th 2013

Click to select Image

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

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

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

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

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

Broken Government

Shutdown Would Shutter EPA

September 23rd 2013

asbestos hazard

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

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

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

The Edge of Terrorism

Kenya President Vows Swift and Painful Revenge for Mall Attack

September 22nd 2013

Al Shabaab

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

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

Broken Government

Washington Week: Focus on Potential Federal Shutdown

September 22nd 2013


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

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

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

The Battle for Syria

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

September 21st 2013

Professor Obama at work

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

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

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

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

China on Edge

China Graft Crackdown Highlights Weibo's Power

September 20th 2013

Bo Xilai

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

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

Iran's Nukes

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

September 19th 2013


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

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

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

Obama's Second Term

Obama, House Republicans Begin Budget Battle

September 18th 2013


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

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

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

The Edge of Violence

Lone, Aggrieved Gunman Kills 12 Dead in Washington Naval Yard

September 17th 2013

Click to select Image

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

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

The Battle for Syria

Syrian Chemical Weapons Accord Published

September 16th 2013


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


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

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

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

Russia on Edge

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

September 15th 2013


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

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

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

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

The Edge fo Disaster

Hundreds Unaccounted For in Colorado Floods

September 15th 2013

Bridge Failure

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

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

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

The Battle for Syria

Saudis Shun Diplomacy in Syria Crisis

September 14th 2013

Corpses in Homs

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

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

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

Israel's Next Northern War

Israel Says will Act if WMDs Transferred to Hezbollah

September 13th 2013

Hellicopter & troops

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

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

Afghanistan on Edge

Taliban Terrorists Strike U.S. Consulate in Herat

September 13th 2013

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

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

Iran on Edge

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

September 12th 2013

Hassan Rowhani

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

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

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

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

South Africa on Edge

S. Africa Motor Industry Workers on Strike

September 11th 2013

Striking mine workers Sep 2012

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

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

The Battle for Syria

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

September 10th 2013

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

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

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

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

The Edge of Hate

Former Congressman Ron Paul to Address Anti-Semitic Group

September 10th 2013

Click to select Image

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

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

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

The Battle for Syria

UN Chief Wants Syrian Chemical Weapons Stockpile Destroyed

September 9th 2013

Syria's chemicals

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

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

The Battle for Syria

Christians Flee as Islamist Extremists Capture Ancient Syrian Village

September 8th 2013

Free Syrian Army fighters

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

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

The Battle for Syria

Congressional Veterans Line Up Against Military Action in Syria

September 7th 2013

Executed Pile of Syrian Men

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

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

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

Egypts Second Revolution

Egyptians Lash Out at Qatari 'Meddling'

September 6th 2013


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

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

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

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

The Battle for Syria

Nancy Pelosi Drums Up Democrat Support for Syria Intervention

September 5th 2013

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

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

The Battle for Syria

Congressional Black Caucus Leader Silences Members on Syria Intervention

September 5th 2013

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

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

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

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