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The Battle for Syria

US Provides Front-Line Missile Defense for Turkey while Syria Rages

February 16th 2013

Six batteries of U.S. made, but NATO-backed, missile defense systems have been set up in southeastern Turkey to protect against aerial attacks from war-torn Syria.

U.S. soldiers are maintaining Patriot Missiles. Since January, the missiles have been stationed at a Turkish military base outside Gaziantep. The city is 50 kilometers from Syria, where an an increasingly bloody civil war has killed at least 70,000 people.

Syrian government forces appear to be mostly firing at rebels, who are backed by Turkey. But Syrian fire has landed several times in Turkey, in one instance killing five people. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Critics Continue to Press Obama on Targeted Killing Policy

February 15th 2013

 The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper

President Barack Obama this week pledged to develop a clear policy framework to guide U.S. counterterrorism operations, including targeted killings of terrorist suspects.  But the promise in his State of the Union address has not satisfied critics. 

Obama chose his words carefully on the methods the administration uses in fighting terrorism, including the use of remote-controlled drones against terrorist suspects. Without using the word drone, he said "a range of capabilities" will be used against terrorists.  And he used his speech to address concerns members of Congress have.

"In our democracy, no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way," said President Obama. "So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world." Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Hagel Nomination Blocked for Now

February 15th 2013

Chuck Hagel
Chuck Hagel

"Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, it gets worse," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said late Thursday, as Senate Republicans successfully blocked a confirmation vote on Chuck Hagel's nomination for secretary of defense.

The move was unprecedented. Traditionally, the president is granted wide latitude on his choice of cabinet secretaries, but Hagel's controversial history, his opposition to the Iraq surge, his hostile attitude toward Israel, his attacks on fellow Republicans, and a disastrous appearance at a committee hearing all conspired to provoke the Republican move.

Hagel required the support of 60 senators in order to move his nomination to a final vote. In what the New York Times describes as "a result that broke down almost strictly along party lines," the nominee fell two votes short of the required amount. Read more ..


India on Edge

India's Youth Keep Spotlight on Violence Against Women

February 14th 2013

India Gang Rape Protest Placard

Demonstrations against women's violence have not quelled in India since the brutal gang-rape of a woman in the capital, New Delhi, nearly two months ago. Throughout India, thousands of young people are taking part in mass dance protests this Valentine's Day as part of a global campaign.

Nearly a hundred strangers from all over the city have come together here with one message:  "Wake up New Delhi and rise up against violence,” chant the protesters. This flash mob is just one of many gathering Thursday in the Indian capital as part of the worldwide “One Billion Rising” movement - highlighting the number of women who are survivors of abuse.

When the call went out over Facebook, 25-year-old fashion designer Shruti Singh knew she had to take part in order to challenge long-held views about women in Indian society. “If we don’t walk the talk, it’s not going to make any impact, and the patriarchal mindset and the systems that have been in place for thousands of years are not going to change overnight or with one protest," said Singh. "It’s a starting of a revolution, it’s like another struggle for freedom, freedom of women from oppression.” Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Reid Challenges GOP to Filibuster on Hagel Nomination

February 13th 2013

Chuck Hagel

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) challenged Republican senators Wednesday to launch a filibuster against President Obama’s nominee to lead the Pentagon, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.). Reid scolded Republicans for making the threat, and set up a vote to end debate on Hagel for Friday. “This is first time in the history of our country that a presidential nominee for secretary of Defense has been filibustered,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “What a shame.”

Republicans said they want to delay an up-or-down vote on Hagel in order to get information on who has compensated him for paid speeches. They also want to see some of Hagel’s speeches, which GOP Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) at a panel hearing on Tuesday said may have been given to “extreme or radical groups.” A few senators are also using Hagel’s nomination to demand answers from the White House about last year’s Benghazi, Libya, attack. It is unclear whether Republicans can maintain a filibuster against Hagel, who appears to have support from the 55 senators caucusing with Democrats. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Countdown to Iran's Nukes and Nuclear Terror

February 12th 2013

Israeli Jet Dive Bombing

Iran could have its first atomic bomb within four to six months of the regime’s decision to assemble one, according to an assessment last Monday by Amos Yadlin, former IDF Director of Military Intelligence. About a week earlier, Tehran declared that it will now use up to three thousand IR-2M centrifuges, which can enrich uranium at about quadruple the speed of Iran’s current enrichment rate. Fred Kagan, Director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), describes the IR-2M installation as “undermin[ing] one of the core assumptions of current U.S. policy”: that U.S. intelligence could detect Iran crossing a key threshold and developing weapons-grade nuclear material. The much faster IR-2M centrifuges could enable Iran to produce one weapon’s worth of highly-enriched uranium in about a week – the amount of time that IAEA inspectors might be absent before their next visit.

Why is Iran boldly defying the international community now, in a way that leaves even less time to address its nuclear ambitions? A perfect storm is motivating Iran’s sudden sprint to nukes.

The U.S. national security team is in its most ineffective state. Gary Samore, a WMD czar and key member of President Obama’s Iran negotiating team, is leaving. John Kerry is in his first days on the job as Secretary of State, and Chuck Hagel – Iran’s preferred pick for Secretary of Defense for his anti-Israel and pro-Tehran views – stands a good chance of being confirmed along partisan lines despite his embarrassing display of waffling and incompetence at last week’s Senate confirmation hearings. Read more ..


North Korea's Nukes

North Korea Defies the World and Launches Third Nuclear Test

February 12th 2013

North Korean launch

North Korea defied international warnings on February 12 and carried out its third nuclear test, drawing immediate condemnation from leaders around the globe. Pyongyang said the "successful" test was in response to what it called the "reckless hostility" of the United States, which has led the global charge toward expanding sanctions against the communist state.

State media said the underground test used a lighter, smaller nuclear bomb with greater explosive force than previous tests - raising fears Pyongyang has achieved a breakthrough in miniaturizing the technology.

Following the test, the North's Foreign Ministry defiantly warned of unspecified additional measures. South Korea has already placed its military on alert and hinted at the possibility of additional North Korean nuclear tests or missile launches on Tuesday. The U.N. Security Council is holding an emergency meeting later today in New York to discuss the test, which prompted an outpouring of global criticism. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon immediately condemned the "deeply destabilizing" test, calling it a "clear and grave violation" of international sanctions. Read more ..


The New Egypt

After Mubarak, Egyptians Struggle to Keep Hope

February 11th 2013

Cairo Violence Dec 2012

There has been so much change in Egypt in the past two years, it is sometimes hard to remember how little there was for so long.  Hosni Mubarak's near 30-year rule was a weight that seemed, to many, impossible to lift. 

The region's aging rulers had been the same for decades. A reminder of the way things were came last week.  At a conference in Cairo, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, referring to Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, let slip the name “Hosni” before hastily correcting himself.  

Such stagnancy made the 18 days of uprising two years ago all the more extraordinary.  And when, on February 11, 2011, Mubarak stepped down, protesters on Tahrir Square and across the country were delirious about the possibilities ahead. Today, that air of promise, for some, has disappeared. One young woman walking through Tahrir summed up her disappointment. "I think nothing changed.  Mubarak go and Morsi came.  He didn't do anything for the people in Egypt," she said. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Pro-Palestine Protesters Seek to Shut Down Imports of Israeli Produce

February 10th 2013

Jaffa Israeli oranges

Protesters in the United Kingdom joined comrades in Europe and the Mideast as they demanded boycotts of Israeli produce and other food products. Nationwide protests in the UK were held on February 10 at some 35 locations of Sainsbury's, a national supermarket chain, according to various pro-Palestine websites. Protesters called on the British supermarket chain to end its trade with "companies accused of operating in illegal Israel settlements and mislabelling goods." A news release from a pressure group, War on Want, called on Sainsbury's to " stop trading with companies profiting from the occupation."

War on Want also called for the British government to ban trade with companies operating in Israeli settlements. The group warned that the British government’s policy of asking retailers to label products from settlements is not working and does not go far enough to tackle the issue. Read more ..


Nigeria on Edge

Nine Killed In Shootings at Nigerian Polio Clinics

February 9th 2013

Nigeria Polio vaccination

Police say nine female health workers were shot and killed in northern Nigeria Friday as they were giving out polio vaccines.  At least one person was reported injured in the attack.  No one has claimed responsibility and police say they have no suspects, but analysts say it was consistent with others by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram.

Police say the women workers were giving out polio vaccines at two community health centers in the city of Kano when men on three-wheeled motorcycles opened fire. Salisu Ibrahim Fagge is a journalist in Kano, a city that was hit by Boko Haram’s largest single attack to date in January 2012 when nearly 200 people were killed in coordinated bombings. 

He says the shootings Friday also appeared to be coordinated, both happening around 9 o'clock Friday morning. The crime scenes are now surrounded by security, he says, and while people are shocked, the rest of the city is open for business. Aid workers say attacks on health clinics could cripple Nigeria's ability to fight polio. Read more ..


Edge of Tolerance

Students Report Efforts to Squelch Dissent at Anti-Israel Brooklyn College Event

February 8th 2013

Karen L Gould
Karen L. Gould

Despite protests and opposition to the Political Science Department at Brooklyn College co-sponsoring a BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) event aimed at Israel on February 7, it took place, in part justified as a matter of free speech and academic freedom. During the event, however, multiple people were removed, according to student accounts, because they were presumed to be hostile to the intentions of the gathering.

Melanie Goldberg, an Israel Campus Coalition intern says she and three other students were escorted out by security because they would not relinquish BDS fact sheets that were in their possession. Read more ..


Electronic Edge

Bush Family Bush-Wacked by Hackers

February 8th 2013

A criminal inquiry was launched on February 8 into an apparent hack of  email accounts belonging to former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, as well as other members of the Bush clan.

"There's a criminal investigation under way," Jim McGrath, according to AFP. McGrath is a spokesman for the elder ex-president Bush (88), who was recently hospitalized. This followed reports that private Bush family communications had been accessed.

"I can't get into the specifics," McGrath added. McGrath compiled Heartbeat: George Bush in his own words, a book the offered selected quotes from the 41st president of the United States. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

A Look Inside the New BlackBerry

February 7th 2013

New blackberry

Building off the momentum of an international product launch in New York that featured not only a corporate re-branding and the naming of a Grammy-award winning artist as its new global creative director, one had to wade through a lot of flash and sizzle to get down to what was really important—the announcement of the first two handsets that would incorporate BlackBerry (formerly Research In Motion)'s latest OS–BB10.

BlackBerry hasn’t had much good news lately, as a seemingly endless series of product delays pushed out its latest handsets from an April 2012 release all the way to Jan. 30. In that time, competitors such as Apple and Samsung have continued to erode whatever market share BlackBerry had left. Many analysts wondered if it was “too little, too late” for the Canadian smartphone manufacturer. Read more ..


Islam and Europe

Danish Free Speech Advocate Narrowly Misses Assassination Attempt

February 6th 2013

Lars Hedegaard
Lars Hedegaard

"I live in a government safe house. I wear a bulletproof jacket. I have not walked the streets…in more than seven years. [I am] imprisoned in my own country for the mere fact that I have spoken out against the enemies of the West. — Geert Wilders, MP, Netherlands

Lars Hedegaard, a well-known seventy-year-old free speech activist and critic of Islam, narrowly escaped a murder attempt on February 5 outside his home in Copenhagen, Denmark. An unidentified assailant wielding a handgun fired a shot at Hedegaard, but fled on foot after the bullet missed its intended victim and the gun subsequently jammed.

According to Danish media, the gunman, in a postal service uniform, rang the doorbell of Hedegaard's apartment building on the pretext of delivering a package. When Hedegaard opened the front door, the man pulled out a gun and fired a shot, narrowly missing Hedegaard's head. Read more ..


Seismic Edge

South Pacific Tsunami Scare

February 6th 2013

solomon islands canoe

A powerful earthquake shook islands in the South Pacific on February 6, triggering a regional tsunami that destroyed several homes and killed at least four people. The magnitude-8 quake hit a sparsely populated region near the Solomon Islands. A 1-meter tsunami later washed ashore on the island chain. A region-wide tsunami alert was lifted a short time later.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says four people are reported dead and two are missing in the Santa Cruz Islands of the Solomons, near the epicenter of the quake. It says "many traditional houses" were flattened when the tsunami traveled 500 meters inland.

Seismologist Dale Grant with the U.S. Geological Survey says the initial quake was followed by at least 14 aftershocks of magnitude-5 or bigger. "You can say that these are major quakes in very remote areas. So we're fortunate that there are no great population centers in the nearby area," he said. Read more ..


Japan on Edge

Japanese Premier Warns China over 'Dangerous' Moves

February 6th 2013

Japanese destroyer Asigiri
Japanese destroyer 'Asigiri' visiting Anchorage, Alaska.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says it is "extremely regrettable" that a Chinese warship locked its pre-firing radar on a Japanese navy boat near disputed islands last week. Speaking to a parliamentary session on February 5, Abe called the move "dangerous." He said it could lead to an accidental clash, and he warned China against escalating the situation further. "At a time when it seemed there are signs of improvement towards increasing talks between Japan and China, having this sort of one-sided provocative action taken by the Chinese is extremely regrettable," said Abe.

Tokyo has lodged an official protest with Beijing over the January 30 incident, the latest in a series of dangerous escalations in their long-running dispute over ownership of a group of East China Sea islands. On February 5, Japan's defense ministry said it confirmed that the Chinese navy frigate aimed its weapons-targeting radar at the Japanese vessel. It also said a Japanese military helicopter was targeted with similar radar earlier last month. Read more ..


Broken Government

Congressional Democrats Face Dilemma over Gun Rights

February 6th 2013

NRA shotgun ammunition

Senate Democrats are facing a major dilemma on how hard they should push for an assault weapons ban, a sensitive topic for vulnerable centrists who are running for reelection next year. Gun control advocates are scrutinizing Senate Democrats’ strategy for implementing President Obama’s proposals for reducing gun violence, and a watered-down effort would likely prompt a backlash from the party’s liberal base.

Advocates are watching closely to see whether Senate Democrats will use their two-seat majority on the Judiciary Committee to include an assault weapons ban and limits on high-capacity magazines in gun violence legislation moving to the floor. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has promised to give Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the lead sponsor of the assault weapons ban, a chance to offer her proposal on the floor.

But controversial amendments usually need 60 votes on the Senate floor to be added to pending legislation. Experts following the gun violence debate say an assault weapons ban offered as an amendment on the floor would have virtually no chance of passing. Read more ..


Broken Government

Dems Skewer Their Own in Congress over Gun Control

February 5th 2013

Gun control advocates are corralling votes by trying to make life miserable for Democrats they think are too cozy with the National Rifle Association. The advocates are bankrolling a series of ads that attack Democrats wary of new restrictions as the first phase of a two-part strategy intended to help the party enact President Obama’s gun proposals. “The first aim is to make it a liability for any Democrats to be associated with the NRA,” said a Democratic strategist who promotes tougher gun laws but wanted to remain anonymous due to the political sensitivity of the issue. “It’s sort of an order of operation. You’ve got to hold the line on your own guys first.” Read more ..


Broken Government

Embattled Sen. Menendez Blasts 'Right-Wing' Prostitution Smears

February 5th 2013

Click to select Image

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) broke his silence on an alleged prostitution scandal for the first time Monday, dismissing the allegations that he solicited women during trips to the Dominican Republic as “totally unsubstantiated” and “absolutely false.”

“The smears that right wing blogs have been pushing since the election, that is totally unsubstantiated — it's amazing to me that anonymous, nameless, faceless individuals on a website can drive that kind of story into the mainstream,” Menendez told CNN in an interview Monday. “But that's what they've done successfully. Now nobody can find them, nobody ever met them, nobody ever talked to them, but that's where we're at.” Read more ..


Our Darkest Hour

Alabama Bunker Siege Ends: Young Hostage is Alive

February 4th 2013

jimmy lee dykes
Jimmy Lee Dykes

A hostage situation in the rural town of Midland, Georgia, that had captivated the nation for nearly one week, has ended. An armed man identified as Jimmy Lee Dykes, a 65-year-old Vietnam veteran, took a five-year-old boy hostage from a school bus in the rural community and shot to death the driver. The child hostage is “physically unharmed” and now hospitalized for observation.

FBI agent Stephen E. Richardson said in a press conference that at approximately 3:12 pm local time the boy, identified only as Ethan, was rescued by a special team of law enforcement officers. “Within the past 24 hours, negotiations deteriorated and Mr. Dykes was observed holding a gun,” Richardson said. “At this point, F.B.I. agents, fearing the child was in imminent danger, entered the bunker and rescued the child.” Dykes, said Richardson, is deceased. Richardson did not say, however, whether any shots were fired. Law enforcement agencies refused to comment on the details of the failed negotiations or the successful rescue of the child. Read more ..


Broken Government

Senate Leader Dodges on Senator Menendez and Hooker Allegations

February 3rd 2013

Sen. Robert Menendez D-NJ and Capitol

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) fended off questions about Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) at a press conference about immigration reform. The first question out of the gate was from CNN correspondent Jim Acosta, who asked Reid when he learned that Menendez had reimbursed a political donor nearly $60,000 for two trips he took on the donor’s private plane.

Reid defended the Menendez as a “friend” and “outstanding senator” but declined to discuss any details he may have had with the New Jersey lawmaker about media reports of allegations that he had sex with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. “First of all, Bob Menendez is my friend. He’s an outstanding senator. Any questions in this regard, direct to him. I don’t know anything about it,” Reid said. The purpose of the press event was for Democratic leaders to reiterate their call for comprehensive immigration reform, and Reid wanted to discuss his plan for moving the bill through the Judiciary Committee and then to the floor. Read more ..


India's Darkest Edge

Accused Men Plead Not Guilty in India Rape Case

February 3rd 2013

India Rape Protest Dec 2012

Five men accused of the rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in India have pleaded not guilty, in a case that sparked outrage across the country. Defense lawyers say the men professed their innocence on Saturday in a fast-track court in New Delhi for crimes against women. The court will begin hearing testimony from witnesses this Tuesday. The five men could face the death penalty if convicted.

Defense lawyers have said police tortured the defendants to coerce confessions. A sixth suspect is being tried separately as a juvenile.
The defendants are accused of beating the woman and her male companion in December with an iron rod and using the rusty rod during the sexual assault of the woman. She died of her injuries two weeks after the attack in a Singapore hospital, where she had been taken for treatment.
Read more ..


Broken Government

Senator Menendez Becomes a Growing Headache for Fellow Democrats

February 2nd 2013

A cloud of scandalous allegations is rapidly growing over Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), putting Democratic leaders in a difficult position as the integrity of their immigration point man in the Senate falls under question at a critical time.

The bad news keeps coming: a Senate Ethics probe, allegations involving underage prostitutes, an FBI investigation of a key campaign donor, undisclosed flights on the donor’s private plane, and now, reports linking Menendez to an existing multi-million dollar contract he urged officials to enforce for the disgraced donor.
Read more ..


Broken Government

Under Pressure, White House Releases Photo of Skeet-Shooting Obama

February 2nd 2013

obama skeet shooting

The White House has released a photo of President Obama skeet shooting at Camp David from August, 2012, attempting to quell a controversy that arose when Obama said that he sympathized with hunters because he frequently went shooting himself.

“Attn skeet birthers. Make our day - let the photoshop conspiracies begin!,” former White House advisor David Plouffe tweeted in a message containing a link to a photo of Obama brandishing a shot gun and wearing ear muffs and sun glasses.

Conservative critics questioned the veracity of the Obama’s claims of skeet shooting because he had never been seen publicly shooting a gun.

“If he is a skeet shooter, why have we not heard of this,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said in a television interview after Obama’s remarks were made public. Read more ..


Edge of Politics

TV Personality Geraldo Rivera Considers a Run for Senate

February 1st 2013

Geraldo Rivera

Television personality and radio host Geraldo Rivera announced Thursday he’s “truly contemplating” a run for Senate in New Jersey. “I mention this only briefly, fasten your seatbelt,” Rivera said on his radio show. “I mentioned this only briefly to my wife ... but I am and I’ve been in touch with some people in the Republican Party in New Jersey. I am truly contemplating running for Senate against Frank Lautenberg or Cory Booker.”


New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D), 89, is up for reelection in 2014 but hasn’t announced whether he plans to seek another term. Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) has announced he is weighing a bid for the seat, a decision that has frustrated New Jersey Democrats, many of whom feel he was their best shot at unseating Gov. Chris Christie (R). Read more ..


Broken Government

DoD Nominee Hagel Proves to be a Shaky Witnesses before the Senate

February 1st 2013

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) delivered a shaky performance at his confirmation hearing to lead the Pentagon while enduring a difficult day of grilling by his former Republican colleagues.

Hagel stumbled over some answers — describing Iran as having a “legitimate, elected government” at one point — and did little to convert critics who have deemed him unfit to serve as Defense secretary because of his past statements and positions.

Conservative groups jumped on several of his answers by releasing videos critical of his comments on Iran and his statement supporting President Obama’s policy of “containment.” Hagel later had to clarify both of those statements. Read more ..


Mali on Edge

No Negotiations Planned with Islamist Insurgents of Mali

January 31st 2013

3 Taureg Fighters

Mali's interim President Dioncounda Traore is ruling out dialogue with Islamist militants who took control of the country's north, saying he is only open to talks with secular Tuareg rebels. The Tuaregs first launched a rebellion in the north last January seeking autonomy, but later joined the Islamists to seize control of the region following a coup that toppled the government. The Islamists later pushed the Tuaregs aside and moved to impose strict Islamic law.

Traore told French radio on January 31 the only group he would consider negotiating with is the Tuareg National Movement for Liberation of Azawad, or MNLA. He says it must first drop its territorial claims. French-led forces were reported in control of three key towns in northern Mali  on January 30, after al-Qaida-linked militants fled their last stronghold and escaped into a vast desert region with their weapons. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Russia Denounces 'Unprovoked Attacks' Allegedly by Israel on Syria Targets

January 31st 2013

Jet air show

Russia expressed concern over a January 30 aistrike, presumably carried out by Israeli air forces inside Syria. The Russian Foreign Ministry says such action, if confirmed, amounts to "unprovoked attacks" against a sovereign nation, in violation of the United Nations charter.

Russia's foreign ministry said it was "deeply concerned" by the Syrian claims and that it was taking "urgent measures" to investigate. The strident statement said, "If this information is confirmed, then we are dealing with unprovoked strikes against targets located on the territory of a sovereign state, which brazenly infringes on the UN Charter and is unacceptable, no matter the motive used for its justification." 

Differing accounts of the January 30 airstrike have emerged, with Syrian authorities saying Israeli jets fired on a military research facility near Damascus, killing two people.
Israeli and Western news media reported an Israeli airstrike at a different location, close to the Syrian-Lebanese border. They say the target was a convoy delivering missile parts to Hezbollah, the strongly anti-Israel Shi'ite militia based in Lebanon. Read more ..


Israel's Next Northern War

Israel Reportedly Attacks Arms Convoy on Lebanon-Syria Border--12 Jets Destroy Shipments

January 30th 2013

Israeli Jet Dive Bombing

Unconfirmed reports indicate that Israel attacked an arms convoy traveling from Syria to Lebanon Tuesday night with as many as 12 Israeli jets participating in the raid.

According to Reuters, a "Western diplomat and security sources" said Israel attacked a convoy which may have contained chemical or conventional weapons. "There was definitely a hit in the border area," one security source said. A Western diplomat in the region who asked about the strike said "something has happened", without elaborating. An activist in Syria who works with a network of opposition groups around the country said that she had heard of a strike in southern Syria from her colleagues but could not confirm it. A strike just inside Lebanon would appear a less diplomatically explosive option for Israel to avoid provoking Syrian ally Iran.

Israel has expressed deep concern that chemical and advanced conventional weapons could end up in the hands of Hezbollah, a terror group allied with the terror state Iran. Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said Sunday that an arms transfer to Hezbollah “would be crossing a line that would demand a different approach.” According to multiple sources, Israel sent its national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, to Russia and its military intelligence chief Aviv Kochavi to the United States for consultations. Read more ..


Broken Government

GOP Skeet-Shooting Challenge for President Obama

January 29th 2013

Obama

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) is questioning President Obama’s claim that he’s an avid skeet shooter, challenging him to invite her the next time he goes shooting.

"I think he should invite me to Camp David, and I'll go skeet shooting with him and I bet I'll beat him," said Blackburn Monday night on CNN’s “OutFront with Erin Burnett.”

In an interview in The New Republic published Sunday, Obama, who is seeking to build public support for a sweeping package of gun reforms, expressed respect for the nation’s sportsmen and hunters. Asked if he’d ever fired a gun, Obama responded that at Camp David he skeet shoots “all the time.”

But Blackburn on Monday showed skepticism and suggested the president’s claim was just an effort to swing support in the nation’s gun-reform debate. "If he is a skeet shooter, why have we not heard of this? Why have we not seen photos? Why hasn't he referenced this at any point in time as we have had this gun debate that is ongoing,” Blackburn asked. “You would have thought it would have been a point of reference.” Read more ..


Mali on Edge

France and African Allies Sweep Northward after Seizing Timbuktu

January 29th 2013

Tureg

Islamist militants have lost more ground in northern Mali, with French and Malian troops taking the city of Timbuktu and secular Tuareg rebels announcing they have seized the city of Kidal. A spokesman for Tuareg rebel group MNLA told VOA that the group's fighters now control Kidal and the nearby town of Tessalit. There has been no independent confirmation of the claim.

​​Meanwhile, French media reports say French and Malian troops entered central Timbuktu on January 28, a day after they seized the local airport and the key roads that lead to the historic city. The U.N. cultural agency UNESCO lists Timbuktu as a World Heritage site for its ancient mosques and shrines, some of which date back to the 15th century. But Islamist group Ansar Dine considers the sites sacrilegious, and the militants destroyed some mausoleums while they controlled the city. Read more ..


Broken Economy

Bailed-Out Executives Still Enjoy Hefty Compensation from Taxpayers

January 28th 2013

I Bailed Out a Bank

A government watchdog is blasting the Treasury Department for continuing to dole out robust pay packages to executives of bailed-out companies. A new report found that executives from American International Group (AIG), General Motors, and Ally Financial, while still on a government lifeline, regularly pushed and received compensation in excess of guidelines originally set by the bailout team charged with overseeing executive paychecks.

Of the 69 top executives whose pay was approved by the Treasury official overseeing bailed-out executive pay, all but one received an annual payout of at least $1 million, and nearly a quarter received pay packages in excess of $5 million. The report, authored by the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) accused the Treasury of over-relying on the company's claims when determining the size of paychecks, and was "effectively relinquishing" some of its authority to the companies it is monitoring. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Middle East Threats Against Israel Not Waiting for Electyion Results--Netanyahu

January 27th 2013

Missiles on jet

Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Tehran Bars Energy Exports To EU

January 27th 2013

Iranian oil tanker

ran has formally banned all oil and gas exports to the European Union, an official said on January 27. Oil Ministry spokesman Ali Reza Nikzad Rahbar told the semiofficial Mehr news agency that the ban will remain in effect as long as "hostile decisions" continue to be made by the EU. The Iranian ban is expected to have limited effect since the 27-member bloc already has imposed its own boycott on Iranian energy as part of its package of sanctions over Iran's disputed nuclear program. Before the EU ban took effect last year, sales to the EU accounted for about 18 percent of Iran's oil and gas exports. The United States and many other countries fear that Iran is attempting to develop nuclear weapons. Iran maintains its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.

Despite many requests by EU countries on buying oil and gas from Iran, Iran will not sell any oil and gas to those countries,” Nikzad Rahbar told Mehr news agency.

Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Hackers Take Over US Government Website to Avenge Swartz Suicide

January 27th 2013

guy fawkes masks

International computer hacking group Anonymous is threatening to release secret U.S. government information after hijacking the website of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, an independent agency of the nation's judicial branch. The group says it took over the website to avenge the death of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide two weeks ago. Hackers took control of the commission's site early Saturday, replacing it with a message warning that "a line was crossed" with Swartz's death. The 26-year-old computer prodigy, who helped create RSS feeds and the social news site Reddit, had been set to go on trial later this year on federal charges that he stole millions of scholarly articles from the online archive and journal distribution service JSTOR. He had downloaded the articles to make them free to the public online and could have served 35 years in prison.

Swartz's family said in a statement that his death is the "product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach." JSTOR did not press charges against Swartz once it reclaimed the articles from him. But U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz reportedly would not drop the case. She is quoted as saying "stealing is stealing, whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars."

Read more ..

At Least 180 Dead in Brazil Nightclub Fire

January 27th 2013

Brazil slum baby

Brazilian officials say at least 180 people are dead and 200 more injured after a fire swept through a crowded nightclub in the southern city of Santa Maria. Authorities said the fire broke out early Sunday at the Kiss club and that while the cause of the blaze is not yet known, the band did use pyrotechnics as part of its show. They said many of the victims died of asphyxiation or from being trampled as panicked revelers pushed and shoved to escape the building. The death toll could rise as emergency officials count the bodies.
 
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff cut short a visit to Chile early Sunday to return home following the blaze. Governor Tarso Genro of Rio Grande do Sul is quoted in a Twitter message as saying "all possible measures" were being taken and that he was on his way to the scene.
Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama Likely to Name Wal-Mart Foundatioin Head as Budget Director

January 26th 2013

Obama and Flag

President Obama is likely to announce soon that Sylvia Mathews Burwell will be his next budget director, sources said Friday. Burwell is a veteran of the Clinton administration, where she served as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. She is a close associate of former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and outgoing White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, who is Obama’s pick to be Treasury secretary.

Acting Budget Director Jeff Zients would either return to his previous role as the deputy OMB director overseeing the management of the government or assume a new role, should Burwell get the nod. His name has been mentioned as a possible replacement for U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who leaves next month. Zients took over the budget role after Lew left OMB to become chief of staff last year. Read more ..


The New Egypt

Protests Erupt in Suez to Mark Second Anniversary of Egypt's Arab Spring

January 26th 2013

Egypt army protest

Egypt's armed forces deployed troops to the city of Suez, early on January 26, after at least six people died there in clashes between police and protestors on the second anniversary of the revolt that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak. Violence erupted across Egypt after Friday prayers in a day of nationwide protests marking the anniversary of the uprising. In addition to the six killed in Suez, another person was killed Friday in Ismailiya. The Health Ministry says more than 450 people were injured across the country.

President Mohamed Morsi has appealed for calm. In a post on his Twitter account Friday, Morsi urged Egyptians to "adhere to the values of the revolution, express opinions freely and peacefully, and renounce violence." Egyptian news outlets late on January 25 reported government buildings were set on fire in Suez. Read more ..


The New Egypt

Police Clash with Egyptian Protesters

January 25th 2013

Cairo Violence Dec 2012

Egyptian protestors clashed with riot police in cities throughout Egypt on Friday during mass rallies marking the second anniversary of the uprising that ousted longtime leader Hosni Mubarak. In Cairo, thousands of protesters marched towards Tahrir Square, where police fired tear gas on stone-throwing demonstrators attempting to approach a wall that security forces had erected to secure government buildings in the area.

Similar clashes were reported in the cities of Alexandria, Suez and Ismailia. Egypt's emergency services say more than 100 people were injured in Friday's mass rallies.

The secular-leaning political opposition has called for protests Friday against President Mohamed Morsi and the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood party. Opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei has used his Twitter account to call on protesters to "finally achieve the objectives of the revolution." In Tahrir Square, the mood was less joyous than two years ago, when Egyptians seemed to surprise even themselves with a show of popular power against an entrenched leadership. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

50-Fold Growth In Wireless Traffic By 2016 Likely To Exceed Network Capacity

January 25th 2013

Smart phone running voice recogniton

Operators will be unable to keep up with smartphone users' growing demand for data on the move, a report from Deloitte warns. On average, iPhone, Android or Windows Phone handset owners consumed 35 times more data traffic than a typical phone user, said the annual Deloitte report.


And this would contribute to a 50-fold growth in wireless traffic by 2016. The bandwidth crunch would not mean users failing to connect at all, the report added, but mobile networks would suffer "rush hours" just like roads do. During these times, it might take two or three attempts to connect, there would be three or four times as many dropped calls, web pages may freeze and browsing speeds would be much reduced, the report said.

Despite the roll out of fourth generation (4G) networks which would also speed the passage of data, demand for wireless bandwidth will likely attempt to outstrip these improvements in supply for at least several years. Read more ..



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