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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 ..


Venezuela on Edge

Venezuela says its Enemies Killed President Hugo Chavez

March 6th 2013

Hugo chavez and daughters
Hugo Chavez and daughters in hospital reading Cuban newspaper.

The death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has inspired many tributes and expressions of hope for the Venezuelan people. Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro paid a tearful tribute to Chavez, as a "true patriot" and leader of the Bolivarian Revolution.

One of Chavez's closest allies, Bolivian President Evo Morales, said in a teary speech on March 5 that Chavez will continue to be an inspiration for people who fight for their liberation. He said "Chavez is more alive than ever." Another close ally, Cuba, declared two days of mourning with flags flown at half-staff. A statement from the government said the Cuban people considered him one of their "most outstanding sons." Read more ..


Broken Government

Dems Back Down From Strongly Opposing GOP Spending Bill

March 5th 2013

US Capital Day

House Democratic leaders have decided against uniting their party's rank and file in opposition to a Republican spending bill that would fund the government.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the GOP's continuing resolution (CR) both threatens the economy and violates the spending levels agreed to under the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA). But in an acknowledgment that the Democrats are all but powerless to block the CR on the House floor, Hoyer said leaders would not pressure their troops to oppose it. The measure will hit the House floor later this week and Democratic leaders will not officially whip members against it.

"We're not whipping at this point in time," Hoyer told reporters in the Capitol. "We don't want to shut down the government." Hoyer's comments came just an hour after Rep. Nita Lowey (N.Y.), senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said the proposal will be "devastating" to vulnerable Americans and she's "recommending" that Democrats oppose it. Hoyer acknowledged Lowey's opposition campaign, but clarified that party leaders won't be twisting arms. Read more ..


Broken Borders

Jeb Bush Pushes Back Against Pathway to Citizenship for Illegal Immigrants

March 4th 2013

Latino immigration rally

Former Florida governor – and potential GOP presidential candidate – Jeb Bush said this week that a pathway to citizenship should not be a component of an overhaul of the nation's immigration system.

Bush, a Spanish-speaker who's wife is Mexican-born, has long-been viewed as one of the more liberal-minded GOP leaders when in comes to immigration policy, warning Republicans for years that they oppose significant reform at their own political peril.

But in a Monday interview with NBC's “Today," Bush advocated for a system in which the millions of immigrants living in the country illegally be given the option of attaining permanent residency, but not eventual citizenship.

“There has to be some difference between people who come here legally and illegally. It’s just a matter of common sense and a matter of the rule of law,” he said. “If we’re not going to apply the law fairly and consistently, then we’re going to have another wave of illegal immigrants coming into the country.” Read more ..


The Nuclear Edge

Cornyn Backs 'All Options to Prevent Nuclear-Armed Iran

March 3rd 2013

Iran Long-Range Missile

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Sunday that the United States must be unequivocal in keeping all options on the table to stop a nuclear Iran.

Speaking to a major gathering of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington, D.C., he emphasized that only a "credible threat of military action" will discourage the Iranian regime from pursuing its nuclear program.
"In American politics, we sometimes talk about game-changing events," Cornyn said. "Well, if Iran goes nuclear, it could be the ultimate game-ender for the Middle East."

"Just wait until Iran triggers a nuclear arms race," he continued. "Just wait until it blocks the Strait of Hormuz. Just wait until it annexes Iraq. Just wait until it becomes a more aggressive state sponsor of terrorism." Read more ..


America and Israel

AIPAC Conference Tests the Waters in Washington

March 2nd 2013

Click to select Image

Starting on March 3, some 13,000 Jewish and non-Jewish activists will descend upon Washington during the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. These supporters of Israel will listen to powerful members of the U.S. government, all of whom are expected to advocate for a strong and independent Israel.

Among those scheduled to speak are Vice President Joseph Biden, Representatives Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Senators John McCAin (R-AZ) and Robert Menendez (R-NJ).

In addition, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are scheduled speakwe. Break-out sessions, book-signings, and artistic performances are also scheduled. The conference will continue until March 5, allowing the thousands of activists to make visits to their respective members of Congress to probe their support of Israel. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Changes to Iran's Election Law: Attempt Prevent Ahmadinejad Influence

March 2nd 2013

Ahmadinejad pointing

Iran's Guardians Council has approved changes to the country’s election law that significantly diminish the government’s authority over elections.

A Guardians Council spokesman said the new law stipulates that elections will be run by a new central election board made up of representatives from the three branches of power, as well as seven "national, political, social, and cultural" figures. Previously, the Interior Ministry was tasked with organizing and overseeing all elections. Now it will play a much smaller role. The changes, which come as the Islamic republic prepares for a June 14 presidential vote, appear to be a preemptive move to prevent President Mahmud Ahmadinejad from using his office to manipulate the vote.

“Most of the changes were made because of the concerns of the conservative critics of the Iranian president who are worried that Ahmadinejad and his team could try to interfere in the election and influence the results," says Iranian journalist Roozbeh Mirebrahimi. Read more ..


Israel and Turkey

Israeli-Turkish Relations Turn Even Frostier if not Outrageous

March 1st 2013

Erdogan

The chill in relations between Israel and Turkey became even more frosty after Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan told listeners at the Alliance of Civilizations forum “Just as with Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism, it has become impossible not to see Islamophobia as a crime against humanity.” The Turkish leader made this remark on February 28 at UN meeting in Vienna.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to accuse Erdogan of making “dark and false” remarks. "This is a dark and false pronouncement the likes of which we thought had passed into history," Netanyahu said. The statement from the premier's office said he "strongly condemns (Erdogan's) statement about Zionism and its comparison to Nazism." Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Kerry Says Aid will come for Syrian Opposition

March 1st 2013

Syrian refugees

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pledged $60 million in "non-lethal" aid to Syrian political opposition groups during a Friends of Syria meeting in Rome on Thursday. The assistance would go to liberated Syrian communities to "fulfil administrative functions" and provide basic services. The U.S. would also give food and medical aid to rebel fighters.

"The stakes are really high, and we can't risk letting this country — in the heart of the Middle East — be destroyed by vicious autocrats or hijacked by the extremists" said Kerry. Indeed, the U.S. has previously provided $384 million in humanitarian assistance, and gave $54 million to the Syrian National Council (SNC), an opposition umbrella group dominated by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. Britain, along with other nations, may provide equipment such as body armor and night vision goggles. Read more ..


Broken Borders

US Border Activists Urge Humane Immigration Reform

February 28th 2013

Border Patrol

Valentin Tachiquin banged nine times on a metal podium outside the U.S. Capitol Building, the number of times his daughter was shot to death by a border patrol agent last year.

“I’m not a politician, I’m a hurting dad,” Tachiquin, a Hispanic U.S. citizen who works as a corrections officer at the California Institution for Women, said Wednesday. “I would die for this country, but don’t kill my family just because you have a badge.”

Border activists traveled across the country to Washington to put a human face on immigration reform, February 27, 2013. Tachiquin is part of a group of civil and human rights activists, local politicians, business and faith leaders who traveled to Washington from communities along the Mexican and Canadian borders this week. They're urging members of Congress to take a more humane approach to border security in an upcoming immigration reform bill. Read more ..


Our Darkest Edge

Murder and Beheading of Coptic Orthodox in New Jersey Remains Mysterious

February 27th 2013

A bizarre and gruesome murder case in New Jersey has law officers in the Garden State scratching their heads. Yusuf Ibrahim, a 27-year-old residing in Jersey City , is charged with the murder of two other men from Jersey City on Feb. 5, possibly over a disputed Mercedes Benz automobile. It was on Feb. 7, after responding to a report of suspicious activity in Buena Vista Township, that police uncovered the bodies buried in a shallow grave while their severed hands and heads were nearby. It was on Feb. 11 that New Jersey State Police announced Ibrahim’s arrest. (See video here.)

Police identified one the victims, Hanny F. Tawadros, 25, after notifying his next of kin. A local newspaper identified the second victim as Amgad A. Konds, 27. Both were foreign nationals. The alleged murderer is a native of Indiana. Read more ..


Broken Borders

Bracing for Sequester, US Frees Illegal Immigrants

February 26th 2013

Latino immigration rally

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) says it has released hundreds of detained immigrants in an effort to save money ahead of potential government budget cuts.

ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said Tuesday the agency ordered field officers to examine the number of immigrants in detention facilities to make sure it’s in line with available funding.

"Over the last week, ICE has reviewed several hundred cases and placed these individuals on methods of supervision less costly than detention,” she said. “All of these individuals remain in removal proceedings. Priority for detention remains on serious criminal offenders and other individuals who pose a significant threat to public safety.” Read more ..


Broken Borders

'Earned Citizenship' At Center Of U.S. Immigration Reform Push

February 25th 2013

Stop the Raids immigration protest

WASHINGTON -- "Toma," as he requested to be named, is an illegal immigrant in his early 50s, living in the northeastern United States. He speaks little English. He says he got a tourist visa five years ago and left his native city of Kutaisi, Georgia. He hasn't been back since.

"They have everything here,” he says. “They have jobs -- not like back home. I decided to stay and thought I could somehow get my papers eventually."

Many immigrants from Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics, Toma says, overstay their visas and find work in construction, like he did. He says he did so out of necessity, but has always been thankful for the chance.

"I have a family to feed. I have to do something. Because I am in America my family and my relatives aren't going hungry. I've helped a lot of people survive back home by sending money. I sent money for surgeries that they couldn't pay for. I owe it all to America. I love my country, but I respect this country too. This country is like a second mother," Toma said. Read more ..


Afganistan on Edge

Karzai Orders US Special Forces Out of Eastern Province

February 24th 2013

Navy Seals

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered the removal of all U.S. special forces from an eastern province in response to allegations that those forces or their Afghan allies may have committed rights abuses against civilians.

In a statement Sunday, Karzai's office said a government investigation of security incidents in Wardak province found that armed men suspected of ties to U.S. Special Forces were engaged in "harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people." It said the Afghan defense ministry will take steps to ensure that all U.S. Special Forces are out of the province within two weeks.

It is the first time the Afghan president has issued such an order against the forces of the United States, a key ally which has been helping Kabul to combat a more than decade-long Islamist insurgency by Taliban militants.

A U.S. Forces Afghanistan spokesman said he is aware of reports about Mr. Karzai's order. Speaking to VOA by phone from Kabul, Lt. Col. Les Carroll said the U.S. military "takes all allegations of misconduct seriously" and goes to "great lengths to the determine the facts." He said U.S. officers "intend to fully discuss" the issue of alleged rights abuses with their Afghan counterparts. Read more ..


Broken Government

Obama Demands Compromise on Looming Sequester from GOP

February 23rd 2013

Obama with baseball bat

President Obama stepped up his efforts to blame congressional Republicans for looming automatic spending cuts on Saturday, calling on the GOP once again to compromise to undo the sequester. In his weekly address, the president continued to talk up the real-world effects of the sequester, with the $85 billion in cuts set to start going into effect on March 1.

Those cuts, Obama said, would simply throw more obstacles in the way of a recovering economy. “They will eliminate good jobs,” Obama said. “They will leave many families who are already stretched to the limit scrambling to figure out what to do.” The address caps off a week in which Obama held an event with first responders, and in which his Transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, warned that the scheduled cuts could upend air travel. Read more ..


Edge of Hate

Motor City Madman Plotted Attacks on Jews and Black Americans

February 22nd 2013

Neo Nazi Richard Schmidt

A neo-Nazi sympathizer arrested in December by the FBI was plotting attacks against Jewish and African-American leaders in the Detroit area, according reports.

Richard Schmidt the owner of a sporting goods store in Bowling Green, Ohio, was originally reported to have been arrested by the FBI for trafficking counterfeit goods. But the case has become more worrying and bizarre since it was revealed that the former felon, who spent 13 years in Ohio state prison for a homicide after being convicted of killing a man and wounding two others in a shooting during a traffic stop, had a small arsenal at his disposal and a hit-list of Jewish and African-American targets in the Motor City.

When FBI agents last December searched his home and store, they discovered a cache of 18 weapons that included AR-15 assault rifles, 9 mm Ruger and Sig Sauer pistols, shotguns, high-capacity magazines and more than 40,000 rounds of ammunition.

“The FBI averted a catastrophe in this case, there’s no doubt about it,” Steven M. Dettelbach, the U.S. attorney in Cleveland, said in an interview with NBC News. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Spock-Like Obama Gets Emotional about His Agenda

February 22nd 2013

Click to select Image

President Obama is displaying a more emotional side of his personality as he works to sell his second-term agenda to the public. The Spock-like Obama criticized for being aloof has been ditched in favor of a president who tells personal anecdotes about his life, shares locked-away thoughts from his past and on several occasions has wiped away a tear or two in public.

While Obama has more flexibility to be himself now because he doesn’t face reelection, the personal touches are also in tune with a White House effort to enact an agenda that includes gun control, immigration reform and anti-poverty programs by connecting directly with the public and pressuring Congress from the outside. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Car Bombing Kills Scores in Syrian Capital

February 21st 2013

Car Bomb

Syrian state media say at least 53 people have been killed and more than 200 wounded in a car bombing near the headquarters of Syria's ruling Ba'ath Party in central Damascus.

State media called the blast a "terrorist bombing" that struck a densely populated area near the al-Mazraa neighborhood. State television footage showed bloodied and charred bodies lying along the roadside in the aftermath of the attack, which took place near the Russian embassy.

Red Crescent rescue workers picked through the rubble to rescue victims. Commuters at a major bus stop and children at a nearby school were reportedly among those killed and wounded. A young girl, dressed in a scout's uniform and trembling with fear, said she was thrown from her chair from the force of the blast and found herself on the ground. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Al Shabaab Executes Kenyan, French Hostages in Somalia

February 21st 2013

Al Shabaab

Leaders from the al-Qaeda-affliate Al Shabaab in Somalia on Friday reported that they killed a Kenyan soldier who they captured during one of the terrorist group's cross-border raids. The capture and execution of the Kenyan is similar to a previous execution by the radical Islamist organization.

In January 2013, Al Shabaab terrorists killed a French hostage, Dennis Allex, only days after special forces troops from France failed in their rescue attempt, according to the French government.

France's elite French Foreign Legion using helicopters raided an Al Shabaab terrorist base in hopes of retrieving Allex, who is said to be a French security expert. Unfortunately, the rescue operation failed to free Allex and two Legionnaires were killed.

"Harakat Al-Shabaab Al-Mujahideen has reached a unanimous decision to execute the French intelligence officer, Dennis Allex, " said Al-Shabaab. Leaders from the brutal terrorist group said the killing of the Kenyan soldier on Friday was retaliation for Kenya's involvement with the African Union in helping the Somali military in fighting the Islamists. Read more ..


Edge of Justice

Pistorius's Story Challenged, Bail Decision Pending

February 20th 2013

Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkam

Lawyers have concluded their arguments in the bail hearing of South African Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius, who is charged with murder in the shooting death of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp. The prosecution says Pistorius, a double amputee athlete, committed pre-meditated murder, while the defense maintains he thought he was shooting a burglar. 

The day in court ended with a question from Magistrate Desmond Nair:  Will Oscar Pistorius flee if he grants him bail ahead of his murder trial? Nair will have to decide that in coming days, as he prepares to rule on the athlete's bail application. It was a day of back and forth arguments from the prosecution and defense. The prosecution first called up Hilton Botha, an experienced police investigator who was on the scene shortly after the February 14 shooting at Pistorius' Pretoria home.

Botha said police found model Reeva Steenkamp dead at the scene and fully clothed. Botha noted that Pistorius fired four shots through the closed door to the bathroom, but that the toilet does not line up with the door. Botha also said that police found a stock of unlicensed ammunition at the runner’s home and four mobile phones -- none of which had been used to call police or an ambulance, as Pistorius said he had. Read more ..


Broken Government

Obama Faces Brewing Fundraising Scandal

February 19th 2013

Jim Messina

Government watchdog groups once allied with President Obama warn he could become embroiled in a second-term scandal because of ties to a group set up to collect unlimited donations. The group, Organizing for Action, plans to raise unlimited chunks of funding to promote the president’s agenda. It is chaired by Jim Messina, Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, and advised by David Plouffe, who recently served as Obama’s senior adviser.

The creation of this group by Obama’s inner political circle combined with the president’s silence on campaign finance reform during Tuesday’s State of the Union address have alarmed government watchdog groups such as Common Cause and Public Citizen.

"We’re concerned by his Organizing for Action group that’s being set up because it creates a huge potential for government corruption where basically corporations and other wealthy donors can fund this new group that can be a partner organization that is basically working on Obama’s agenda,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, senior vice president for policy and program at Common Cause. Read more ..


Inside Washington

Republicans Propose Millions for School Security

February 18th 2013

Shooter shooting AR15

Freshman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and six other House Republicans have proposed legislation that would spend $30 million a year on federal grants to help put police officers in schools across the country.

The Protect America's Schools Act is a reaction to the December shooting at a Connecticut elementary school that left 20 children dead. After that shooting, National Rifle Association President Wayne LaPierre suggested that children in schools be protected by armed guards, and Meadows's bill would appear to be a step in that direction.

"According to a recent Gallup poll, 53 percent of Americans believe that increasing police presence at schools would be very effective in preventing future tragedies," Meadows said last week. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Arabs Destroy Vineyards in Samaria

February 18th 2013

Vineyard destroyed in Samaria

Some 3,000 vines, situated near Shiloh in Samaria, were destroyed over the past few days. The vineyards are visited every few days during this season, so the vandalism was discovered only this morning. The damage is estimated at 200,000 NIS.
Footprints leading to the Arab village of Kutzrah were discovered by IDF trackers during their initial investigation. About a year ago, a 1/4 of an acre was destroyed in the same vineyard.

Itamar Weiss, a worker at the vineyards, told Tazpit News Agency: "This morning we discovered the difficult scene of some 3,000 destroyed vines. Unfortunately, this is the not the first time we are experiencing such incidents. We expect these crimes to be treated with the same force that crimes throughput the rest of Israel are treated and investigated. This is the fourth time this vineyard has been targeted in the past years, and that testifies to the fact that such crimes against Jewish owned property are not dealt with properly, even though it is known were the perpetrators come from." Read more ..


Broken Government

Former Rep. Jackson to Plead Guilty

February 16th 2013

Jesse jackson jr

Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) will plead guilty to federal charges stemming from the misuse of campaign funds, his lawyer told said Saturday. Jackson's wife, Sandy, will also enter a guilty plea, her lawyer has told media outlets.

The Chicago Democrat and son of civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson has been charged with using $750,000 in campaign funds to pay for a lavish lifestyle. Purchases allegedly included a $43,000 Rolex watch and a $4,600 Michael Jackson fedora hat. "I can so confirm," Jackson Jr.'s attorney, Brian Heberlig, said when asked about the guilty plea. The guilty plea is for the one count of wire fraud, mail fraud and making false statements listed in the court document. Jackson could be sentenced to up to five years in prison. Read more ..


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 ..



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