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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


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


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 ..

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 ..

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