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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 ..


America's Darkest Hour

Sen. Feinstein Introduces Assault-Weapons Ban

January 24th 2013

Ammo

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and a group of Senate Democrats on Thursday introduced legislation to ban the sale and manufacture of more than 150 types of semi-automatic weapons with military-style features. The legislation also bans magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition and requires people who already own assault rifles to use secure storage and safety devices and bars them from selling high-capacity clips. “No weapon is taken from anyone,” said Feinstein. “The purpose is to dry up the supply of these weapons over time.”

Unlike the 1994 assault-weapons ban, there is no sunset provision in Feinstein’s newest gun-control bill. The lawmakers introduced the bill at a press conference with law-enforcement groups supporting the legislation. Groups endorsing the bill include the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the Police Foundation, and the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. The co-sponsors include Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, whose home state of Connecticut last month witnessed one of the nation’s worst episodes of gun violence when an assailant killed 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School with an M-4 Bushmaster assault rifle. Read more ..


Broken Government

Speaker Boehner says Obama wants to 'Annihilate' the GOP

January 24th 2013

Click to select Image

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) says he believes the primary goal of President Obama’s second term is to “annihilate the Republican Party.”

“Given what we heard yesterday about the president’s vision for his second term, it’s pretty clear to me that he knows he can’t do any of that as long as the House is controlled by Republicans,” Boehner said in a speech Tuesday to The Ripon Society. “So we’re expecting over the next 22 months to be the focus of this administration as they attempt to annihilate the Republican Party. “And let me just tell you, I do believe that is their goal — to just shove us into the dustbin of history.”

Boehner’s remarks referred to Obama’s inaugural address. Republicans were hopeful the president would use that speech to lay the groundwork for a partnership over the next four years, but he instead made it a rallying cry for an active federal government — including on such politically charged issues as climate change, gun control, gay marriage and immigration. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Clinton Admits Benghazi Attack is Part of Wider Islamist Threat in Africa

January 23rd 2013

Click to select Image

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says last September's attack on the U.S. mission in the Libyan city of Benghazi is part of wider terrorist insecurity across North Africa. Clinton made the remarks during testimony Wednesday before Congress on the attack that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Benghazi attack is just one example of the broader strategic challenge for the United States and African allies in the fight against terrorism.

"The Arab revolutions have scrambled power dynamics and shattered security forces across the region. And instability in Mali has created an expanding safe haven for terrorists who look to extend their influence and plot further attacks of the kind we saw just last week in Algeria," she said. Clinton said the Obama administration remains in close contact with Algerian authorities about last week's hostage taking at a natural gas plant near the Libyan border and offers its deepest condolences to the families of those killed and injured. "We are seeking to gain a fuller understanding of what took place so that we can work together to prevent terrorist attacks like this in the future," said Clinton.

Testifying about the State Department's response to the Benghazi violence, she said she has accepted all of the recommendations from an independent review, and 85 percent of those will be completed by the end of March. "We are taking a top-to-bottom look, and rethinking how we make decisions on where, when, and how our people operate in high threat areas, and how we respond to threats and crises." Clinton said the United States continues to hunt the terrorists responsible for the Benghazi attacks and is determined to bring them to justice. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

Freezing Death in Afghan Refugee Camps--17 Die

January 22nd 2013

Afgan Women in Burka

The rights group Amnesty International says 17 people have died from cold weather conditions in Afghan refugee camps, and it warns against a repeat of last year, when 100 people died in the camps due to a lack of assistance. Amnesty made the announcement Tuesday, saying that most of the 17 who died in the first two weeks of January this year were children. A spokeswoman called the deaths "a preventable tragedy" and blamed "inadequate coordination of winter assistance" to the hundreds of thousands of people living in displacement camps across the country. She said the deaths demonstrate the need to protect the most vulnerable groups - children and the elderly - from the harsh winter weather. Amnesty is calling on international donors and the Afghan government to make sure aid is delivered to those in need. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Incumbent Israeli Premier Favored in Parliamentary Elections

January 22nd 2013

Bibi

Israelis are voting on January 22 in a parliamentary election that is expected to bring a third term for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Opinion polls leading up to the vote have shown an alliance of Netanyahu's Likud party and the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party winning the most seats.

The centrist, main opposition Labor party and the far-right Jewish Home party are projected to finish far behind. Netanyahu needs a coalition to retain control of the 120-seat parliament, where no party has ever held a majority on its own. The next government faces a number of challenges, including increasing diplomatic isolation over Israel's policies toward Palestinians, a slowing economy and the threat of Iran developing possible nuclear weapons. Read more ..


Obama's Second Administration

Obama Sworn In with Historic Bibles in Second Inauguration

January 21st 2013

Obama and Flag

President Barack Obama has taken the public oath of office to start his second term as the Chief Executive of the United States. Several hundred thousand people gathered on January 21 on the National Mall in Washington D.C., waving American flags and cheering after Obama took the two-century-old oath from Chief Justice John Roberts. Obama promised to "preserve, protect and defend" the U.S. Constitution "to the best of my ability."

Earlier, President Obama attended a church service at St. John's Episcopal Church at Lafayette Square, near the White House, and then headed to the West Front of the U.S. Capitol building for his public inaugural.

​​VOA reported that as many as 800,000 people, many of them waving American flags, crowded the Mall to witness the event. That is a smaller number than Obama's first inauguration in 2009 when nearly 2 million people came to see the swearing-in of the nation's first black president. Read more ..


India's Darkest Edge

India Gang-Rape Trial Begins

January 21st 2013

India Gang Rape Protest Placard

The trial of five men accused of the brutal rape and murder of a 23-year old student in New Delhi has begun in a fast-track court for crimes against women. The start of the trial on Monday was delayed by more than an hour as defense lawyers argued that it should be open to the media and public. The judge rejected the motion. Arguments in the case will begin on Thursday.

Defense lawyers of two of the five accused say their clients will plead not guilty. They say the men were tortured by the police to coerce confessions. Prosecutors say DNA evidence, cellphone records and the testimony of the victim will prove their case. A senior prosecutor has said he will seek the death penalty for the five men. A sixth suspect claims to be a juvenile and is being tried separately. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Campaign to Become Non-Profit to Support Community Organizing

January 20th 2013

Obama-Limo

David Plouffe, a senior adviser to President Obama, said Sunday that the White House will try to “enlist” the public in the gun control debate. Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Plouffe noted that Obama’s broad package of proposals to stem gun violence will need the support of the American people to move on Capitol Hill. “We are trying to enlist the American people in these debates. The only way change is going to really happen and make progress is with the American people,” Plouffe said. “They need to be involved at the center of this and pushing here.”

The president’s reelection campaign is moving over into a 501(c)(4) non-profit group, called Organizing for Action. That group is expected to campaign to push lawmakers to back Obama on key issues, including gun control, during his second term. The new group will accept donations from corporations. On ABC’s “This Week,” Plouffe said its donors will be disclosed to the public. Read more ..


America's Darkest Edge

Texas Republican says Gun Show Loop-Hole 'Doesn't Exit'

January 20th 2013

NRA shotgun ammunition

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Sunday declined to criticize a controversial new National Rifle Association (NRA) ad, instead charging proponents of gun control with “hypocrisy” in the debate over gun violence. The freshman Texas Republican was asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” about the NRA ad released last week which referenced the president’s daughters.

"Look, I'm going to let people decide to run what ads they want,” said Cruz. “I do think there is a fundamental point here and that there is a point of hypocrisy when it comes to gun control, that many of the proponents of gun control are very wealthy, live in communities where they can outsource police protection, but you have a lot of people who are worried about preserving the safety of their own home." Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Advisor Suggests Economy is Focus for Obama's Second Act

January 20th 2013

Unemployment

Senior Obama adviser David Axelrod suggested Sunday that the president would take a broad approach to the nation’s economic woes, beyond the upcoming set of fiscal crisis facing Washington. “There's a larger priority of which this is part, which is how do you create an economy, rebuild an economy, in which the American dream, the American compact, is fresh, where people who work hard feel like they can get ahead?,” said Axelrod on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The White House and Congress are faced with a number of fiscal challenges in the weeks ahead from raising the nation’s borrowing limit, to avoiding a set of sequester cuts slated to take effect on March and finding a way to continue funding the government. Axelrod, though said that beyond budget battles, much remained to be done to continue restoring the nation’s prosperity. “That's not just about dealing with the fiscal crisis, it's about education, it's about research and development, it's about controlling our energy future. All of these are part of the equation,” he added.  Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Party Organizers Pull Plug On Lupe Fiasco After Anti-Obama Performance

January 20th 2013

Obama

The organizers at an event celebrating startup companies pulled the plug on rapper Lupe Fiasco Sunday night after he reportedly performed an an anti-war song criticizing President Obama for half an hour. "Lupe Fiasco performed at this private event, and as you may have read, he left the stage earlier than we had planned," organizers said in a statement. "But Lupe Fiasco was not 'kicked off stage' for an 'anti-Obama rant.' We are staunch supporters of free speech, and free political speech. This was not about his opinions. Instead, after a bizarrely repetitive, jarring performance that left the crowd vocally dissatisfied, organizers decided to move on to the next act."

Video of the performance posted to BuzzFeed shows the artist criticizing the president along with prominent conservative commentators. Read more ..


Islam's War on Christians

Egypt's Christians Have a Terrible Week

January 18th 2013

Coptic Christian prays at blood splattered wall

Businesses owned by members of Egypt’s Coptic Christian community were burned overnight January 17-18 in the southern village of Marashda in Qena province. Four stores owned by the Christian minority were attacked by incendiaries after Muslim villagers accused one of the store owners of the sexual assault of a 6-year-old girl. Villagers are demanding an investigation into the alleged assault by the Christian man. Hundreds of protesters have since assembled outside a Coptic Christian church in the village, while police have fired tear gas in an effort to disperse hundreds of enraged Muslims. Protesters threw rocks at the church during the daylight hours of January 18.

Police are now investigating the accusations against the Christian merchant. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

IAEA and Iran Fail to Reach Deal on Nuclear Inspections--Crisis Heightens

January 18th 2013

iran_nuclear_scientist

The chief United Nations nuclear inspector says no deal has been reached with Iran to investigate its controversial nuclear program, but that a meeting will take place next month. International Atomic Energy Agency team leader Herman Nackaerts and his team of U.N. inspectors arrived Friday at Vienna airport following two days of "intensive discussions" in Tehran. Citing unspecified differences, Nackaerts said they were unable to produce an agreement on access to Iranian nuclear facilities. "We could not finalize the structured approach to resolve the outstanding issues regarding possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program," he said. Nackaerts said another round of talks will take place on February 12 in Tehran.
 
The IAEA had hoped to gain access to the Parchin military site, which Western nations suspect is related to nuclear weapons development. Iran says it is a conventional military site and that its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful purposes. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Tuesday that a religious decree issued by Iran's supreme leader banning nuclear weapons is binding on the Iranian government.
Read more ..

The Edge of Justice

Russia Feels Court Penalty for Grab of Chabad Papers

January 17th 2013

Nathan Lewin and Alyza D. Lewin
Attorneys Nathan and Alyza Lewin

The Russian government is about to feel the sting of American Justice. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has announced a substantial financial penalty to be assessed against the Russian Federation, the Russian Ministry of Culture, the Russian State Library, and the Russian State Military Archive for their disobedience of a July 30, 2010 order directing the Russian government to return to Agudas Chasidei Chabad a sacred collection of Jewish books and manuscripts that had been seized by the Russians during the Bolshevik Revolution and World War II. Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth imposed civil contempt sanctions against the defendants in the amount of $50,000 per day until the defendants comply with the Court’s order.

Agudas Chasidei Chabad of United States first sued the Russian government under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act in 2004 for the return of the library and archives. The Russian government participated in the case for five years as the parties litigated over whether or not the U.S. courts had jurisdiction over the matter. In 2009, after the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decided the jurisdictional issues in favor of Chabad, the Russian government informed the Court that it would no longer participate in the case. Read more ..


Technology on Edge

International Carriers Ground Boeing Dreamliner Fleets

January 17th 2013

Boeing 787

Aviation regulators in Asia and other parts of the world are grounding the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. They are concerned about the risk of a fire occurring in flight because of issues with the new jet's batteries.

After the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration ordered an indefinite halt to Dreamliner flights, regulators in Japan, India and Chile quickly issued similar directives.

Japan's Vice Transport Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama says the safety of airline passengers is paramount. He explains that the precise nature of the problem with the jet's batteries is not known because the aircraft has a complex electrical system and it will take a thorough investigation to provide answers. Japanese authorities say their initial inspection leads them to believe the batteries are overheating. Airlines and regulators began halting flights of the 787 following a Wednesday morning incident in Japan. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Mass Carnage as Algeria Bombs Hostage Scene at Gas Factory

January 17th 2013

Algerian Air Force Military Cargo

There are reports that dozens of people have been killed in Algerian airstrikes on a natural gas complex where al-Qaida linked militants took hostages Wednesday. The reports say at least 34 hostages and 15 of their captors were killed in airstrikes on Thursday at the complex at In Amenas, in east central Algeria. Details on the situation are sketchy.  The Mauritanian news agency ANI said it received word on the casualties from one of the militants at the complex. Earlier, the Algeria Press Service said 30 Algerians had escaped from the site, while other reports indicated some of the foreigners had escaped.

Retaliation
Al-Qaida-linked Islamist militants say they kidnapped as many as 41 foreigners at the complex on Wednesday, in what the militants call retaliation for French military action in neighboring Mali. A spokesman for the al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) affiliate in Mali told VOA seven Americans were among the hostages. Read more ..


The Edge of Terror

Americans Held Hostage by Algerian Terrorists

January 16th 2013

Taureg dude

The State Department confirmed on January 16 that Muslim terrorists seized the Ain Amenas gas field in Algeria, taking at least 20 foreign hostages. Some of the hostages taken at the foreign-owned facility are American citizens.

The official Algerian news agency said that the attack was an apparent retaliation for military intervention by France in neighboring Mali. France also conducted raids over the last few days in Somalia in an effort to release a French intelligence agent.

The Algerian news agency reported that at least two persons were killed in the attack by insurgents at the gas field. One of the dead was from the United Kingdom. Other nationalities represented among the hostages include Japanese, British, French and Norwegians. The Irish government stated that at least one of its nationals is among those being held. Six persons were wounded in the the attack, including two foreigners, two police officers and two security agents, the state news agency reported. Hundreds of Algerians work at the plant and were taken in the attack, but the state news agency reported that they have gradually been released in small groups, unharmed by the late afternoon. Read more ..


The New Egypt

White House Condemns Morsi’s Anti-Semitic Remarks, Calls for His Affirmation of Respect for all Faiths

January 16th 2013

Morsi

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s antisemitic proclamations, including that Jews are “the descendants of apes and pigs,” may be coming back to haunt him. The comments, made during two separate 2010 interviews, but just now being brought to light because of access to their English translation, also urge violence against Zionists and refers to Jews as bloodsuckers and warmongers. The New York Times reported Tuesday that Morsi’s representatives have repeatedly declined comment over the past three days. The article proceeds to surmise that his camp’s silence can be attributed to “a political bind. While his past comments may be a liability abroad, he faces a political culture at home in which such defamation of Jews is almost standard stump discourse. Any attempt to retract, or even clarify, his slurs would expose him to political attacks by opponents who already accuse him of softness toward the United States and Israel.” Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Assad Reportedly Orders Army to Fire Missiles at Israel and Egypt if He is Killed

January 15th 2013

al-Assad and Generals

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has ordered his military to launch ballistic missiles at Israel if he is killed,  according to the Israeli online newspaper Inyan Merkazi. The website reported that Assad met with his top generals recently to express concerns that he could be killed by advanced American missiles recently provided to rebel forces, or by a violent mob similar to the one that violently murdered Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Should either of those scenarios become reality, Assad reportedly told the generals to unleash Syria’s considerable missile arsenal on Israel and Egypt.

The thinking behind the attack on Israel would be for Assad to preserve a lasting legacy as someone who confronted, and ultimately tried to destroy Israel. As for the attack on Egypt, Assad is angry at the country because of the new Muslim Brotherhood-controlled government’s support for Syrian rebel groups, many of which are fellow Islamists. Read more ..


Broken Government

Obama Says Failure to Raise Federal Debt Ceiling is 'Irresponsible'

January 14th 2013

Obama

President Barack Obama is calling on Congress to quickly approve an increase in the country's borrowing limit and says he supports "sensible" new gun controls to try to prevent more mass shootings in the country.

Less than a week before he starts his second term, Obama said at a White House news conference on January 14 that it would be "irresponsible" for his political opponents in Congress to even consider not raising the country's $16.4 trillion borrowing limit in the coming weeks. "So to even entertain the idea of this happening, of the United States of America not paying its bills, is irresponsible. It's absurd," he said.

The U.S. has already reached the debt ceiling, but has enough money to continue paying its bills for several weeks. The president said the borrowing limit needs to be increased, not so that government spending can be boosted, but so the U.S. can meet financial obligations it has already incurred. "Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize us to spend more. All it does is say that America will pay its bills, and we are not a deadbeat nation," he said. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Mideast Winter Storm Deepens Misery of Syrians

January 14th 2013

Damascus winter

A winter storm in the Middle East has brought heavy snowfall and flooding and caused at least eight deaths. The storm, called the worst in more than 20 years, disrupted life across the region and deepened the misery of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.

Weather experts say the storm dumped the precipitation of an entire average winter during the course of just a few days. The storm paralyzed life in many cities from Gaza to Istanbul and aggravated the hardship of Syrians already suffering from nearly two years of conflict. People who remained in Syria's war-battered cities huddled in their homes, making fires from books and furniture because of a lack of fuel for heaters.

The situation was even worse for hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled into neighboring countries and the one million people displaced inside Syria. An elderly refugee in a camp in Lebanon, who would not give her name, said they face death every day. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Confirms US forces Supported France in Failed Rescue Mission

January 14th 2013

KC-135, A-10s, and F-16s

President Obama on Sunday informed Congress that U.S. forces provided "limited technical support" for a French raid in Somalia that unsuccessfully tried to free a French intelligence agent. In a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate, Obama said U.S. forces took no direct part in the assault. He said combat aircraft briefly entered Somali airspace, but did not fire any weapons. He sent the letter to comply with the War Powers Resolution, which requires the president to inform Congress within 48 hours of sending any troops into action. On Friday night, French forces stormed a Somali compound where they suspected Islamic militants were holding the French citizen.

The resulting shoot-out left one French soldier and 17 militants dead, according to the Associated Press. French officials said they believe the hostage, Denis Allex, was also killed. He had been held captive for more than three years. Read more ..


The New Egypt

Egyptian Court Orders Mubarak Re-trial

January 13th 2013

Hosni Mubarak headache

An Egyptian court has accepted an appeal by ousted President Hosni Mubarak and his former interior minister, allowing him to be retried over the killings of protesters in the 2011 uprising. "The court has ruled to accept the appeal filed by the defendants ... and orders a retrial," Judge Ahmed Ali Abdel Rahman read out the ruling during Sunday's brief hearing. No date has been set for the start of their retrial.

Mubarak and Habib el-Adly, the former interior minister, were sentenced to life in prison in June last year in a court ruling that held them responsible for the deaths of protesters killed by security forces trying to put down the uprising. Crowds of Mubarak supporters attending the trial cheered. The 84-year-old former leader was moved from prison to a military hospital in late December after breaking ribs in a fall. Read more ..


The graphene Edge

UK Funds "Super material"

January 13th 2013

Royal Holloway is among a select group of universities to receive £21.5 million in government funding to explore commercial uses for graphene. Announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne just after Christmas, the funding will focus attention on the so-called ‘super-material’ graphene, one of the thinnest, strongest and most conductive materials known to man.

The project at Royal Holloway will focus on using graphene to develop new equipment that can operate at high frequencies. This could include devices useful for security purposes, which can detect the presence of explosives and drugs remotely, as well as those that could be used in health screening to produce detailed images of blood vessels. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Iran Claims It is Willing to Resume Nuclear Talks as Sanctions Bite Hard

January 12th 2013

Iran centrifuges

Iran says it is prepared to return to talks, possibly later this month, with major world powers over its nuclear program.  As the country's uranium enrichment program continues, Western countries have tightened economic sanctions against Tehran.

U.S. President Barack Obama last week signed off on a new round of sanctions targeting Iran’s energy and shipping sectors.  They build on a range of unilateral and multilateral sanctions against Iranian industry and banks.

The measures are aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program.  The West claims Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons; Tehran says the program is for civilian purposes. Iran has indicated it is ready to hold a fresh round talks with international powers - the so-called P5+1 - the United States, Britain, Russia, China, and France, plus Germany. Jamie Ingram, of IHS Global Insight, says the sanctions are forcing Iran to the negotiating table. Read more ..


North Africa on Edge

France Exercises Military Muscle in Mali and Somalia

January 12th 2013

Tuareg warriors

France's prime minister says French forces continued air strikes in Mali on January 12, driving Islamist militants out of the northern town of Konna. Militants had captured the town earlier this week. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said French forces are also preparing for any rebel surge on the Malian capital, Bamako. He said troops will remain in the area as long as necessary, saying the militants are behind much lawlessness, including kidnappings.

French defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on January 12 that a helicopter pilot was killed during the air strikes, which began on January 11. France announced that day that it had deployed troops to Mali at the request of the government. Troops from Nigeria and Senegal are also reported to be in Mali to help government forces. France's Foreign Ministry has advised French citizens in Mali to leave the country "temporarily," while the U.S. embassy in Bamako is urging Americans against all travel to the West African country. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States is consulting very closely with France's government. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Terrorists Kill Scores of Pakistanis

January 11th 2013

Terrorist Bombing

Radical Islamists appear to have kicked up the violence a notch against innocent citizens by perpetrating a number of bombings in Pakistan killing at least 120 people on Thursday, including 65 who died in a sectarian attack on a busy pool and billiards hall in the city of Quetta.

According to sources, the bomb blasts have made Jan. 10, 2013, the deadliest day in Pakistan in over a year. Despite having a relatively large, modern military complete with state-of-the-art weaponry, the government continues to experience a bloody terrorism war with the Taliban in the northwest and the Baluch militants in the southwest, the source said.

Patrons in a pool hall in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, experienced two blasts detonated about 10 minutes apart on Thursday night. According to the Middle Eastern news media, about 65 people were and more 160 others were wounded. Read more ..


Broken Labor

Walmart Added to Lawsuit Alleging Wage Theft at California Warehouse

January 11th 2013

Walmart

A federal judge ruled Thursday that Walmart can be added to a lawsuit alleging widespread wage theft at a Southern California warehouse.

Lawyers for contract workers at the Schneider Logistics warehouse in Mira Loma, Calif. – whose sole customer is Walmart – had moved to add the retailer to the case in November.

Monday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder will force Walmart to defend itself against allegations that Schneider, at Walmart’s behest, cheated as many as 1,800 low-wage workers out of millions of dollars.

Walmart fought becoming a late addition to the case, but Snyder wrote that the plaintiffs had a “good faith explanation that they did not seek to name Walmart as a defendant until this stage of the litigation because they only recently uncovered evidence in discovery that justifies a lawsuit against Walmart.”

The lawsuit, filed in October 2011, claims that Schneider and two staffing agencies, Premier Warehousing Ventures LLC and Impact Logistics Inc., failed to keep proper payroll records, falsified time sheets and misled workers about the amount of money they had earned. Read more ..


The New Egypt

Morsi Invites Ahmadinejad to Cairo

January 11th 2013

Ahmadinejad triumphant

During a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi today in Cairo, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi extended an invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to attend an Islamic summit scheduled for February 7th in Cairo, Gaza-based Palestine Today reported. The summit is expected to address the “Palestinian cause,” the Syrian crisis, combating poverty, the situations in Afghanistan and Somalia as well as Islamaphobia. Salehi also announced that he had extended an invitation on behalf of Ahmadinejad for Morsi to visit Tehran.

Egypt’s foreign ministry said that the two leaders “exchanged views on the Syrian crisis and means of finding a solution” to the conflict which the UN says has killed more than 60,000 people. On Tuesday Iranian officials threw their support behind a speech made Sunday by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that was rejected by the Syrian opposition and western governments.

The two countries have been cozying up to one another in recent months as relations continue to thaw following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak and the rise of the Islamist government in Cairo. Relations between Iran and Egypt were almost non-existent while Mubarak was in office. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Pakistan Bombs Kills More Than 110

January 10th 2013

Pakistani military brass

Four separate bombings killed more than 110 people across Pakistan Thursday, including 92 deaths in Quetta. Police in the capital of Baluchistan province said a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a crowded billiard hall, followed by a second bomber there minutes later. The twin blasts killed 81 people, including police and rescue workers. More than 100 people were wounded. The billiard hall attacks came just hours after a bomb blast at the Quetta market killed 11 people. Authorities said paramilitary soldiers may have been the target. Baluchistan has grappled with a separatist insurgency, Islamic militancy, and sectarian violence for decades. Elsewhere in Pakistan Thursday, at least 21 people were killed and dozens wounded in a bombing in the city of Mingora, where a crowd had gathered to hear a speech by a religious leader. Read more ..

Edge of the Cliff

Boehner Faces Headwinds for Stance on Defense Spending

January 10th 2013

Congress-senate

House Republican defense hawks are pushing back strongly against Speaker John Boehner’s claim that he has GOP support to allow steep automatic budget cuts to take effect if President Obama does not agree to replace them with other reductions.

Party leaders have for more than a year railed against the Pentagon portion of the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration, but in an interview published Monday, Boehner pointed to the reductions as leverage and said he had significant Republican support, including from defense hawks, in his “back pocket.”

Not so fast, two defense-minded House Republicans told The Hill.

“I don’t support that,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a member of the Armed Services Committee whose district includes one of the nation’s largest military installations. “You get into dangerous territory when you talk about using national security as a bargaining chip with the president.” Read more ..


America's Darkest Edge

Curbing Gun Violence Requires 'Urgent' Action

January 9th 2013

Guns for sale

Vice President Joe Biden began three days of meetings with various groups Wednesday to discuss gun violence. The vice president will advise President Barack Obama on ways to tackle the problem. 

Vice President Biden sat down with victims’ groups and gun safety organizations to hear their stories of gun violence. He said the problem requires immediate action. “The president and I are determined to take action.  This is not an exercise in photo opportunities or just getting to ask you all, well, what your opinions are.  We are vitally interested in what you have to say," he said. 

The push for increased gun control came after 20 children and six adults were shot and killed last month at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Days later, President Obama directed Biden to deliver policy proposals by the end of January.  Read more ..


America's Darkest Edge

Giffords Launches New Gun-Control Initiative

January 9th 2013

Guns for sale

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) on Tuesday launched a new effort to promote gun control, on the two-year anniversary of her shooting at a constituent event in Tucson, Ariz. In an op-ed in USA Today, Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, said their new group, Americans for Responsible Solutions, would “raise the funds necessary to balance the influence of the gun lobby, and will line up squarely behind leaders who will stand up for what's right.”

“Until now, the gun lobby's political contributions, advertising and lobbying have dwarfed spending from anti-gun violence groups. No longer,” they added. “With Americans for Responsible Solutions engaging millions of people about ways to reduce gun violence and funding political activity nationwide, legislators will no longer have reason to fear the gun lobby.”

Giffords and Kelly expressed dismay that, even faced with the number of mass shootings over the last two years, Congress had done “nothing at all.” “America has seen an astounding 11 mass shootings since a madman used a semiautomatic pistol with an extended ammunition clip to shoot me and kill six others,” Giffords wrote. Read more ..



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