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The Battle for Syria

Russia Tells Syria to Hold Talks with Opposition

December 28th 2012

Syria Pro-Assad demonstration

Russia is urging the Syrian government to follow through on its pledge to hold talks with the opposition, as Moscow intensifies diplomatic efforts to bring an end to 21 months of conflict in Syria. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on December 28 that he urged senior Syrian officials during meetings earlier this week to demonstrate they are open to discussing the "widest possible range of issues." Russia has been a staunch defender of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but has in recent weeks seemingly grown impatient with the government's role in the conflict that has left an estimated 45,000 people dead.

Earlier on December 28, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov of Russia told the RIA Novosti news agency Moscow has sent an invitation for talks to the Syrian National Council, the main exiled opposition group recognized by many as the legitimate government of Syria. Bogdanov, the Kremlin's envoy to the region, also said he expects to meet next month with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and international peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi about proposals to end Syria's civil war. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Delegation Goes to Russia for Consultations

December 27th 2012

Assad
Syrian President Bashr al-Assad

Russia says it is intensifying its efforts to end bloodshed in Syria, where a 21-month-old uprising has resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians. Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich says Moscow is stepping up dialogue with both the Syrian government and opposition groups.

He spoke shortly after a Syrian delegation, led by Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Maqdad, met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Syria's ally, Russia, has reportedly been trying to broker a peaceful transition of power in the country. The meeting between Russian and Syrian officials has come ahead of peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi's trip to Russia on December 29. He is due to discuss possible solutions to the crisis. Read more ..


Edging Toward the Fiscal Cliff

Obama Seeks to Out-Gun GOP in the Fiscal Cliff Fight

December 27th 2012

Click to select Image

President Obama will strive to retain the political upper hand in negotiations over deficit reduction when he returns to Washington Thursday morning. Obama had been in Hawaii with his family since Saturday but is scheduled to arrive back at the White House just before noon as the nation approaches the year-end fiscal cliff.

There is little sign, at least in public, that Republican leaders in Congress are in meaningful communication with the upper reaches of the administration. A spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) acknowledged that key GOP figures were in phone contact with each other over the issue but described the conversations as “routine.”

Administration sources say that most of their focus for the moment is on staff-level discussions with Senate Democrats. Chances of a plan emerging from the House of Representatives withered when Boehner lacked the political strength to bring his “Plan B” proposal to a vote late last week. Read more ..


Broken Government

Geithner Announces 'Extraordinary Measures' for $16.4 Trillion Federal Debt

December 26th 2012

Click to select Image

The United States will reach its $16.4 trillion borrowing limit on Dec. 31, the Treasury Department informed congressional leaders in a letter sent Wednesday.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told policymakers Wednesday that the government will need to begin "extraordinary measures" to free up cash on Monday, once the government reaches the $16.4 trillion borrowing cap.

Geithner said he did not know exactly how much time the "extraordinary measures" would buy, given the uncertainty about the expiring tax cuts and automatic spending cuts that make up the "fiscal cliff."

Previously, Geithner has been able to give policymakers a rough idea of how much time they would have before the debt ceiling would need to be raised again. The last time the U.S. reached its limit in May, the ceiling did not have to be raised until August. Normally, the $200 billion the Treasury can free up would buy two months, Geithner said. But the "significant uncertainty" about tax and spending policy makes it impossible to predict how long the measures will last, he said. Read more ..


The Media on Edge

David Gregory Investigated on Gun Charges for Meet the Press Interview

December 26th 2012

David Gregory gun magazine

The Washington Metropolitan Police Department is investigating “Meet the Press” host David Gregory for a potential violation of the District of Columbia’s gun laws, a spokesman for the department has confirmed. While interviewing National Rifle Association (NRA) CEO Wayne LaPierre on Sunday, Gregory held up what appeared to be a 30-round magazine to ask if it should be banned. The cartridge is illegal in Washington, D.C., where “Meet the Press” is filmed. Gregory’s interview with LaPierre came in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. on Dec. 14. The incident which left 26 dead, including 20 children has sparked new calls for gun control. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Human Rights Watch Report Accuses Hamas of War Crimes

December 25th 2012

Gaza Qasam Rocket

Human Rights Watch (HRW), one of the world’s leading independent organizations dedicated to defending human rights, released a report Monday, condemning the Hamas rulers of Gaza for War Crimes.

During a released statement on their website, the human rights organization condemned not only the launching of some 1500 rockets at Israelis, with 800 hitting Israeli territory, but also for doing so from within Palestinian civilian areas.

During the Operation 'Pillar of Defense', HRW interviewed witnesses, victims and their families, Israeli officials from the communities struck by the rockets and a spokesperson for Israeli emergency services.

“Palestinian armed groups made clear in their statements that harming civilians was their aim,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch. “There is simply no legal justification for launching rockets at populated areas.” Read more ..


India on Edge

India Gripped by anti-Rape Fury

December 24th 2012

India anti-Rape Riots Dec 2012

Manmohan Singh, India's prime minister, has vowed to protect women in the wake of violent demonstrations against the "national epidemic" of sex crimes. He spoke after police clashed with hundreds of protesters a day earlier in the Indian capital New Delhi over the gang rape of a medical student in the capital last weekend.

"There is genuine and justified anger and anguish at this ghastly incident," Singh said in a televised statement on Monday, appealing for "peace and calm" as officials shut down roads in the centre of New Delhi - a city home to nearly 14 million people - in a bid to prevent further protests. "I assure you that we will make all possible efforts to ensure security and safety to all women in this country," said Singh. Read more ..


The Darkest Edge

Congressional Republicans Edgy about NRA on Gun Control

December 24th 2012

Shooter shooting AR15

GOP lawmakers are showing caution on what measures they would back to prevent gun violence, as the gun-rights lobby rejects calls for more restrictions on firearms. President Obama is urging the next Congress to take action on legislation to stem gun crime, in a concerted attempt to respond to a series of mass shootings this year. The latest incident, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, which left 26 dead, including 20 children, has renewed debate on gun control.

But on Sunday, National Rifle Association (NRA) CEO Wayne LaPierre rebuffed calls for more gun restrictions, saying that they would not prevent future violence. LaPierre, in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” doubled down on a proposal from the nation’s largest pro-gun lobby to push Congress for legislation that would put armed guards in every school. "If it's crazy to call for putting police in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy," LaPierre said. "That's the one thing that we can do immediately that will immediately make our children safe." Read more ..


The Travel Edge

TSA Prepares for Christmas Rush, and Terrorism

December 23rd 2012

Click to select Image

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is preparing for an expected increase in airline travelers as the Christmas holiday approaches. The prep work comes against a backdrop of past holiday attempts to terrorize airplanes. The so-called “underwear bomber” was convicted of trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines Flight on Christmas Day in 2009.

A TSA spokeswoman told The Hill that the agency was aware of the potential for holiday copycats. “As the calendar approaches national holidays and terrorist–related anniversary dates (Sept. 11 or Christmas day underwear bomber), TSA is well aware of the symbolism of these dates,” TSA spokesman Lisa Farbstein said in an email. “This holiday season is no different,” Farbstein continued. “Airport checkpoints and baggage rooms are fully staffed as this is a busy time of the year for airline travel.” Read more ..


Edging Toward the Fiscal Cliff

Conservatives Urging Congressional Republicans Over the Fiscal Cliff

December 23rd 2012

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Conservative activists who helped doom Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) fiscal Plan B say Republicans must be prepared to go over the fiscal cliff to force President Obama to reach a deal that includes no tax hikes.

The activists say Boehner and other GOP leaders have been too scared about suffering politically if the nation goes over the cliff and $500 billion in tax hikes and spending cuts are triggered in January.

Now that Boehner’s “Plan B” legislation has failed, they say Republicans should be empowered to make big demands and stop caving to Obama out of fear. They argue it is Obama who has something to fear if the economy slides into a recession because of tax increases and spending cuts, and the GOP that has leverage. Read more ..


Significant Lives

Obama Reminisces About His Own Childhood at Senator Inouye's Funeral

December 23rd 2012

Daniel Inouye
Senator Daniel Inouye

Speaking at a memorial service for Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, President Barack Obama used the occasion to talk largely about himself. In just 1,600 words, the Chief Executive managed to use the word "my" 21 times, "me" 12 times, and "I" 30 times. All the same, Obama credited Senator Inouye for getting the young Kenyan-American interested in politics. Said Obama, "Danny was elected to the U.S. Senate when I was two years old."

The president spoke to mourners at the National Cathedral of the Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. on December 22, reminiscing about his family and their vacations. "Now, even though my mother and grandparents took great pride that they had voted for him, I confess that I wasn't paying much attention to the United States Senate at the age of four or five or six. It wasn't until I was 11 years old that I recall even learning what a U.S. senator was, or it registering, at least. It was during my summer vacation with my family -- my first trip to what those of us in Hawaii call the Mainland," said Obama." Read more ..


Edging Toward the Fiscal Cliff

Fearing Primaries, GOP Members Shun Boehner’s 'Plan B'

December 22nd 2012

Cliff Face West Wales

Many House Republicans refused to vote for Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) Plan B bill because they were “gun shy” about drawing primary challengers in the 2014, according to several lawmakers.

A number of members involved in the intense whipping operation that took place over the past two days said that entrenched no votes were more concerned with perception than principle. “I think that there were members that are so gun shy about primaries that they weren't willing to take a risk ... some members told me that it was just too hard to explain how it wasn't a tax increase,” Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) said shortly following Thursday night’s abrupt conference meeting where Boehner told his colleagues they wouldn’t vote on the bill.

Fewer than 24 hours later, Speaker Boehner told reporters that his colleagues were worried about the perception of raising taxes. Read more ..


Benghazigate

House Approves Increased Security at Embassies and Consulates

December 21st 2012

libya-consulate

Despite the Obama administration's evasions and finger-pointing in the aftermath of the Benghazi terrorist attack on the American consulate, the House of Representatives on Thursday approved the annual defense policy bill authorizing $633.3 billion in defense spending for 2013, including an increase in the number of U.S. Marines for embassy and consulate security duty.

The GOP-led House overwhelmingly approved (315-107) the National Defense Authorization Act and now it's being sent to the Senate for their approval followed by the NDAA being submitted to President Barack Obama to be signed into law. The bill calls for an increase of about 1,000 Marines to be deployed as protection for U.S. diplomatic facilities throughout the world. Read more ..


Edge of the Dark Arts

Long in Hiding, a Spy for Latin American Dictators is Uncovered

December 21st 2012

Alberto Conrado Avegno

Conrado Alberto Avegno, who was long alleged to be a spy for Brazil and several Latin American dictatorships from the 1960s through the 1980s, has been found alive and well in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. According to a report by Brazilian daily Folha, Avegno had been hiding some 40 years and used various aliases. Now 85 years old, Avegno was discovered by investigating journalists living and working under a new identity as the pastor of an Evangelical Christian church in the South American capital.

Avegno confessed to reporters that he worked for the Brazilian government and other dictatorships for several decades by infiltrating guerrilla groups and other leftist movements. "My only desire was to fight communism," he said, quoted by the Uruguayan newspaper 'La Republica.' The former spy indicated that for over 14 years he worked under the pseudonyms 'Altair', 'Johnson', 'Nario', 'Zuleika' and 'Carlos Silveira' in Latin American revolutionary groups and passed on information to the governments and military of several governments. It was during those years that governments in the region resorted to torture, extrajudiciary killings and arrests of dissidents and other enemies. Read more ..


The Darkest Edge

NRA Blames Violent Movies and Video Games for School Violence

December 21st 2012

Beretta 90TWO

At a December 21 press conference, interrupted by vociferous pro-gun control protesters, Wayn LaPierre of the National Rifle Association suggested that making U.S. schools free of firearms would actually endanger students and make it easier for mass killings to occur there. This comes one week after the tragedy at Sandy Hook CT, where Adam Lanza shot to death more than two dozen children and adults in a hail of bullets from his Bushmaster assault rifle.

LaPierre, who serves as vice-president of the powerful pro-gun advocacy group, said to the press "Politicians pass laws for gun-free school zones, they issue press releases bragging about them ... in doing so they tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk."  Read more ..


Broken Government

Speaker Boehner Moves to Plan B for Lack of Support for Original Proposal

December 20th 2012

John Boehner

Speaker John Boehner moved to his "Plan B" proposal on the fiscal cliff because he didn't have support for a plan he offered to the White House, according to a senior adminstration official. The official said Republicans have told the White House that Boehner concluded he could not get enough support for the plan he offered the president over the weekend, and then shifted to Plan B, which would permanently lock in tax rates on annual income under $1 million. Tax rates for individuals and couples on annual income above $1 million would be allowed to expire.

The White House allegation drew a heated response from Boehner's office, which called the claim "stupid and untrue."

“This is stupid and untrue," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel. "Once the White House leaked their latest offer, the Speaker’s office immediately briefed reporters to explain how absurdly unbalanced it was. The Speaker was clear that he could not support the president’s plan, let alone recommend it to members of the House.” Read more ..


The Darkest Edge

Democrat Feinstein Gives Up Concealed Weapon Permit

December 20th 2012

Beretta 90TWO

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) no longer has a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Feinstein, who has taken the lead on efforts to renew a federal assault weapons ban, acknowledged during a hearing in 1995 of previously having a concealed weapon permit.

At the time, she said she needed it for security, but she has since dropped the permit.

"The senator does not have a concealed weapon permit," Feinstein spokesman Tom Mentzer said in an email to The Hill on Thursday.

In 1995 a hearing on terrorism after the Oklahoma City bombing, Feinstein recounted how, in the 1970s, she was the target of the New World Liberation Front which first attempted to blow up her home. After the bomb failed to detonate, Feinstein explained, she decided to arm herself. Read more ..


Benghazigate

Critical Benghazi Report Intensifies Pressure for Hillary Clinton to Testify

December 20th 2012

Hillary Clinton in blue

An independent report that faulted the State Department leadership for “systemic failures” leading up to the Benghazi attack is intensifying GOP calls for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to testify on Capitol Hill. 

The report, by the Accountability Review Board (ARB), led by retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen, laid the blame of the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack on State’s leadership, finding officials relied too much on Libyan guards at the consulate and that security was “grossly inadequate.” The report did not blame Clinton and singled out State leadership at the assistant secretary level, yet Republicans said they’re not satisfied with Clinton’s vow to quickly adopt the report’s 29 recommendations. 

“While I appreciate the board’s hard work, I am deeply concerned that the unclassified report omits important information the public has a right to know. This includes details about the perpetrators of the attack in Libya as well as the less-than-noble reasons contributing to State Department decisions to deny security resources,” Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who has subpoena power, said in a statement Wednesday. “At some point Secretary Clinton will need to personally address the remaining issues.” Read more ..


Broken Banking

UBS Pay $1.5 billion to Settle LIBOR Charges--latest Banking Scandal

December 19th 2012

UBS Logo

he Switzerland bank UBS has agreed to pay roughly $1.5 billion to settle charges that its traders conspired to set a benchmark interest rate. The bank announced the settlement Wednesday, reached with American and British regulators including the Department of Justice. The settlement makes UBS the second bank to settle regulatory probes behind manipulation of the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR), a key benchmark that is set by a group of major banks and serves as the basis for a range of financial products, including mortgages and credit cards.

The LIBOR rate is supposed to track the rates at which banks lend to each other across a range of currencies. But in recent months, regulators have been probing a range of banks amidst concerns that traders deliberately manipulated the rate by submitting false reports in an effort to maximize profits. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

The Tablet Generation Is Pushing Networks to the Edge

December 19th 2012

Tablets

With Christmas expected to bring another leap in ownership of tablets, smartphones and other devices, new research from Bell Labs, the research arm of Alcatel-Lucent suggests that increasing consumption of video content on such devices will push the wired broadband networks that carry this traffic to their absolute limits over the next decade.

Bell Labs projections suggest that, by 2020, consumers in the United States alone will access seven hours of video each day – as opposed to 4.8 hours today,and will increasingly consume this additional video on tablets, both at home and on the go. Significantly, the research also points to a dramatic shift in viewing habits, as consumers switch from broadcast content to video-on-demand services, which will grow to 70% of daily consumption compared with 33% today. The projections also suggest a twelve times increase in internet video content as cloud services, news sites and social networking applications become more video based, and continuously accessible anywhere, anytime on tablets. Read more ..


Benghazigate

Official Report Concludes Benghazi Consulate Security 'Grossly Inadequate'

December 19th 2012

Amb Chris Stevens in Death

An independent U.S. panel investigating the September 11 attack in Libya that resulted in the deaths of four Americans has concluded that security at the mission in Benghazi was "grossly inadequate."

The Accountability Review Board said senior-level "systematic failures and management deficiencies" within two State Department bureaus led to a security posture that was inadequate to deal with the terrorist attacks at the facilities in the eastern Libyan city.

The board also said the number of diplomatic security staff members in Benghazi at the time of the attack was "inadequate," in spite of repeated requests from diplomats in Libya for additional staffing. The four Americans killed Benghazi included Ambassador Christopher Stephens, in what was the first murder of a U.S. ambassador since 1988. The panel's findings were made public late on December 18. Earlier, the State Department sent a classified version of the report to Congress. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Russia Sends Fleet for Possible Syria Evacuations

December 18th 2012

Black Sea fleet

Russia's Defense Ministry is sending a new group of warships to Syria and the commander of the country's Airborne Forces said his troops are ready in the event that it proves necessary to evacuate Russian nationals from the country. The Defense Ministry said on December 18 that ships from the Baltic Fleet would replace vessels from the Black Sea Fleet that are currently in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Russia's Interfax news agency cited a "source" in the Baltic Fleet as saying the vessels were bound for Syria "to assist in a possible evacuation of Russian citizens." The report could not be confirmed.

But Airborne Forces commander General Vladimir Shamanov said on December 17 that his forces have experience evacuating Russians from "hot spots" and are ready to perform this task if it received presidential orders to do so.

Read more ..

Significant Lives

Hawaii's Son, Senator Inouye Passes at 88

December 18th 2012

Daniel Inouye
Daniel Inouye

Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who was the most senior member of the upper chamber and third in line for the presidency, died Monday at the age of 88. The senator's final word was "Aloha," according to his office. Inouye was hospitalized early last week after having difficulty breathing and was reported over the weekend to be in stable condition at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.His death, after nine terms in the Senate, came as a shock to his colleagues.  

“I rise today with a heavy heart; my friend Dan Inouye just died,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on the Senate floor Monday evening. “I’ve never known anyone like Dan Inouye … the kindness he’s shown me since my time here in the Senate is something I will cherish always ... We'll all miss him, and I wish I were capable of saying more, but that's all I can say." Read more ..


The Darkest Edge

Noah Pozner, Six Year Old Jewish Victim of Newtown Shooting, Laid to Rest

December 18th 2012

Noah Pozner
Noah Pozner

The youngest victim of Friday’s tragic elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut was Noah Pozner, a six year-old Jewish boy who, along with 19 other classmates and 6 teachers was murdered by a lone gunman. Today, Noah was laid to rest.

The Pozner family are members of the Adath Israel synagogue in Newtown, and on Sunday the rabbi at the synagogue spoke to National Public Radio about the time he spent visiting with Noah’s parents shortly after they discovered his fate.

“I told the mother that was grieving that I personally believe in the eternity of the soul, and I believe that she will see her son again,” Rabbi Shaul Praver said. “Other than that theological comment, the rest of it was getting her to think about taking a breath and not trying to plan the rest of her life out right now because she says, ‘What am I going to do without my baby?’”

Noah’s family had only recently moved to Newtown from Brooklyn, in part, CBS News reports, to escape the perceived dangers of New York city’s public school system. The devout Jewish family have announced that memorial contributions donated in the boy’s name will be used to fund the planting of trees in Israel. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

UN Chief 'Firmly Condemns' Syria Violence Escalation

December 17th 2012

Contreras

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the escalation of violence in Syria, saying reports of government warplanes bombing a Palestinian refugee camp are of "grave concern." Opposition activists said the bombing Sunday on the Yarmouk camp killed at least eight people, and that the air strike was the first of its kind on the camp since President Bashar al-Assad began suppressing a popular uprising in March 2011.

Ban said in a statement late Sunday that bombing raids by fixed-wing military aircraft and attack helicopters against populated areas "have been amply documented."  He expressed particular condemnation for attacks against civilians and the shelling of population centers.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Yarmouk raid was one of six government air strikes on southern areas of Damascus on Sunday. Rebels have been trying to advance from those areas into central Damascus, the seat of Assad's power. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

U.N. Chief Fears Escalation of Hostilities in Syria

December 17th 2012

Syrian Jihadis
Jihadi insurgents in Syria

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed alarm over what he describes as a “dramatic escalation of violence” in Syria in recent days. Ban said in a written statement there had been reports of mass killings of civilians in the village of Aqrab near Hama, as well as alleged firing of long-range missiles in some areas.

The statement said reports of aerial bombing on December 16, resulting in many casualties among Palestinians at a refugee camp in Damascus, were a “grave" concern.

The statement reminded government forces and rebel fighters that targeting civilians is a war crime. Earlier, Syrian Vice President Faruq al-Sharaa was quoted by a Lebanese newspaper as saying neither the forces of President Bashar al-Assad nor opposition fighters seemed capable of winning the civil war. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Iran Warns Turkey Against Patriot Missile Deployment

December 16th 2012

patriot missile

The chief of staff of Iran's armed forces warned Turkey on Saturday over its plans to deploy U.S.-made Patriot missiles, saying the move was part of a Western plot to "create a world war".

"The Patriot (missiles) are threatening. Each one of them is a black dot on the map, (setting the stage) to create a world war," General Hassan Firouzabadi was quoted by the ISNA news agency as having said. "The Western countries seeking to deploy the missile batteries on the Turkey-Syria border are devising plans for a world war,” he claimed. "This is very dangerous for everyone, and even for the future of Europe," said Firouzabadi. "A veteran military man and analyst can easily see this and predict the future." Earlier this month, NATO agreed to deploy Patriot missiles along the border of Turkey as requested by Ankara to help it defend its territory against threats from Syria. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Lieberman Out--Israel's Foreign Minister Resigns In Wake Of Fraud Indictment

December 16th 2012

Avigdor Lieberman
Avigdor Lieberman

Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned late Friday following his indictment on charges of fraud and breach of trust. While earlier in the day, Lieberman had said that he did not intend to resign, he apparently changed his mind after public attacks from the Center-Left and a pledge to petition the Supreme Court to force him to quit. The legalities of the issue were unclear, but there is a longstanding tradition in Israeli politics that ministers under indictment must resign until the case is resolved. Lieberman ultimately chose to follow this tradition.

Lieberman publicly states that "I know that I committed no crime," and criticized the state prosecutor for what he described as a form of legal harassment. Nonetheless, he stated that his resignation would allow him "to put an end to this matter swiftly and without delay and to clear my name completely."

Citing the upcoming elections, he stated that "the citizens of the State of Israel are entitled to go to the polling stations after this matter has already been resolved." Read more ..


The Darkest Edge

Mournful Obama goes to Connecticut to Remember Victims of Massacre

December 16th 2012

Obama Wipes Tear After CT School Shooting

U.S. President Barack Obama travels on December 16 to Newtown, Connecticut, in an effort to comfort a shattered town reeling from a school shooting that left 20 young children and six adults dead. A White House statement released on December 15 said Obama will meet with the families of those who lost loved ones at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and also thank first responders. The statement said the president will speak at an interfaith vigil for families of the victims and families from the school.

The announcement came just hours after Connecticut state police identified the victims and provided more information Saturday about their investigation into the mass shooting. The twenty children killed on December 14 were first-graders, most of them six years old, according to the state medical examiner. Six women at the school, including the principal and several teachers, also were killed as they attempted to shield children after 20-year-old Adam Lanza forced his way into the building and began firing. Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

Egypt Bans “Romantic” Songs and Music Videos

December 15th 2012

Egyptian hijabi

A new threat to Egypt’s democratic revolution has emerged: “romantic” songs and music videos. On Thursday a state-run newspaper reported that both have been banned from running on Egyptian state television channels, this according to a report in Al-Arabiya.

Only nationalistic tunes “that are worth broadcasting” will be allowed on the country’s 23 state-owned channels the report said, while sarcastic songs mocking public figures will also be banned because of the “sensitiveness of the political situation” in the country. The move comes amid fierce political tension in the country. In the past several weeks tens-of-thousands of protesters have taken to the streets to demonstrate against Egypt’s president, Mohammed Morsi, for what they see as his attempts to consolidate power.

Voting for a controversial referendum on a new constitution in Egypt is set for Saturday. The draft constitution, which was drawn up by an Islamist-led drafting assembly last month, has become the object of criticism among opposition members, made up of secular, liberal, leftwing and Christian groups. They have called for a ‘no’ vote and imposed conditions that could yet result in its boycott.


America After Sandy

Sandy Relief Funds In Danger Warns Rep. King

December 15th 2012

Staten Island house

House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.) said Saturday there is a possibility that federal aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy may not pass by year’s end.

Citing strong opposition among colleagues to a supplemental spending bill, King warned that Congress may not approve Sandy relief funds if it fails to act this week.

“Doing all I can, but if Congress doesn’t approve Sandy aid for NY before Christmas, I don’t think it’ll get done. Too many oppose it in DC,” he said in a statement posted on Twitter Saturday. King is stepping down as the Homeland Security panel’s chairman and will be replaced by Texas Rep. Michael McCaul (R).  King’s district on Long Island was hit hard by the storm. Massapequa Park, where his district office is located, was flooded by a six-foot storm surge.

The White House has asked Congress to pass a $60.4 billion emergency spending bill to pay for the damage to New York, New Jersey and other affected areas. It’s substantially less than the more than $80 billion in assistance requested by those states. The Senate Appropriations Committee has assembled a relief package, but conservatives in the House have balked. They are demanding spending cuts to offset its cost. Read more ..


The Darkest Edge

Grief as Mad Gunman Executes Schoolchildren

December 14th 2012

Sandy Hook Shooting

At least 27 people, including children, are reported to have been killed after at least one shooter opened fire at a school in Newtown, Connecticut. Reports say 20 of the 27 people killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14 were children in what is seen as one of the worst school shootings in American history. Police said the suspect was 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who is also reported to have died in the incident. There are reports that he killed his father before going to the school. His mother taught kindergarten there and is among the fatalities. Her students were reportedly also targeted.

Lieutenant Paul Vance from the Newtown police told CNN that the school is now secure. "Newtown police immediately upon arrival entered the school and began a complete active shooter’s search of the building," he said. "That included checking every door, every portion of that school. Our main objective was to evacuate as quickly and efficiently as possible any and all students and faculty in the school." The Sandy Hook Elementary School has children from kindergarten through fourth grade aged between 5 and 10 years. Read more ..


The North Korean Threat

North Korea Warns of More Launches

December 14th 2012

North Korean Missile

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is vowing to send more satellites to space, just days after the country's successful long-range rocket launch provoked international condemnation. The official Korean Central News Agency said that Kim "stressed the need" to continue the satellite launches "to develop the country's science, technology, and economy." The United Nations Security Council condemned Wednesday's launch as a "clear violation" of sanctions barring Pyongyang from carrying out missile or nuclear tests. But it was welcomed in North Korea, where hundreds of thousands of civilians and soldiers gathered Friday to celebrate the success of the mission.

Standing in tightly organized ranks in Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung Square, the massive crowd cheered as top officials, including Vice Chief of the General Staff of the Army Ro Gwang Chol, praised Kim's "bravery and wisdom." Read more ..


Edging Toward the Fiscal Cliff

Both Sides Coming Closer To Deficit Deal

December 13th 2012

Cliff Face West Wales

Congressional Republicans and the White House appear to have edge closer to a deficit-reduction deal that would raise new taxes on the wealthy but also reform entitlement programs. 

The two sides exchanged offers following a face-to-face meeting Sunday between President Obama and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who are negotiating a deal to prevent tax hikes and spending cuts that could trigger a recession early next year. While Boehner took to the House floor to criticize Obama for a failure to get “serious” in the talks, the White House offer and GOP counteroffer suggest the two sides are narrowing the gap over what tax hikes should be part of a deal. 

Sources said the White House lowered its $1.6 trillion request for new tax revenues to $1.4 trillion over 10 years in an offer on Monday. Republicans made a counteroffer Tuesday that remained at $800 billion in new tax revenues. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Assad's Forces Fire Scud Missiles within Syria

December 13th 2012

Darkly ominous missiles

No casualties have yet been confirmed as a result of multiple attacks by the Syrian government, which used Russian-made Scud missiles in recent days. U.S. officials have been quoted that this is a sign of a significant escalation in the deadly fighting in Syria that is pitting Bashr Al-Assad's regime against a hodge-odge of rebel groups, some of which have Iranian backing.

The missiles in question were fired from Damascus into northern Syria. U.S. officials were quoted as saying that the Scuds are capable of being loaded with chemical weapons, but asserted that there is no evidence that dictator Assad is testing the weapons system for that purpose. It is also possible that the Scuds are being used as part of a campaign of psychological warfare against the rebels arrayed against Assad. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Virulent New Strain of Bird Flu Found in Indonesia

December 12th 2012

Research and Development Chemistry

Almost half of those who have died from avian flu have been in Indonesia. And, although it might seem as though bird flu has gone unnoticed, a new virulent strain has been found on the Indonesian island of Java.

In recent weeks, more than 300,000 ducks have died on the densely populated island of Java.

The government has since confirmed the deaths were caused by a new and highly pathogenic strain of H5N1, or bird flu.

Dr. Rita M. Ridwan, the director of disease control at the Indonesian Health Ministry, says the government is working closely with relevant ministries to investigate further. “So we are in close contact by sharing information, sharing the virus lab and even working together in the field to do field investigations," Ridwan explained. "I know there are very alarming deaths in the duck population, mostly in the center of duck production by the traditional farming as well as in central Java and East Java.” Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

Gunmen Fire at Protesters in Cairo Ahead of Rallies

December 11th 2012

Egyptian

Masked gunmen have fired at protesters camping in the Egyptian capital, wounding nine people as supporters and opponents of President Mohamed Morsi prepare for rival mass rallies.

Officials and witnesses say the unknown gunmen shot the protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square early Tuesday.  By midday the square was calm, with tents remaining in the center and the number of people in the area slowly growing.

Opposition leaders are pressuring Morsi to cancel a constitutional referendum scheduled for Saturday.

The opposition National Salvation Front, led by liberals including Mohamed ElBaradei and Amr Moussa, has called on its supporters to march on the presidential palace in Cairo Tuesday.  They say the draft constitution does not properly represent the Egyptian people. But Morsi has refused to back down. On Monday, he gave the military authority to arrest civilians as part of a decree to help maintain security for the referendum.  The order tasks the military with supporting police to protect "vital institutions."  There was a heavy military presence in Cairo ahead of the planned rallies. Read more ..


The Afghanistan War

Afghan Intelligence Chief Survives Taliban Assassination Attempt

December 11th 2012

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An Afghan and coalition security force arrested a Taliban leader and one other suspect on Saturday. The detained Taliban leader is believed to be responsible for transporting and distributing homemade explosives and IED-making components to insurgents including those who attempted to kill a top Afghan intelligence official in Kabul on Thursday.

Afghanistan's intelligence director escaped the terrorist assassination attempt with only minor injuries in the Afghan capital, according to an Israeli security official who monitors Islamic terrorism. The initial reports said the Director of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) Assadullah Khalid was wounded in a suicide bombing inside the NDS compound in Taimani neighborhood on Thursday afternoon. A source within the Kabul police agency confirmed to Middle East news organizations that the assassination attempt failed, saying that "the attack is under investigation and the NDS chief was receiving medical treatment in a NDS hospital in Kabul." Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Boy Decapitates Syrian Army Officer as Rebels Jeer

December 10th 2012

Syrian decapitation

The internet and other media are aflame with comment about an unprecedent atrocity commited in Syria that has appeared in a video uploaded to YouTube. The video  shows a young Syrian boy decapitating a man lying on the ground, reportedly in the northern city of Homs. The video captures that barbarity as the boy decapitated an officer of Syria's army in the service of dictator Bashr Al-Assad. Onlookers cheered on the boy, who is reportedly 10 years old, as he killed the man who was lying on the ground with his head resting on a cinder block and his hands tied behind his back.

According to the Deutsche Presse Agentur news service, sources among the rebels fighting the Assad regime said that the deceased Syrian officer had been one among a group of nine others who had been abducted by rebel forces opposed to the regime. Two of them had already been released after their captors were paid a ransom for their lives. Read more ..


Sudan on Edge

Student Protests Continue to Flare in Sudan

December 10th 2012

Sudan President al-Bashir
Omar al-Bashir

Sudanese police have used tear gas and batons against hundreds of people in Khartoum protesting the recent deaths of four students from Darfur. At least 600 people took part in the protest in the Sudanese capital on December 10. Many shouted anti-government slogans like "Revolution Until Victory." Plainclothes security agents were also reported on the scene near Khartoum's main bus station — an area that saw similar unrest on December 9.

The students died amid a crackdown on demonstrations against tuition fees at the University of Gezira, south of Khartoum. Their bodies were found in a canal, and activists say the four were killed by police.

Negotiations with Darfur rebels had called for tuition breaks for those displaced by the conflict in that region.

While protests have erupted recently over soaring food prices and other grievances, there have not been the type of mass protests in Sudan like those that toppled rulers in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. According to an AFP report, Dean of Students Rudwan Ahmed of the University of Gezira said that police came on December 3 when student participants in a sit-in forced lecturers from their classrooms and attacked laboratory technicians. Ahmed said that 52 people were detained and then released. The four later found dead were not among the detainees, Ahmed added. Read more ..



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