The Edge of Climate Change
|Natasha Vizcarra||August 28th 2012|
The blanket of sea ice floating on the Arctic Ocean melted to its lowest extent ever recorded since satellites began measuring it in 1979, according to the University of Colorado Boulder's National Snow and Ice Data Center. On Aug. 26, the Arctic sea ice extent fell to 1.58 million square miles, or 4.10 million square kilometers. The number is 27,000 square miles, or 70,000 square kilometers below the record low daily sea ice extent set Sept. 18, 2007. Since the summer Arctic sea ice minimum normally does not occur until the melt season ends in mid- to-late September, the CU-Boulder research team expects the sea ice extent to continue to dwindle for the next two or three weeks, said Walt Meier, an NSID scientist.
"It's a little surprising to see the 2012 Arctic sea ice extent in August dip below the record low 2007 sea ice extent in September," he said. "It's likely we are going to surpass the record decline by a fair amount this year by the time all is said and done." On Sept. 18, 2007, the September minimum extent of Arctic sea ice shattered all satellite records, reaching a five-day running average of 1.61 million square miles, or 4.17 million square kilometers. Compared to the long-term minimum average from 1979 to 2000, the 2007 minimum extent was lower by about a million square miles -- an area about the same as Alaska and Texas combined, or 10 United Kingdoms.
While a large Arctic storm in early August appears to have helped to break up some of the 2012 sea ice and helped it to melt more quickly, the decline seen in in recent years is well outside the range of natural climate variability, said Meier. Most scientists believe the shrinking Arctic sea ice is tied to warming temperatures caused by an increase in human-produced greenhouse gases pumped into Earth's atmosphere. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Cameron Joseph||August 27th 2012|
|Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno|
Republicans this week will look to push the reset button with Hispanic voters by featuring a slew of prominent Latino GOP speakers in Tampa. The Republicans’ goal, according to a top campaign official, is to win 38 percent of the Hispanic vote on Election Day. Mitt Romney’s campaign has chosen a number of influential Latinos to be the public face of the convention.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a home-state favorite, will introduce Romney on the convention’s final night. And Ann Romney will be preceded by Lucé Vela Gutiérrez, Puerto Rico’s first lady on Tuesday. Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Texas Senate hopeful Ted Cruz will also speak. There are Hispanic-specific events every day at the convention,” said Jose Fuentes, a co-chairman of Romney’s national Hispanic leadership team and former Puerto Rico attorney general. “I don’t think you’ve ever in the past seen a Republican convention where so many primetime speakers are Hispanics.” Read more ..
Islam on Edge
|Dan Levin||August 27th 2012|
From VOA and Agencies
Officials in southern Afghanistan say Taliban insurgents have beheaded 17 Afghan civilians. Authorities in Helmand province say the militants killed the 15 men and two women in Musa Qala district late Sunday because the group had organized a mixed-sex party with music and dancing - activities the Taliban disapproves.
Hours after the beheadings, Taliban insurgents overran an Afghan military post in Helmand's Washir district in a pre-dawn attack, killing 10 Afghan troops. A local government spokesman said four soldiers were wounded in the attack. He said five troops left with the Taliban. It was not immediately clear if the ones who went with the Taliban were kidnapped or went voluntarily. Meanwhile, in eastern Afghanistan, NATO officials say an Afghan National Army soldier turned his weapon on two of the coalition's service members, killing them. NATO says its troops returned fire, killing the soldier. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Terrence Sterling||August 26th 2012|
From VOA and Agencies
A Syrian watchdog group says hundreds of people were killed across the country Saturday. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the final death toll for the day was 370. Activists say nearly 200 bodies were found in Daraya, a town close to Damascus, the capital. The number of corpses in Daraya and when they died could not be independently confirmed.
However, video footage reported to be from Daraya showed a huge group of victims. Syrian forces have leveled a five-day onslaught on rebel fighters in the town. The state-run SANA news agency says Daraya had been -as the agency described- "purified of terrorist remnants." President Bashar al-Assad has blamed foreign-backed terrorists for much of the violence that has gripped his nation for nearly the past 18 months. The attack on Daraya was part of an army campaign to regain control of the outskirts of the capital. Read more ..
Greece on Edge
|Terrence Sterling||August 25th 2012|
VOA and Agencies
Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has told German Chancellor Angela Merkel his country needs more time to carry out economic reforms. He spoke Friday after meeting with Merkel in Berlin. Merkel said she is convinced that authorities in Athens are doing everything they can to solve the problems Greece is facing. She also said Germany supports Greece's efforts and wants Greece to remain part of the eurozone.
Samaras said he is not asking for any more aid than already promised, but said Greece needs more "breathing space" to carry out its reforms. He did not say how much more time Greece needs beyond its mid-2014 deadline to carry out reforms. If Greece fails at reform efforts, it will be forced to default on its debts and could be forced out of the eurozone. Samaras' comments echoed similar statements he made to the German newspaper Bild earlier this week. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Dan Levin||August 25th 2012|
A U.S. jury has awarded a victory to U.S. technology giant Apple, saying that its South Korean rival, Samsung Electronics, infringed on several patents for mobile devices.
The jury in the state of California awarded Apple more than a billion dollars in damages in its decision Friday.
Samsung is likely to appeal the verdict, which said the South Korean company had illegally used several Apple technologies.
Apple also claimed that Samsung illegally copied the shapes of its popular iPhone and iPad devices and used them to create its own line of Galaxy devices.
Samsung had argued that by 2006 - months before Apple introduced its first iPhone in early 2007 - it was developing a next generation of smartphones with a rounded rectangular body that both companies now use. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Mark Snowiss and Lisa Schlein ||August 25th 2012|
Syrian army bombardments killed at least 21 people in a Damascus suburb Friday and anti-government protests broke out in several other cities. The U.N. says the number of refugees fleeing the conflict is escalating. Opposition activists said the three-day death toll in the suburb Daraya had reached at least 70, mostly civilians. They said Syrian forces continued to shell the area from positions on Mount Qasioun, on the northern edge of the capital. Heavy fighting was also reported in other Sunni Muslim suburbs where rebel fighters are active. And fierce clashes between the rebel Free Syrian Army and government troops were reported in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor.
The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in London, said 220 people were killed in violence across Syria Thursday - many of them in or around Damascus. The Syrian government says it views the rebels as terrorists who, with foreign help, are seeking to destabilize Syria and topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Read more ..
Russia on Edge
|Dan Levin||August 24th 2012|
From RFE/RL and wire services
A Russian court has acquitted opposition leader Garry Kasparov of charges that he participated in an unauthorized rally in support of jailed members of anti-Kremlin punk collective Pussy Riot.
Kasparov, a former chess champion, was detained on August 17 at a rally supporting the feminist group outside the Moscow court where three of its members were sentenced to two-year prison terms.
Kasparov and dozens of others were rounded up violently by police and thrown into a police van. Kasparov was questioned later after one policeman accused him of biting his hand. In the surprise August 24 ruling, the court cleared Kasparov of participating in an unsanctioned rally. Kasparov has said he plans to file a complaint against his detention and to file slander charges against the police officer who accused him of biting his hand.
In a related development, media reports indicate the Russian authorities are pursuing other Pussy Riot band members or supporters. A report in Canada's National Post states: "Russian police are searching for more members of the Pussy Riot punk rock band, a spokeswoman said, signaling further pressure on the group despite an international outcry over jail terms for three women who protested in a church against Vladimir Putin. The Russian president’s critics condemned the court proceeding that yielded the two-year prison sentences on Friday as part of a clampdown on a protest movement and reminiscent of show trials of dissidents in the Soviet era. Police said on Monday they were searching for other members of the group over the February protest at Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral, but had not yet identified the suspects." Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Alicia M. Cohn||August 24th 2012|
Mitt Romney told a campaign fundraiser on Thursday that "big business is doing fine."
Romney made the remarks as part of an effort to cast himself as a champion of small businesses, which he says have been held under by President Obama's poor handling of the economy, the threat of higher taxes and heavy regulation. But the remarks are also likely to raise eyebrows, given the Obama campaign's attacks on Romney as a protector of corporations and the wealthy.
Romney's remarks echoed Obama's widely criticized comment earlier this summer that the private sector is doing fine, though Romney drew a distinction between big and small businesses. With unemployment above 8 percent and the nation's economy continuing to struggle, Romney argued that big businesses know how to navigate the tax code to do well despite government. Read more ..
Norway on Edge
From RFE and Agencies
A Norwegian court has found confessed mass killer Anders Behring Breivik sane and sentenced him to 21 years in jail for a bomb and gun rampage that left 77 people dead last year. The five judges at Oslo district court on August 24 unanimously declared the 33-year-old Breivik to be mentally fit for prison. A 21-year prison term is the maximum penalty in Norway, which does not have life in prison. The sentence, however, could later be extended if Breivik is deemed to still pose a danger to society.
Breivik has confessed to carrying out the July 2011 twin attacks, in which he detonated a bomb outside government headquarters in Oslo, killing eight, before gunning down 69 others, mostly teenagers, at the ruling party's summer youth camp. The attacks were the worst violence Norway has seen since the end of World War II.
During the trial, Breivik attempted to justify his killing spree, arguing that the ruling center-left Labor Party was deliberately destroying Norway and its heritage by encouraging Muslim immigration to the Nordic state. Read more ..
|Jordy Yager||August 23rd 2012|
|Janet Napolitano |
The author of the strict Arizona immigration law that was mostly shot down by the Supreme Court this summer has filed a lawsuit on behalf of 10 immigration officials against the Obama administration for its recently revamped deferred-deportation policy. Kansas Secretary of State and immigration hardliner Kris Kobach filed the lawsuit on Thursday against Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton on behalf of 10 ICE officials, including the head of the immigration agency’s labor union, Chris Crane. The suit was filed in the District Court for the Northern District of Texas and challenges a new policy announced by Napolitano earlier this year by arguing that it forces officers to break the law.
“We are federal law enforcement officers who are being ordered to break the law,” said Crane in a statement. “This directive puts ICE agents and officers in a horrible position.” Napolitano issued a directive that allows her agency to exercise its prosecutorial discretion for certain illegal immigrants who are under 30 years of age and who wish to defer their deportation from the country for two-year periods in order to work. Republicans on Capitol Hill, who have strongly opposed the administration’s move, applauded the lawsuit on Thursday. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Mark Snowiss||August 23rd 2012|
Parts of Syria's capital were under siege Thursday with Syrian government forces battling rebels in and around Damascus in pitched fighting.
Activists reported a campaign of shelling and house-to-house raids in Daraya, on the southwest edge of Damascus, as well as continuing clashes in the city's Hajar al-Aswad district.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebel fighters attacked a military checkpoint on the Daraa-Damascus highway, killing or wounding 10 government troops.
The group says at least 41 people were killed in Damascus on Wednesday. Residents said the fighting was the fiercest since the army recently reasserted control of opposition-held neighborhoods there. The Observatory said clashes also continued Thursday in the northern city of Aleppo, where a number of foreign fighters are reported to have joined the opposition. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Kevin Bogardus||August 23rd 2012|
The AFL-CIO will have its members out knocking on doors early this year to counter the Republican National Convention in Tampa. The nation’s largest labor federation is planning to knock on 640,000 doors in 23 states over the weekend for a massive canvassing campaign. Labor unions have traditionally begun their political efforts on Labor Day, but are starting a week early to coincide with the GOP convention.
Joining in the canvassing effort will be MoveOn.org and Workers’ Voice, the AFL-CIO’s super-PAC. Workers’ Voice will also be sending out direct mail to 240,000 senior citizens taking direct aim at Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, and his vice presidential pick, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the union ground game would help Democrats and President Obama win the election this fall. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Mike Lillis||August 23rd 2012|
Bucking protocol, President Obama and the Democrats are planning a full-scale assault on Republicans next week during their convention. Presidential candidates have traditionally kept a low profile during their opponent's nominating celebration, but Democrats are throwing those rules out the window in an attempt to spoil Mitt Romney’s coronation as the GOP nominee.
President Obama, Vice President Biden and leading congressional Democrats have all scheduled high-profile events next week to counter-program the Republican gathering in Tampa. Even first lady Michelle Obama is in on the act, scheduling an appearance on the “David Letterman Show” smack in the middle of Romney's nominating bash. Political historians say the high stakes of this year's elections — combined with the rise of today’s 24/7 media culture — has forced leaders on both sides of the aisle to get more aggressive. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Mark Snowiss||August 22nd 2012|
Syrian government forces backed by tanks have renewed their attacks in the capital of Damascus, killing at least 12 people.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that Wednesday's deaths occurred in Kfar Souseh, Daraya and other southern districts where anti-government rebels operate. Residents said the shelling and aerial bombardment were some of the fiercest since the army reasserted control of the opposition neighborhoods. They said rebels who left the city last month during a government assault had started to return. Activist groups also said that Syrian forces stormed a rebel-held town outside Damascus Tuesday, killing dozens of people, including at least 23 anti-government fighters. Observatory head Rami Abd al-Rahman put the death toll in Moadamiyeh at 60. He said a number of those killed were participating in a funeral procession. Others appear to have been shot dead execution-style soon after the town fell to government forces. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
he campaign of presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has a huge lead over President Barack Obama's campaign when it comes to money. According to Federal Election Commission reports filed Monday, Romney and the Republicans raised $101 million in July, compared with $75 million raised last month by Obama and the Democrats. The Republicans had a total of $186 million in cash on hand, funds that are immediately available, while the Democrats had $124 million.
Those totals do not include money spent by outside political groups, including political action committees and politically active non-profit groups. The Politico
website reported Monday that during the first half of August, the largest pro-Romney organizations spent eight times more than the largest pro-Obama political action committee, Priorities USA Action. The Republicans will hold their national convention in Tampa, Florida, next week, during which they are expected formally to nominate Mitt Romney as their presidential candidate.
The 2012 Vote
|Justin Sink and Amie Parnes ||August 21st 2012|
Vice President Biden will hold a rally with supporters next Monday in Tampa, Fla., on what will be the first day of the Republican convention. The Obama campaign announced on August 21 that Biden would travel on Aug. 27 and 28 to the host city of the GOP convention for a number of events.
It would be an unprecedented move for a presidential or vice presidential candidate to crash a rival convention; the parties have traditionally allowed each other to take center stage during their convention week and used the time to raise funds and to rest.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said that the GOP would respond strongly to any attempt by Democrats to disrupt their convention. "I think it's pretty common among parties to play with each other's conventions, and we'll have a pretty big presence in Charlotte as well," Priebus told Buzzfeed on August 21. "The nice thing about going first is that whatever they do to us, we can do ten times over to them."
"I'm a big believer in: if they punch us, we put on the brass knuckles and punch back," Priebus said. Read more ..
Egypt and Israel
|Saul Roth||August 21st 2012|
World Jewish Daily
After months of indulging an Egyptian military buildup in the Sinai desert, Israel has made its first official objection to the buildup's violation of the 1978 peace treaty between the two nations. The message was apparently motivated by the fear that the Egyptians are exploiting recent terrorist attacks in the Sinai in order to remilitarize the strategically important area permanently. These fears were exacerbated by the lack of communication and coordination between the two countries' security forces. While the IDF and the Egyptian army once worked closely together, since the Egyptian revolution and the election of a Muslim Brotherhood government, this contact has largely disappeared.
Egypt and Israel agreed to a demilitarized Sinai as part of a comprehensive bilateral peace agreement. A team of U.N. peacekeepers have maintained a presence there ever since. In return, Israel withdrew from the area, which it had occupied since the Six Day War, and Egypt was granted sovereignty over it. Read more ..
Islam's War Against Christianity
|John Zimmer||August 20th 2012|
Read more ..
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has asked the country's Interior Ministry for a report about the arrest of a Christian girl on blasphemy charges for allegedly desecrating a religious text. Police say the girl was taken into custody on Thursday after angry neighbors surrounded her house in Islamabad and accused her of burning pages inscribed with verses from the Koran. Others said she was burning papers from the garbage for cooking. Police say the girl will be held for 14 days while the case is investigated. President Zardari on Monday took “serious note” of the girl's detention and called for a report on her arrest. There are varying reports of the girl's age, with some saying she is as young as 11 years old. Others quote police who say she is 16. There are also reports that the girl is mentally handicapped.
Human rights activists say the blasphemy law in Pakistan is sometimes used to harass religious minorities. Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Khan Babar said blasphemy cannot be condoned, but no one would be allowed to use it to settle personal scores.
The Edge of Film
|Dan Levin||August 20th 2012|
Authorities in Los Angeles say movie director Tony Scott, director of such Hollywood blockbusters as Top Gun, Days of Thunder and Beverly Hills Cop II, has died after jumping from a Los Angeles County Bridge. An officer with the Los Angeles County Coroner's office said the 68-year-old Scott's death Sunday is being investigated as a suicide. Police say several people called emergency services shortly after midday Sunday to report that someone had jumped from the Vincent Thomas Bridge in Los Angeles. A dive team with Los Angeles Port Police pulled the body from the murky water several hours later, Nordquist said. Scott's body was taken to a dock in Wilmington and turned over to the county coroner's office.
The British-born Scott was producer and director Ridley Scott's brother. Ridley Scott's Prometheus was a summer blockbuster. Scott frequently worked with Denzel Washington, most recently on the runaway train drama Unstoppable.
Scott and Washington collaborated on four other films: Deja Vu, The Taking of Pelham 123, and the visually stunning and evocative Man on Fire. Other Scott films include True Romance and Crimson Tide. Scott was married to actress Donna Scott. They have twin sons.
Motion picture aficionado Edwin Black commented: "Cult-like followings have surrounded some of Scott's films. Among them, Man on Fire has sparked recent fascination. The enduring soundtrack music ends with a haunting collage of ethnic and visceral themes." You can hear the penetrating track here.
China on Edge
|William Ide||August 20th 2012|
A court in China has sentenced the wife of disgraced politician Bo Xilai to death for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. Gu Kailai's death sentence comes with a two-year reprieve, which means that she is most likely to face life in prison for the crime that has sent shockwaves through China's political system. Gu Kailai’s suspended death sentence comes shortly after her speedy seven-hour trial earlier this month, which was held in the eastern Chinese city of Hefei. During her trial, Gu reportedly admitted to pouring the poison down Neil Heywood’s throat after he threatened her son over a business deal gone sour. Tang Yigan, a court official in Hefei, spoke with reporters Monday about the ruling.
Tang says the judicial review of the case found that Gu has the capacity to be considered criminally responsible even though she was suffering from some psychological disorders. Tang says that while her control was weakened, she had complete capacity to know the nature and consequences of the crime she committed.
In addition to Gu, Zhang Xiaojun, an aide of the Bo family, was charged with helping poison Heywood. He was sentenced to nine years in prison. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Carlo Muñoz||August 19th 2012|
The White House on Saturday could not validate reports that Syrian Vice President Farouq al-Shara defected from President Bashar Assad's cabinet, despite claims by rebel forces that he has abandoned Damascus for Jordan.
On Friday, reports began to surface that Farouq had left the country days after his cousin, a top Syrian intelligence official, announced he was breaking ranks with the government on Thursday.
"I'm not in a position to be able to confirm those reports," White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Saturday, while en route to a campaign event for President Barack Obama in New Hampshire.
If confirmed, Farouq would be the second top-tier government leader this month to cut off ties with Assad.
Syrian Prime Minister Riyadh Hijab officially fled Assad's government two weeks ago. Three of Assad's top national security advisers, including Defense Minister Dawood Rajiha and Syrian assistant Vice President Hasan Turkmani, were killed in a rebel bombing in Damascus in July. Read more ..
Israel's Looming Attack
|Shlomo Cesana and Yoni Hirsch ||August 19th 2012|
"There is no crisis with the United States," Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren stated on Saturday, referring to the reportedly widening gap between Washington and Jerusalem's positions regarding the necessity and timing of possible military action against Iran's nuclear program.
Read more ..
While Israeli officials say the threshold for military action against Iran is the point just before Iran becomes a nuclear power — namely, the stage at which Iran becomes capable of assembling a bomb — the Americans believe that the Iranians must be stopped only at the point in which they decide to actually build the bomb. In other words, the U.S. views the threshold as the point in which Iran has already attained the capability and begins constructing a nuclear warhead.
Oren, who arrived for a visit this weekend, said he had not felt that the U.S. administration was pressuring Israel to refrain from acting against Iran's nuclear weapons project. "The Americans hear the threats made by Iran's leaders, who want to destroy Israel. It is clear to me that the Americans are asking themselves, 'What would we do in their place?'" he said. "If Israel ultimately decides to take action against Iran, we will receive extremely widespread support from the American people and Congress, and President [Barack] Obama will continue to recognize our right to defend ourselves on our own. It won't create a rift with the United States."
The Edge of Crime
|Meghashyam Mal||August 19th 2012|
First lady Michelle Obama will go to Wisconsin to meet with relatives of victims from the recent shooting rampage at a Sikh temple in Oak Park. The White House said Mrs. Obama would meet with those affected by the tragedy during a visit to Milwaukee on Thursday, Aug. 23, according to reports. Police say the shooting, which claimed the lives of six people and wounded three, was the work of Wade Michael Page, a 40-year old former Army specialist who opened fire at the temple during services on Aug. 5. Page, the lone suspect, was associated with neo-Nazi groups, and police are treating the investigation as a case of domestic terrorism.
Shortly after the incident, President Obama expressed his condolences in a statement, mourning “this loss which took place at a house of worship.” Obama also expressed his condolences to the Indian prime minister last week over the deaths of Indian nationals in the shooting. Read more ..
The Wikileaks Case
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa says the main reason his country has granted asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is that no one could guarantee that Assange would not be extradited to a "third country." Assange has been sheltered in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since June. The Australian took refuge there after losing a legal battle to fight extradition to Sweden, which wants to question him in connection with sexual assault allegations, which he denies. Assange fears Sweden could send him to the United States to face possible charges related to the 2010 release of hundreds of thousands of classified documents, including diplomatic cables held by the U.S. State Department about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Correa told local journalists in Loja, Ecuador, Friday that he does not agree with everything that Assange has done. Correa also said he feared that Assange would face a possible death penalty if he were prosecuted and convicted in the United States. Ecuador granted Assange asylum Thursday, prompting Britain to say it would not allow him safe passage out of the country and could even enter the embassy to capture him. Supporters of Assange have set up camp outside the building. The Organization of American States said Friday that it will hold a meeting of foreign ministers in one week to discuss the standoff. A spokesperson for WikiLeaks said Assange will appear in front of the embassy Sunday to give a statement.
Read more ..
The Telegraph reported: "In a late-night meeting on Friday the group agreed that the row was not over the granting of asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, but instead concerned the "inviolability" of the Ecuador embassy in London. Foreign ministers from north and south American nations will convene at the OAS Washington headquarters on Friday (Aug 24) at its Washington headquarters after a vote by the organisation's council that was overwhelmingly in favor: 23 to three, with five abstentions. Most representatives from the countries of the Americas and the Caribbean appeared delighted with the support for Ecuador's plea that the position of its embassy be looked at."
Russia on Edge
|Mario Trujillo||August 18th 2012|
The White House on August 17 protested the conviction and “disproportionate” two-year sentence handed down against three members of the punk band Pussy Riot, whose trial in Moscow for "hooliganism" has sparked an international outcry.
Josh Earnest, a spokesman for President Obama, said the United States was "disappointed" by the guilty verdict against musicians Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich. "The United States is disappointed by the verdict, including the disproportionate sentences that were granted," Earnest told reporters. "While we understand the group's behavior was offensive to some, we have serious concerns about the way these young women — about the way that these young women have been treated by the Russian judicial system." Read more ..
The edge of Crime
|Jim Kouri||August 17th 2012|
|Credit: Aurora Police Dept.|
A hearing regarding the notebook of the Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes that he mailed to his psychiatrist has been postponed for one week. The subject was supposed to be debated during Thursday's court hearing in Holmes' murder case.
But in his ruling on Wednesday, Judge William Sylvester granted a motion to postpone the debate until August 23.
Meanwhile, members of the nation's journalism community won a slight victory when the Colorado judge ordered several documents regarding the Batman movie killing in Aurora unsealed on Monday, but upheld the sealing of other documents at the request of both the prosecution and the defense.
James Holmes, 24, was arrested outside a theater after allegedly killing 12 people and wounding another 58 at the midnight showing of a Batman movie on July 20. He made his first court appearance three weeks ago.
The journalists' access to the files is expected to provide the public with a clearer view of one of the worst mass-shootings in U.S. history. A media coalition has been pushing for all records relevant to the case to be released. Steven Zansberg, a lawyer representing the media coalition, applauded part of the decision and but wasn't pleased about the overall ruling.
The attorneys for both the prosecution and defense had argued for the documents to remain sealed with the prosecutor saying his office wished to assure the integrity of the continuing investigation, and the defense saying they wished to protect Holmes' right to a fair trial. Read more ..
The Wikileaks Case
|Sterling Beard||August 16th 2012|
Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño announced Thursday that his country would be granting political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, on the grounds the country believes he will be politically persecuted if he is extradited from Great Britain to Sweden. Assange, who turned himself in to British authorities in 2010, has been staying at the Ecuadorian embassy in London for nearly two months. The British government is seeking to extradite him to Sweden, where he was accused of rape and sexual molestation two years ago.
Assange denies the allegations against him by two female former WikiLeaks volunteers. He believes the charges to have come in retaliation for his organization’s release of classified U.S. documents and diplomatic cables. Assange was released on bail and placed under house arrest on condition that he spend nights at the home of a supporter outside of London, but London’s Metropolitan Police argue that he has broken the terms of his bail by staying at the embassy. Prior to the announcement, Patiño declared that the Ecuadorian government had received written notice from the British government stating their intentions to “assault” the embassy if Ecuador refused to hand Assange over. Patiño argued that doing so would violate international law, which holds that an embassy is the sovereign ground of the country to which it belongs. Read more ..
The Edge of Piracy
|Jim Kouri||August 16th 2012|
Somali pirate and hostage-taker Mohammad Saaili Shibin, a/k/a “Khalif Ahmed Shibin,” a/k/a “Shibin,” the man convicted of being the Somali kidnapper who also negotiated the ransom demands for the release of U.S. citizens onboard an American yacht, the S/V Quest, as well as the Marida Marguerite, a German-owned vessel, was sentenced late Monday afternoon in federal court in New York City. During the trial, jurors were told that the pirates shot Scott and Jean Adams of California and Phyllis Mackay and Bob Riggle of Washington state in this midst of neogotiations. The Surface Vessel Quest had been sailing around the world when the Somalis hijacked it off the coast of Oman. The convicted pirate was given 10 concurrent life sentences for piracy, two consecutive life sentences for the use of a rocket-propelled grenade and automatic weapons during crimes of violence, 10 years consecutive on six counts charging discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence, and two 20-year sentences for the remaining counts of discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence, according to the U.S. Navy criminal investigators. Read more ..
Europe on Edge
|Lisa Bryant||August 15th 2012|
Europe's two biggest economies have managed to dodge recession, but newly published statistics offer grim news for the region as a whole. New figures released by Eurostat statistical agency show the economies of both the eurozone and the 27-member European Union shrank by 0.2 percent in the second quarter of the year.
The only glimmer of good news came from Germany and France. Growth for Europe's largest economy, Germany,a modest 0.3 percent. And the second largest economy France managed to escape widespread expectations of recession by registering zero growth for a third consecutive quarter. Recession is defined as two successive quarters of negative growth.
Speaking on French radio, Economy and Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici offered a modestly upbeat reaction to the findings. Moscovici said there were a few encouraging signs, including a small pickup in investment. But he said the fact that France's economy was faring slightly better than those of Italy and Spain was not good enough. Both economies contracted in the second quarters. Read more ..
Egypt's Blockade of Gaza
|Jim Kouri||August 15th 2012|
Leaders of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas based in the Gaza Strip urged the Egyptian government on August 12 to unseal the only border crossing location for Gaza to allow its people to travel back and forth from the Palestinian territory, a member of the Israel National Police said.
Hamas' Interior Minister released a press notice stating that the Egyptian authorities must allow the travelers in both directions to go through the Rafah crossing. Hamas claims there is no longer any reason for Palestinians to be denied access to Sinai, the Israeli police source said.
The Minister complained that continued blockade by the Egyptian military is affecting thousands of people who need to travel in Sinai or through Sinai for medical, educational or business reasons. Rafah is the only crossing for individuals to enter or leave Gaza, said the Israeli source. Read more ..
Faster and More Furiously
|Jim Kouri||August 14th 2012|
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Monday filed a civil lawsuit in federal court in the District of Columbia against Attorney General Eric Holder in an effort to compel him to surrender documents regarding to a failed law enforcement operation dubbed Operation Fast and Furious by the leaders at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive (ATF).
Committee Chairman Darrell Issa said the legal action was taken in response to President Barack Obama's executive privilege assertion that stonewalls the Republican congressmen from obtaining Justice Department documents related to the operation.
"Waiting nearly eight months after the subpoena had been issued to assert a meritless claim of privilege, the President's decision was a calculated political maneuver designed to stop the release of documents until after November's elections," Issa said in a statement Monday.
Those in the law enforcement community, who hold the operation's leaders responsible for a number of deaths including that of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, are saddened by the lack of response to this "outrageous display of government lawlessness."
"I don't know whether to yell or cry. The news media are more interested in protecting Obama and his minions than getting at the truth. The American people don't seem to care if their government violated any laws, either. This is a federal government out of control and the people who are trying to get to the bottom of this political cesspool are portrayed as the bad guys attacking a 'sainted' president's administration," said former New Jersey police detective, now a corporate security director, Peter Rosen. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|Zachary Lichaa||August 14th 2012|
One of Hezbollah’s senior officials and its leader in southern Lebanon is claiming that the Iranian backed terrorist group can hit any Israeli city with its arsenal of missiles. Speaking in Lebanon on Monday ahead of “Quds Day”, Sheikh Nabil Kaouk said Hezbollah will continue its attempts to free “Palestine”, rid Israel from its presence in Jerusalem, and that the group’s missiles can reach anywhere in Israel. Former Mossad Director Danny Yatom seemed to confirm part of Kaouk’s statement while offering an analysis of what Iran’s response might be to an Israeli strike against its nuclear facilities. Rockets from Gaza and Lebanon can “cover all of Israel, and that is the main problem,” Yatom said. Israel’s short range rocket defense system, the Iron Dome, was reportedly installed in northern Israel last week (Safed) as part of a series of tests being undertaken by the IDF. Read more ..
Islam on Edge
|Martin Barillas||August 13th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
Islamist militants in the Kashmir region contested by Pakistan and India have warned that they will shoot dead any women or girls seen to be using mobile phones in public. Hand-written posters appeared at mosques in the Shopian district of the region in time for Friday prayers on August 10, apparently placed there by the Lashkia al-Qaeda and Alqaeda Mujahideen terrorist jihadi organizations. The posters reiterated demands that girls and women be enveloped in veils in all public places.
Women were alarmed, since the jihadi posters also proclaimed "If we spot any woman without purdah (veil), we will splash acid on her face." Numerous cases of men attacking women with acid have plagued not only Pakistan, but also Afghanistan in recent years. Some women, disfigured by acid attacks, have required extensive reconstructive surgery or have committed suicide in despair.
Local police have said that they are investigating, but that it is premature to say whether these posters are genuine or a prank.
The posters also demanded the village council heads to announce their resignation during Friday prayers. Similar posters had surfaced in south Kashmir's Tral township earlier this year, prompting some of the village councils to quit. The names of the terrorist organization outfits, which have purportedly issued the posters, have surfaced for the first time in the Kashmir valley.
Meanwhile, similar posters threatening girls and women emerged in Ranchi, Jharkhand, a province of eastern India, on August 9. The handwritten posters were published by Jharkhand Mukti Sangh, an extremist group, which threatened girls and women with acid attacks if they venture out in jeans or without traditional veils after August 20. The posters appeared at public intersections, and a Catholic school. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Jonathan Easley||August 13th 2012|
GOP vice presidential pick Paul Ryan will make his solo campaign debut in Iowa on August 13, competing with President Obama, who's beginning a three-day trip to the key battleground state. Obama is bringing his wife, popular first lady Michelle Obama, along with him – a sign the campaign is concerned about holding on to Iowa's six electoral votes.
But when Obama begins his tour in the Western part of the state, just up I-80, Ryan will be in Des Moines, visiting the Iowa State Fair. The competing visits show how important the state is to both campaigns, but it has particular resonance for Obama – during his historic 2008 run, it was his victory at Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses that catapulted him into the upper tier of Democratic presidential contenders. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
Syrian activists say all communications are down in large parts of the countryside and in the flashpoint city of Aleppo, where government forces reportedly have been pushing rebel forces out of position since last week.
It is unclear what caused the cut in communications since early Sunday. Despite this, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had reports that the army was continuing to shell rebel-held districts in the country's largest city. There also were reports of violence elsewhere in the country. The Arab League has postponed a meeting of foreign ministers that had been scheduled for Sunday in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to discuss the Syrian situation and a replacement for peace envoy Kofi Annan, who resigned earlier this month. Read more ..
The New Egypt
|Edward Yeranian||August 12th 2012|
Egypt's new President Mohamed Morsi has forced out the country's top two military officers, announcing the immediate retirement of Defense Minister Mohammed Hussein Tantawi and Army Chief of Staff Sami Annan. The move comes after growing tensions over military operations in the northern Sinai, following a recent attack by militants that killed 17 Egyptian soldiers.
News that President Morsi had fired Defense Minister Tantawi and Army Chief of Staff Annan struck on a quiet summer afternoon as most Egyptians fasted for Ramadan. The president's spokesman, Yasser Ali, announced replacements for the two top officers on state television. He said Morsi was also annulling constitutional amendments that gave military commanders sweeping powers. He said the president has named Mahmoud Mekki as his vice president, that he is ordering Defense Minister Mohammed Hussein Tantawi to retire, along with Army Chief of Staff Sami Annan. Read more ..
Iran on Edge
From VOA and Agencies
Iranian officials say two strong earthquakes in the northwestern part of the country have killed at least 250 people and left more than 2,000 injured. The 6.4 and 6.3 magnitude quakes struck late Saturday afternoon just 11 minutes apart.
Several villages near the city of Tabriz were leveled, while scores of others sustained serious damage. Dozens of aftershocks have rumbled through the area, prompting thousands of people to spend the night outdoors. Rescue teams are still searching for victims in collapsed buildings. Officials expect the death toll to rise. The Red Crescent aid society says it has given emergency shelter to thousands of people and is sending in more supplies. Earthquakes are common in Iran, but few are significant enough to be noticed. The last major earthquake in Iran was a magnitude 6.6 quake in 2003 in the southeastern city of Bam, where 30,000 of people died. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Dan Levin||August 11th 2012|
From VOA and Agencies
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney has chosen Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate. Romney made the announcement Saturday before a throng of supporters in front of the retired battleship USS Wisconsin in Norfolk in the eastern state of Virginia. Romney introduced Ryan to kick off a four-day campaign bus tour. Ryan told the crowd that America is on the wrong track and said, "Mitt Romney and I will take the right steps, in the right time, to get us back on the right track." The 42-year-old Ryan is a long-time congressman from the midwestern state of Wisconsin and has the backing of many influential conservatives. He now chairs the House Budget Committee and has been a vocal leader in cutting the deficit by slashing the U.S. budget.
Romney's announcement ends weeks of speculation on who his running mate would be. The most notable names mentioned included Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Alicia M. Cohn||August 10th 2012|
Wikipedia pages for candidates most likely to appear on Mitt Romney’s shortlist for vice president have been locked down as of August 8. "This article is protected due to vandalism," reads the Wikipedia page for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Similarly, pages for Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and even CIA Director David Petraeus are in “semi-protected” mode, preventing edits from unregistered users or users who registered within the last few days.
With anticipation high for the expected announcement by Romney’s campaign — which will come sometime this month, ahead of the GOP convention — TechPresident’s Micah L. Sifry on August 6 reported that monitoring the increased number of edits on the Wikipedia entries for various contenders might tip off interested observers.
He based that speculation on the high number of edits made to Wikipedia pages for Sarah Palin and Joe Biden ahead of announcements that they would be the running mates for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), respectively. Palin’s page saw roughly 68 changes and Biden’s about 40 the day before their respective announcements, much higher numbers than other likely VP candidates at the time. Read more ..
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