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The 2012 Vote

Dem Platform Calls for Gun Reform

September 2nd 2012

Guns for sale

The Democrats' approach to gun reform is far too timid and needs a boost of courage to be effective, some leading gun-reformers are charging. The draft language of the Democrats' 2012 platform – set for a final vote this week in Charlotte – argues that current safeguards protecting the public against gun violence are insufficient and urges "an honest and open conversation about firearms."

The document also calls for "reasonable regulation" governing guns, including laws banning assault weapons and requiring all gun sellers – not just licensed dealers – to perform background checks on potential buyers.

But – while the Republicans' 2012 platform addresses such hot-button topics as concealed carry, stand-your-ground laws, high-capacity clips and the reporting of bulk long-arm sales – the Democrats' policy statement makes no mention of those thorny issues. Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a gun-reform group founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, said the Democrats are being far too cautious. Read more ..

South Africa on Edge

South Africa Drops Murder Charges Against Miners

September 2nd 2012

Police miners

A top South African official says a court has provisionally dropped murder charges against 270 miners charged under an little-used law, after police shot dead 34 of their colleagues. South Africa’s decision to charge 270 striking miners with murder prompted a storm of criticism. 

The charge was prompted by a “common purpose” clause used often in the apartheid era against black activists.  It basically accused the illegal strikers of setting the scene for their colleagues’ deaths. 

The charges prompted Justice Minister Jeff Radebe to demand an explanation from prosecutors.  He said the charges had “induced a sense of shock, panic and confusion within the members of the community and the general South African public.” Police said they shot and killed the 34 protesters in self-defense after being shot at first.  No police were killed in the August 16 clash and none have been charged as a government investigation continues. Read more ..

Pakistan on Edge

Pakistan Cleric Arrested for Framing Christian Girl in in Blasphemy Case

September 2nd 2012

Pakistan religious minorities

Pakistani police have arrested a Muslim cleric on suspicion that he planted evidence against fourteen-year-old Rimsha Masih, a Christian girl accused of blasphemy. A police official said the cleric, Khalid Chishti, was arrested Saturday for allegedly placing pages of the Quran in the girl's shopping bag. According to police, members of the mosque where the cleric works came forward saying he tampered with the evidence saying it was a way to expel Christians from the area. Police arrested the girl more than two weeks ago after angry neighbors surrounded her house in Islamabad, accusing her of burning pages inscribed with verses from the Quran. A bail hearing will be held for the girl Monday.

Chishti, who appeared in court Sunday, told reporters that the allegations against him were fabricated. Under Pakistan's blasphemy law, anyone who speaks ill of Islam and the Prophet Mohammed commits a crime and faces the death penalty. 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 the girl is mentally handicapped.


The Edge of Defense

Chinese Woman Sentenced to Four Years in Federal Prison for Espionage

September 1st 2012


In yet another China-connected espionage case, a former software engineer for Motorola Solutions Inc., the new corporate name for Motorola, Inc. based in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg, IL, was sentenced Wednesday to four years in federal prison for her theft of trade secrets.

According to an FBI official, Hanjuan Jin, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in China, was secretly working for a company in the People's Republic in China that designed and created telecommunications technology for the Chinese military.

The 41-year old spy was detained by U.S. Customs agents at Chicago's O’Hare International Airport after they stopped her from traveling on a one-way ticket to China in February 2007.

The Customs agents discovered more than 1,000 computers disks and paper Motorola documents in Jin’s possession as she attempted to leave the United States. The federal agents also recovered approximately $30,000 in U.S. currency that was in six different envelopes, each containing $5,000, all in hundred dollar bills according to Justice Department records. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Two Children in Afghanistan Beheaded

September 1st 2012


Officials say two children have been beheaded in separate incidents in Afghanistan. In the south, authorities say the Taliban beheaded a 12-year-old boy Thursday in Kandahar province because the child's brother is a police officer. A Taliban spokesman has denied the allegation. A spokesman for Kandahar's governor, Jawid Faisal, said Friday police found the boy's body in the Panjwai district. In the other incident, police say a seven-year-old girl was beheaded and her legs cut off in her home in the eastern province of Kapisa.  Authorities are not sure if the attack is the result of a domestic dispute or involvement by insurgents.

The killings come just days after 17 Afghan civilians were beheaded during a party in the southern province of Helmand.  Afghan officials blamed the Taliban, saying Sunday's killings followed a long-standing feud between two insurgent commanders over two women. The Taliban denied involvement. Also Friday, the U.S. military said a roadside bomb killed two Afghan civilians, including a child, in the Nahr-e-Saraj district of Helmand.  Another roadside bomb severely wounded a civilian in Sangin district.

South Africa on Edge

Justice Minister Demands Explanation for Miners' Charge

August 31st 2012

Police miners

South Africa's justice minister, Jeff Radebe, has demanded that prosecutors explain why striking miners are being charged with the murder of 34 fellow workers who by all accounts were shot and killed by police.

Radebe said the decision by South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority to invoke an apartheid-era legal charge has induced a sense of "shock, panic and confusion."

Prosecutors charged the 270 miners involved at the strike at the Lonmin platinun mine on Thursday, using an obscure statute, known as the "common purpose law," under which people in a crowd where a crime was committed can be charged as accomplices. That law was used most famously in the case of the so-called “Upington 14,” who were sentenced to death for a crowd killing a policeman in 1985.  The black activists were convicted under the clause even though it was acknowledged that they did not commit the act. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syrian Rebels Attack Aleppo Security Compounds

August 31st 2012

Syrian Rebels in Aleppo

Activists say Syrian rebel fighters have attacked several security compounds in the northern city of Aleppo as clashes continued in other areas of the war-torn country. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Friday that one of the assaults in Aleppo sparked a firefight that killed and wounded a number of government troops. It gave no figures. Last month, rebel forces  took control of parts of Syria's commercial hub, sparking fierce fighting there.

Also Friday, the monitoring group said government troops and rebels were locked in battle north of the capital, Damascus, and in Albu Kamal, on the Iraqi border. Internet video appeared to show fighting in Homs, Daraa and Damascus. ​​On Thursday, Syria's neighbors - seeking to assist more than 200,000 war refugees - asked the United Nations Security Council for urgent help in coping with the growing humanitarian crisis.

The 2012 Vote

Republican Platform Outlines Tough China Stance

August 30th 2012

Click to select Image
Mitt Romney

The Republican party has adopted a platform that is strongly critical of China, even as Chinese state media slammed the party's presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, for having what it termed a "Cold War mentality."

The Republican platform, approved Tuesday at the party's national convention in Tampa, promises to get tough on China for the alleged undervaluing of its currency and theft of intellectual property. It also condemns what it calls China’s “destabilizing claims in the South China Sea” and vowed to continue U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, two issues that have riled China in the past.

The tougher rhetoric mirrors that of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who has promised to designate China as a currency manipulator on his first day in office, if elected. Beijing, which does not officially take sides in the election, this week lashed out at Romney’s China policies in a series of state media editorials. The official China Daily describes his policies as “pugnacious,” saying they will “poison” U.S.-China relations, if implemented. U.S. political strategists say criticizing the incumbent’s policies toward China is not only common, but can be politically beneficial, especially while the American economy is struggling to recover from a recession. This is something that Chinese officials have been quick to point out, accusing both Obama and Romney of pandering to what they call the “anti-China vote.” Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

UN Chief in Tehran Slams Anti-Israel Remarks

August 30th 2012

ahmadinejad and zion

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking on his first visit to Tehran, has criticized what he described as "outrageous" comments denying the Holocaust and Israel's right to exist. In a speech to the Nonaligned Movement (NAM) summit in the Iranian capital on August 30, Ban said he would condemn a United Nations member threatening to destroy another. "I strongly reject threats by any member states to destroy another or outrageous attempts to deny historical facts such as the Holocaust," he said. Ban also said denying a UN member state's existential rights, or describing it in racist terms is unacceptable.

"Claiming that another UN member state, Israel, does not have the right to exist or describing it in racist terms is not only utterly wrong, but undermines the very principles we have all pledged to uphold."

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly expressed doubt about the Holocaust murders of some 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany in World War II. He has also been quoted as saying that Israel should be "wiped off the map." Recently he also reportedly described the Jewish-led state as a "cancerous tumor" in the Middle East.​​ Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Secret Service Agent Leaves Loaded Gun In Bathroom Of Romney's Charter Plane

August 30th 2012

Beretta 90TWO

A secret service agent accidentally left her loaded handgun in the bathroom of Mitt Romney's charter plane on Wednesday.

A CBS News producer discovered the weapon, the network reported on Wednesday. Romney was flying from Tampa, Fla., where he joined wife Ann Romney for her prime-time address at the Republican National Convention Tuesday night, to Indianapolis for a speech before the American Legion. The CBS producer informed the Secret Service about the forgotten weapon, which was then retrieved by agents. According to The New York Times, the agent was pulled off of Romney's detail to discuss the incident with her supervisors. Romney returned to Tampa on Wednesday night for the remainder of the convention. “We are aware of the incident,” said Ed Donovan, a spokesman for the Secret Service, in a statement obtained by multiple media outlets. “We take the care and custody of our equipment, especially firearms, very seriously. This matter will be dealt with internally and in an appropriate manner.” Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Book Contradicts Administration Account Of Bin Laden Raid

August 29th 2012

Bin Laden with AK

A book written by a Navy SEAL who took part in the Osama bin Laden raid said the al Qaeda leader was unarmed and already shot when the SEALs entered his bedroom, contradicting the Obama administration’s account that he had reached for a gun when he was shot. In the book, No Easy Day, the author wrote that as the SEALs ascended the staircase to bin Laden’s room, the point man saw a man poke his head out the door, according to reports from the Huffington Post and Associated Press, who purchased early copies of the book.

"We were less than five steps from getting to the top when I heard suppressed shots. BOP. BOP,” said the author, who is writing under a pseudonym Mark Owen but has been identified by Fox News and the AP. “I couldn't tell from my position if the rounds hit the target or not. The man disappeared into the dark room." Read more ..

The WikiLeaks Case

In Preview of WikiLeaks Approach, Ecuador Rejects Extradition Request For Belarusian

August 29th 2012

Assange at Ecuadorian Embassy

Ecuador may have foreshadowed its possible approach in any an extradition request regarding WikiLeaks fugiitive Julian Assange now holed up in Ecuador's embassy in London. A judge on Ecuador's highest court has rejected an extradition request from Belarus for a former police investigator who is wanted by Belarus authorities for alleged fraud and extortion. Judge Carlos Ramirez of the National Court of Justice on August 28 concluded that the political-refugee status granted to Alyaksandr Barankou was justified and ordered him freed immediately. The 30-year old Barankou, who was granted asylum in Ecuador in 2010, says he fled Belarus after uncovering an oil-smuggling ring involving senior officials of authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime.

The 2012 Vote

Fighter Jets Patrolling Skies over GOP Convention in Tampa

August 28th 2012

F-15E Refuels

During this week's long-anticipated Republican National Convention in Tampa, FL, besides Secret Service agents, Uniformed Secret Service rapid response teams, the FBI, Florida State Police and Tampa Police officers, the skies over the convention site and surrounding areas will be patrolled by Air Force fighter jets. The responsibility for protecting the skies during the convention falls on the shoulders of Continental U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command Region fighters who are charged with protecting the skies during the Republican National Convention in Tampa regardless of weather conditions. Air Force fighter jets will be on alert during the convention -- which began Monday and runs through Thursday, Aug. 30 -- enforcing the Federal Aviation Administration's temporary flight restriction zone. The commanding officer of the 601st Air and Space Operations Center, USAF Col. Randy Spear stated that special events are part of the Continental U.S. NORAD Region’s air defense mission. Read more ..

The Edge of Hate

Horrific Anti-Semitic Act of Violence at Michigan State University

August 28th 2012

Zachary Tennen

The Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish groups expressed outrage and horror at an alleged anti-Semitic hate crime against a student at Michigan State University.  The student was knocked unconscious and had his mouth stapled shut by two men at a party, after the men allegedly asked the student if he was Jewish, chanted “Heil Hitler” and gave the Nazi salute. According to an ADL statement, the organization has spoken to the parents of the victim, Zachary Tennen, a sophomore, and has been in contact with local law enforcement and university officials since first learning of the assault, which took place in the early morning hours of August 26 and reportedly was witnessed by other students. Tennen sustained a broken jaw and other injuries and was hospitalized following the assault.

The Detroit Free Press reported: A 19-year-old Michigan State University student is recovering at home in Oakland County today after surgery overnight for a broken jaw his family says stems from a brutal hate crime. Two men at a party early Sunday attacked Zachary Tennen, a journalism sophomore at MSU, after asking whether he was Jewish, his mother, Tina Tennen, said today. They raised their arms in a Nazi salute, chanting “Heil Hitler” and then knocked Tennen unconscious, she said. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Arctic Sea Ice Reaches Lowest Extent Ever Recorded

August 28th 2012

Bering Sea ice

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

Romney Seeks to Rekindle Passion Among Hispanic Voters

August 27th 2012

Gov Luis Fortuno
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

Taliban Beheads 17 Afghan Civilians for Attending a Party

August 27th 2012

Islamist terrorists

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

Hundreds of Bodies Found Outside Damascus, Activists Charge

August 26th 2012

Machine Gun Bunker

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

Greece Asks Germany for More Time and More Money

August 25th 2012

Greek and EU flags

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

US Jury Orders Samsung to Pay Apple $1 Billion

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

Syrian Refugee Exodus Swells as Violence Escalates

August 25th 2012

Syria Damascus fighting injured baby

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

Famed Chessplayer Dissident Kasparov Acquitted by Russian Court

August 24th 2012

garry kasparov
Garry Kasparov

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

Romney tells Fundraisers 'Big Business is doing fine'

August 24th 2012

Romney 2

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

Breivik Found Sane--Sentenced to Just 21 Years

August 24th 2012

Oslo bomb memorial

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.

Broken Borders

Napolitano Sued Over New Immigration Policy

August 23rd 2012

Janet Napolitano
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

Humanitarian Crisis Looms as Syria Fighting Intensifies

August 23rd 2012

Syria Damascus fighting injured baby

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

AFL-CIO to Knock on Doors in 23 States before the GOP Convention

August 23rd 2012

Obama and AFL CIO

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

Obama Campaign to Crash Romney's Coronation in Tampa

August 23rd 2012

obama and biden

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

Syrian Forces Shell Damascus, Warfare Spreads to North Lebanon

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

Romney Surges Ahead of Obama in Campaign Fundraising

August 22nd 2012

mitt romney

The 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

Veep Biden to Rally Democrats in Tampa during GOP Convention

August 21st 2012

joe biden

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

Israel Demands Egyptian Tanks Leave Sinai

August 21st 2012

Egyptian Tank in Sinai

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

Pakistani Christian Girl Arrested for Blasphemy

August 20th 2012

Pakistani Christians protest

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

Great American Director Tony Scott Ends His Life

August 20th 2012

Man on Fire

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

China's Gu Given Suspended Death Sentence for Murder

August 20th 2012

Gu Kailai Being Sentenced

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

White House Officials Can't Confirm Defection of Syrian Vice President

August 19th 2012

Battle for Aleppo

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

Israeli Attack on Iran Won't Create a Rift with the US--Oren

August 19th 2012

Israeli Jet

"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.

The Edge of Crime

First Lady to Meet Sikh Temple Shooting Victims

August 19th 2012

Sikh Milwaukee Shooting

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

Ecuador's President Defends Asylum Grant for Assange

August 18th 2012

Rafael Correa

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.

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

White House Deplores Russia's Two-Year Sentence for 'Pussy Riot'

August 18th 2012

pussy riot hoosegow

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 ..

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