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The 2012 Vote

Vulnerable House Members Face Tough Votes on Competing Tax bills

July 28th 2012

Tax Protest

Vulnerable House lawmakers will face tough decisions next week when two competing tax bills come to the floor, and some Democrats are indicating they will back a Republican plan to extend all rates for another year.

Democratic leaders are expected to offer the proposal that passed the Senate on Wednesday, which extends the George W. Bush-era tax rates only for family income up to $250,000, as an alternative to the GOP measure.

Two House Democrats — Reps. Collin Peterson (Minn.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.) — said they would vote with Republicans to extend all the tax rates through 2013. A third, Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas), said he was leaning toward supporting a full extension as well. Peterson, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, told The Hill that he would likely vote for both plans even though his preference would be to extend all Bush-era rates and then do tax reform in 2013. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Play 'Hardball' on China Oil

July 27th 2012

EarthMovers

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) says the United States should block CNOOC Ltd., a big state-owned Chinese oil company, from buying the Canadian oil company Nexen Inc. until China provides U.S. businesses better access to its markets.

The senior Democrat will make his case in a letter Friday to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, whose department heads the federal panel that vets foreign purchases of U.S. assets, according to accounts in Reuters and The Wall Street Journal.

Nexen has U.S. holdings, so Schumer argues the deal provides a chance to win better access to Chinese markets for American companies. His letter to Geithner says that the secretary should “withhold approval of this transaction until China's government has made tangible, enforceable commitments to ensure U.S. companies reciprocal treatment.”

“I believe approval of the Cnooc-Nexen transaction should be a test of these reciprocal commitments, and that concrete progress must be made by both sides simultaneously,” the letter states. Schumer is a frequent critic of China’s trade policies. He tells the Journal that it’s time to play “hardball.”

Treasury heads the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the interagency panel that reviews foreign purchases of U.S. businesses if the transactions could affect national security. Nexen owns substantial acreage in the Gulf of Mexico and has some production there. If the CNOOC deal goes through, it would mark the first time that a Chinese company would be the operator of Gulf of Mexico leases, rather than a minority owner, according to Bloomberg. CNOOC’s proposed $15 billion acquisition of Nexen is attracting political attention in the United States due to the Gulf holdings and because Nexen is a significant player in Canada’s oil sands. Read more ..


The Economy on Edge

House Dems: Boost Minimum Wage to $9.80 an Hour

July 27th 2012

Minimum wage protest
Credit: Luz Mercado

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and more than 100 of his House Democratic colleagues proposed legislation Thursday that would boost the minimum wage over three years from $7.25 to just under $10 an hour.

Miller's Fair Minimum Wage Act, H.R. 6211, would increase the minimum wage by 85 cents a year for the next three years, then allow the final $9.80 an hour wage to rise with inflation. It would also boost the minimum wage for waiters and other tipped employees — which has been at $2.13 for more than 20 years — by 85 cents a year until it hits 70 percent of the regular minimum wage.

Miller said these changes are needed because the last minimum wage increase was in 2007, and has not kept pace with the demands of millions of workers since then. "Anyone who works hard and plays by the rules should not live in poverty. Yet 47 million Americans now qualify as the working poor. Raising the minimum wage helps families make ends meet," Miller said in a statement accompanying the bill. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Apple Claims over 2.5 billion in damages from Samsung in Patent Lawsuit

July 26th 2012

I-phone

Apple Inc. made claims that it deserves more than USD 2.5 billion in damages from Samsung Electronics who alledgedly reaped billions of dollars in profits and caused Apple to lose hundreds of millions of dollars through its violation of Apple's intellectual property.

In the 57-page brief, Apple said Samsung should pay USD 2.525 billion, with the bulk of the figure, USD 2 billion, representing the amount of total profits Apple calculates Samsung made with products that it said infringed Apple's patents and designs. The Wall Street Journal recalls that Samsung previously said that Apple's claims "lack merit" and are "unfounded." And in its own 22-page court filing, made early Tuesday, Samsung's lawyers called Apple's damages request "absurd." Apple, according to Samsung's brief, "seeks to collect 'lost profits' despite the fact that no one buys phones because they have 'bounce back' features or other manifestations of Apple's alleged inventions asserted in this case." Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Hezbollah Leader Offers Assad Fighters and Refuge

July 26th 2012

hassan nasrallah - hezbollah

Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s Secretary General, has offered refuge in Lebanon and elite military units to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as the latter continues his fight to remain in power.

In a recent conversation between the two leaders, Nasrallah told Assad that “Hezbollah’s elite units will stand at the front and fight the rebels,” according to a report in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Gomhoriih. While Syrian diplomats continue to defect – including reports on Wednesday that officials in Cyprus and the United Arab Emirates have left their posts – and fighting between government backed forces and rebel groups continues in Damascus, Hezbollah has offered safe refuge to Assad in the event that his regime is removed from power. The Al-Gomhoriih report states that Nasrallah has offered Assad a safe haven inside Iran’s embassy in Lebanon. Read more ..


Broken Government

Geithner Defends Actions on Libor Rate

July 25th 2012

Tim Geithner

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told lawmakers Wednesday that he did his part to address concerns over the rigging of a key interest rate, saying enforcement of the matter fell to other regulators.

Geithner was pressed by several Republican lawmakers on why, when he was in charge of the New York Federal Reserve Bank in 2008, he did not do more to press concerns that the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor) was being manipulated by banks. Geithner argued the New York Fed played its part when it informed other regulators both in the United States and the United Kingdom of the problem, a point he has made in the past.

"We brought those concerns to their attention and we felt, and I still believe this, that we felt it would be on them to fix this," he told the House Financial Services Committee. "At the New York Fed, I believe ... we did the necessary, appropriate thing very early in the process," he added later.

Regulators are investigating concerns that the rate, which is used as a benchmark for a wide range of lending products, may have been manipulated by the banks responsible for setting it. British bank Barclays paid nearly half a billion dollars earlier this month to settle charges with U.S. and U.K. regulators that it worked to manipulate the rate for years. The Libor is set based on interbank lending reports from a group of 18 banks, including three based in the U.S., and is monitored by the British Bankers Association. Barclays has since indicated that other banks conspired to rig the rate, and lawmakers and regulators are digging in on when the issue first arose and how it continued. Read more ..


Mali on Edge

Malian Militias Unite to 'Liberate the North'

July 24th 2012

mali uprising mar 2012

Six armed militias in Mali have joined forces and say they will retake the country's north from Islamist and rebel groups in control of the territory since April.

The Patriotic Forces of Resistance [FPR] says it will fight the Islamist militants and Tuareg separatists who seized control of northern Mali following a chaotic military coup four months ago. The FPR, the force's French initials, includes the northern Ganda Koy militia headed by Harouna Toure.

Toure says the armed movements making up the FPR were born out of the occupation and most are led by northerners. He said the movements decided to join forces to allow them to, in his words, "very rapidly" push out the occupiers. The Malian army is struggling to reorganize following the coup. West African leaders have opened separate negotiations with the two main occupying forces and are preparing a regional military intervention, should talks fail. Read more ..


Nigeria on Edge

Flooding in Nigeria Kills at Least 35

July 24th 2012

Nigera flood

Rescue workers in central Nigeria continue to search for survivors of flooding that has killed at least 35 people and destroyed hundreds of homes. Rescue workers say dozens of residents are missing after a flash flood early Monday left hundreds homeless and at least 35 dead in the central Nigerian city of Jos.

The flood waters are receding, but residents said the tragedy is far from over.  Families searched their homes for salvageable belongings on Tuesday, while others mourned the loss of loved ones.

Abdullhamid Useni lost seven of his children. He says the family was sleeping when the flood waters came.  He says they tried, but could not get everyone out.  He says he has recovered six of the children's bodies, but the house collapsed Monday before he could reach the last one.  The family is hungry, he says, and needs food. He was visibly shaken, but said he must take care of the surviving members of his family before he can mourn his lost children. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

President Obama Will Visit Israel in Second Term

July 23rd 2012

Obama and flags

President Obama will travel to Israel if he's elected to a second term, a campaign aide said Monday. “We can expect him to visit Israel in a second term should he be elected," Colin Kahl, the former deputy assistant secretary of Defense for the Middle East, said on a conference call with reporters.

Obama has been criticized for not visiting the Middle Eastern ally since a trip during the 2008 election. Republican candidate Mitt Romney will visit the country during a trip that will begin later this week, and he plans to meet with Israeli leaders including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Romney has also said, if elected, his first foreign visit would be to Israel.

On Monday, former U.N. ambassador John Bolton blasted the president for not scheduling a trip during his first term. “Obama has been in office three and a half years, and he has had time to do more fundraisers than any other first-term American president, has probably played more rounds of golf than any other president since Dwight Eisenhower, and yet he has not had time to fit into his busy schedule even one trip to Israel," Bolton told WABC Radio's Aaron Klein. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

New Report Reveals Many Red Flags before Fort Hood terrorist attack

July 23rd 2012

Fort Hood putz
US Army Major Nidal Hasan

The U.S. Army officer who emerged as the deadly Fort Hood shooter in 2009 -- killing 12 soldiers and one civilian -- had displayed several "red flags" indicating that he had been proselytized by radical Islamists and posed a threat to his fellow officers and to enlisted men and women wherever he was posted, according to a government report released on July 19.

Major Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist assigned to Fort Hood, Texas, will stand trial in military court on Aug. 20, 2012, for indiscriminately shooting and killing 13 victims and wounding 33 others during his one-man-jihad, according to FBI, Pentagon and news reports.

While at first many believed that the killing spree was the act of a madman, investigators began to discover links between Maj. Hasan and radical Islam as practiced by terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Israel's Mossad Hunts Iranian-backed Terrorists Targeting London Olympics

July 22nd 2012

Hamas Terrorists

Iranian agents are planning an attack against Israeli athletes at this summer's Olympic games in London, Israeli officials fear. Agents from Israel’s elite intelligence organisation, Mossad, are hunting Iranian-backed terrorists in Europe, who are allegedly planning an “anniversary” attack 40 years after the Munich massacre, Britain's The Sunday Times reports. Concerns have only grown after an attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria last week that left five dead and 32 wounded. Israel has blamed Iranian-backed Hezbollah for the attack. This summer is the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Munich Olympics, where Palestinian terrorists abducted and murdered Israeli athletes during the summer games.

Israel has intelligence indicating that Iran's Quds Force – largely regarded as Tehran's hit squad – was planning to use a suicide bomber against Israeli targets overseas. According to the report, the Mossad agents sent to [Bulgaria] informed both Jerusalem [and] the agency's London station of the discovery. The Israeli Olympic mission has already arrived in London. The past few months has seen Israel detect – and thwart – several terror plots against Israelis, most recently one in Cyprus and one in South Africa. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Troops Bombard Locations Across Country

July 22nd 2012

syrian explosion

A Syrian watchdog group says government troops are bombarding locations across the country. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports Sunday that government bombardments are under way in the capital, Damascus, as well as the provinces of Homs and Deir Izzor.  The Observatory says the "sounds of rockets and heavy vehicles" have been heard in the Mazzah district in Damascus. Clashes between government and rebel forces have also been reported in Aleppo province.

Meanwhile, rebel forces said Sunday they have captured the al-Salam boarder crossing, north of Aleppo, days after taking another crossing along the Turkish border. Turkey has registered more than 43,000 refugees from Syria, but many others are believed to have crossed into Turkish territory without being counted. The United Nations has reported an estimated 30,000 Syrians have crossed into Lebanon since Thursday. Authorities in Iraq say about 1,000 people arrived from Damascus by air, while thousands more people trying to escape the escalating violence arrived from Syria by land. Read more ..

The Violent Edge

Gun Control Calls Follow Colorado Theater Shootings

July 21st 2012

Guns for sale

A handful of Democrats are pressing for tougher gun laws in the wake of the Colorado movie theater shootings that left 12 people dead. Moving such bills has become extraordinarily difficult on Capitol Hill because of powerful gun rights allegiances, however, and Republican strategists predicted the latest gun violence was unlikely to lead to significant changes.

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) — whose husband was killed and son seriously injured in a 1993 shooting on a Long Island commuter train — told reporters on Friday that the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other opponents of gun control have a simple but effective strategy following gun violence tragedies.

“They will wait it out, wait it out, wait it out, until people forget about it again, until another tragedy happens like last night,” said McCarthy. “We should be proactive before another tragedy happens. "There are ways of doing this without infringing upon anyone's rights,” she said. Read more ..


The Edge of Crime

Batman Movie-Goers Killed by Crazed Gunman at Colorado theater

July 20th 2012

Batman cinema shooting

A casual night at the movies turned deadly at a theater outside the western U.S. city of Denver, Colorado early Friday morning Police say man opened fire during the premiere of the latest Batman movie, The Dark Night Rises, killing at least 14 people and wounding 50 others. A large audience was watching the debut of the new action adventure film based on the popular Batman comic book character, at a movie theater in the Denver suburb of Aurora. Police Chief Dan Oates says a man appeared in the front of the theater and released a device filled with gas, then began opening fire on the crowd.

Aurora Police Chief Daniel Oates talks to media at Aurora Mall where as many as 14 people were killed and many injured at a shooting at the Century 16 movie theater, July 20, 2012. ​​"Police officers responded and found the gunman in the back of the theater outside in the parking lot in a car in possession of a gas mask, and at least a rifle and a handgun. At least one additional weapon was found inside. The shooting apparently went on for some time, " Oates said. Read more ..


The Coal Problem

GOP Seeks to Kill Black Lung Reform

July 19th 2012

Black lung

House Republicans inserted language in a budget bill unveiled Tuesday that would kill a proposed rule to protect coal miners from dust that causes black lung.

Democrats on the House Committee on Appropriations objected, saying in a statement, “Recent reporting by NPR and the Center for Public Integrity has highlighted the need for more effective ‘black lung’ disease prevention efforts as there has been a resurgence of the disease among coal miners.”

The Center-NPR investigation found that, after decades of decline, black lung is making a comeback, increasingly afflicting younger miners with a more severe, faster-progressing form of the disease. The system for monitoring miners’ exposure to dust is riddled with loopholes, and regulators have sometimes failed to enforce even these rules. Mining companies have taken advantage of a self-policing system to manipulate dust sampling results for decades.

In 2010, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration proposed a rule that would close some loopholes, though it would still leave much of the sampling in the hands of mining companies. Last December, House Republicans inserted language in a previous budget bill that would have barred any money from being spent to implement the rule until the Government Accountability Office evaluated whether the proposal was necessary. That study is on track to be released in August. The insertion of a paragraph into the new Labor Department’s budget bill goes further, barring the agency from using any money to continue developing the rule, issuing it or enforcing it. Read more ..


Chavez on Edge

Chavez Warns Venezuelans that Civil War will Ensue Should He lose at the Polls

July 18th 2012

Hugo Chavez infirm

Venezuela's avowed socialist President, Hugo Chavez, cautioned voters that should he lose in the upcoming presidential election on the Oct. 7, 2012, a civil war is likely to erupt.

"If the right-wing's presidential candidate gets into (office), it would put an end to the social programs promoted during 14 years of government, and as a result the country would enter into a civil war," Chavez said on Saturday, according to the state-run Venezuelan News Agency (AVN).

AVN interviewed Chavez on television about the upcoming election against his only rival, conservative Henrique Capriles.

A former state governor, Capriles is the candidate of the Venezuelan coalition party made up of moderate, conservative and pro-capitalist groups.

"As occurs in the U.S. with progressives, Chavez labels the pro-business coalition as 'right-wing,'" said geopolitical expert Dr. Saul Bernstein Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Suicide Bombing Kills Syrian Defense Minister

July 18th 2012

Day of Rage in Syria Urged

Syrian state television says a suicide bomber has struck the National Security building in Damascus, killing the country's defense minister Daoud Rajha and seriously wounding several other officials. Reports say the deputy defense minister, Assef Shawkat, was also killed. Shawkat was brother-in-law to President Bashar al-Assad.

Wednesday's attack took place during a meeting of top government officials. The attack Wednesday comes amid days of clashes between rebels and government troops in the capital. It has been the heaviest period of fighting in the city since the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad began 16 months ago. Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council is expected to vote Wednesday on a resolution that would extend the U.N. observer mission in Syria.

The mission's mandate expires Friday, and the Council has been divided over whether a new resolution should include a threat of sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad's government. Britain, France, Germany and the United States are pushing for a 45-day renewal of the U.N. observer mission in Syria along with a threat of sanctions. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

Clinton Meets Israeli, Palestinian Leaders

July 17th 2012

Hilary Clinton

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is wrapping up a 12-day, nine-country tour with a stop in Jerusalem, where on Monday she discussed a broad range of issues with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials. Secretary Clinton held a day of talks with Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during her first visit to Jerusalem in nearly two years. Iran’s nuclear program was high on the agenda.  Israeli officials warned that Iran is using talks with the West to buy time to build a nuclear weapon, which Israel sees as a threat to its existence.

Clinton said Israel and the United States agree on Iran's nuclear program. “We all prefer a diplomatic resolution, and Iran’s leaders still have the opportunity to make the right decision.  Our own choice is clear.  We will use of all elements of American power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Clinton said. Israel has threatened to attack Iran if diplomacy fails.

Clinton held separate talks with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on reviving peace talks with Israel that have been stalled for more than three years.  The Palestinians have refused to return to the negotiating table until Israel stops all settlement construction.  Israel says peace talks should resume without preconditions. Speaking at a Jerusalem news conference, Clinton said the United States will continue efforts toward a Mideast peace. "We remain focused on the resumption of direct negotiations since we believe that is the only route to a lasting, stable peace. The United States can help. We stand ready to do so, but it’s up to the parties to do the hard work for peace,” Clintons said.

Israeli President Shimon Peres, who also met with Clinton, agreed. “We should not give up hope. We shouldn’t stop. We should be consistent. We should be determined. The Palestinians don't have a better alternative. We don't have a better alternative,” Peres said. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

US Navy Fires on Suspicious Vessel in Persian Gulf

July 16th 2012

USS Rappahannock
USS Rappahannock

According to news sources in India, an Indian fisherman was killed by U.S. Navy gunfire when his fishing boat drew too close to the USS Rappahannock, a U.S. Navy refueling vessel, on July 16. An official of the United Arab Emirates, which is investigating the incident, said that there were four Indian nationals and two Emirate nationals on board what the U.S. Navy described as a small craft. "The services concerned are now investigating this incident," UAE's official news agency WAM quoted Foreign Ministry official Tareq Amed al-Hidan as saying.

Three Indian fishermen were injured in the incident. They had been working for Dubai fishing companies as day laborers. Lt Greg Raelson, a spokesman for US Navy's Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, said a security team aboard the USNS Rappahannock fired from a .50-calibre machinegun on the boat after it disregarded verbal warnings and warning shots. "The U.S. crew repeatedly attempted to warn the vessel's operators to turn away from their deliberate approach. When those efforts failed to deter the approaching vessel, the security team on the Rappahannock fired rounds from a .50-caliber machine gun," he said in an emailed response. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Russia Says Push For Syria Sanctions By West Is 'Blackmail'

July 16th 2012

Machine Gun Bunker

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused Western countries of trying to "blackmail" Russia to secure a new UN Security Council resolution that would threaten sanctions against Syria. Speaking at the start of talks with international envoy Kofi Annan, Lavrov told reporters in Moscow that Western countries have threatened to discontinue a 300-strong UN monitoring mission in Syria if Russia does not agree to sanctions.

"To our great regret, we are seeing elements of blackmail," Lavrov said. "We are being told, 'If you do not agree to the passing of [a UN Security Council resolution envisioning sanctions against the Syrian regime] under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, then we shall refuse to extend the mandate of the observer mission. We consider it an absolutely counterproductive and dangerous approach, since it is unacceptable to use observers as a bargaining chip." Lavrov also said it is "unrealistic" for the West to expect Russia to ask its longtime ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to step down. Read more ..


Broken Government

Postal Rescue Bill Stall in Congress

July 15th 2012

Mail Room

The House’s delay in considering a postal reform bill is sparking concerns that the rescue of the U.S. Postal Service could be delayed until after the November elections — or even until the next Congress.

Republicans signaled last week that the House would likely not vote before the August recess on a postal bill from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the Oversight Committee chairman, and Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.).

Senators and outside industry observers decried that holdup, saying that any delay reduces the chances of lawmakers coming together on a broad postal reform package. The Senate passed its own postal reform bill in April, and key senators are waiting to negotiate a compromise bill with the House. “The longer the House delays reforming the Postal Service, the more likely it is that nothing happens,” said Art Sackler of the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, a group that represents the private-sector mailing industry.  Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Assad's Government Again Denies Killing Civilians in Syria

July 15th 2012

syria-killing

The Syrian government denied July 15 that it used tanks and helicopters to attack the village of Tremseh in Hama province on June 12. Activists reported mass killings in the village, but a government spokesman said only two civilians and 37 armed individuals were killed in what Damascus said was a defensive operation. The U.N. observers were at Tremseh on June 15 investigating events.

U.N. military and civilian observers entered Tremseh for a second consecutive day on Sunday to try to verify reports of a military operation on the village. On Saturday, the U.N. supervision mission, known by its acronym UNSMIS, confirmed an attack had taken place using a variety of weapons, including artillery, mortars and small arms. At a news conference in Damascus Sunday, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Jihad Makdissi denied the army had used tanks, helicopters and heavy weapons to target the town. He said yes, there was a massacre. What happened, he said, was not an attack by the army on innocent civilians but a clash between regular forces and armed groups. Read more ..


The New Egypt

Clinton to Visit Egypt as Relations Change

July 14th 2012

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Egypt over the weekend to meet the nation's first freely elected president, Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood whose Islamist followers want to reassess the previously close relations between Washington and Cairo.

Clinton's visit, scheduled to begin Sunday, comes as many Egyptians are increasingly concerned about what they consider American interference in the domestic affairs of this Arab nation of more than 80 million people. High on the agenda for the secretary of state's meeting with President Morsi are likely to be Egypt's political transition, its struggling economy, its peace treaty with Israel, and U.S. aid totaling more than $1 billion a year. Read more ..


The Climate Edge

Dems Use Wildfires to Call for Hearings on Climate Change

July 13th 2012

Wildfire

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), a top House Democrat, is urging the Energy and Commerce Committee's Republican majority to hold a hearing that explores links between climate change and extreme weather.

The request, spelled out in a letter Friday, is a sign that Democrats and environmentalists hope to translate the recent record-setting heatwaves into political momentum for efforts to battle global warming.

It asks Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) to convene a hearing “on the recent wildfires and extreme weather events the United States has experienced and the role global climate change played in these events.”

Waxman, the committee’s top Democrat, notes that Republicans have declined repeated requests over the past year to hold hearings on climate science. Read more ..


The Iran Threat

US Beefs Up Naval Assets in the Gulf

July 12th 2012

B2 Momber Kitty Hawk

The United States is beefing up its naval presence in the Persian Gulf, an indication perhaps of future military conflict or a clear threat to Iran, which has threatened to close the vital Strait of Hormuz should economic sanctions bite too hard.

A Washington-state newspaper reports that the USS Stenis, an aircraft carrier, is returning to service much sooner than expected. "The ship came home to Naval Base Kitsap on March 2 after seven months of launching planes into Iraq and Afghanistan. Generally, it wouldn't go back to the Fifth Fleet area of responsibility for four to five years, after a deployment to the Western Pacific and a maintenance period. But with Iran making threats, crew members learned Saturday they'll be leaving again in late August for eight months."

In addition to the Stenis, two U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups are now in the Middle East and the Navy has doubled the number of minesweepers in the region, to eight. The Los Angeles Times reports:  "The Navy is rushing dozens of unmanned underwater craft to the Persian Gulf to help detect and destroy mines in a major military buildup aimed at preventing Iran from closing the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the event of a crisis, U.S. officials said." Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Romney to Lay Out Middle East Policies on Two Day Israel Trip

July 12th 2012

mitt romney

Two days after arriving in London for the Summer Olympics’ opening ceremony later this month, Mitt Romney will lay out his Middle East policies and host a fundraiser during a two day stay in Israel, according to the Jerusalem Post. The fundraiser will include a small group of people willing to pay at least $60,000 per plate, the Post reports.  Romney’s stay in Jerusalem, which will begin on July 29, will also include meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres.

Directly after the fundraising event, the presumed Republican nominee for President will host a conference in Jerusalem to lay out his approach to the pressing issues of the Middle East.  The subject of Jonathan Pollard – the Texas born intelligence analyst who was convicted by the United States of spying for Israel – will also be on the agenda, according to Jonny Daniels, an Israeli based political consultant.

Romney has stated in the past that he would be willing to examine Pollard’s case if he reaches the White House. It’s going to be a statesmanlike visit, because [Romney] needs to be careful about how everything is perceived,” Daniels told The Post. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Iran's Missiles Nat Be More Lethal and Accurate, Says Penatgon

July 11th 2012

Karrar UAV

Read more ..

Faster and More Furious

AG Eric Holder Announces Indictments in Fast and Furious Murder case

July 10th 2012

Brian Terry
Brian Terry

Following public outcry over a perceived cover-up and a charge of contempt of Congress, Attorney General Eric Holder announced on July 9 that five Mexican nationals suspected of murdering U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry were indicted in Tucson, Arizona. The indictment charging the five suspects was unsealed, plus a reward of up to $1 million was announced by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for information leading to the arrest of four fugitives, according to Justice Department officials.

However, many law enforcement officers believe this is merely a rehashed news story to attempt to sway Americans into believing the Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry's murder case is a priority for President Barack Obama and his embattled Attorney General.

"Reading the press statements emanating from the feds reveals most of details occurred in 2011 and 2010. This is another example of the Obama administration's politically-motivated actions. [Holder] is attempting to help with the re-election of a failed president and save his own job," said former NYPD police detective Samuel Robinson, an African American law enforcement veteran. Read more ..


Healthcare onEdge

Repealing Health Law: More Benefits for Members of Congress

July 9th 2012

medicine and money

Repealing President Obama’s healthcare law would let members of Congress keep their government-subsidized insurance coverage after they retire — a benefit they lost under the health law. The Affordable Care Act — specifically, a Republican amendment to the Affordable Care Act — kicked members of Congress and their aides out of the healthcare program for federal employees.

Instead, lawmakers and staff have to get coverage through the insurance exchanges created by the healthcare law. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who championed that provision, said it ensures that lawmakers live under the same rules as their constituents.

Now, as the House prepares to vote on a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, some Democrats are arguing that repeal would reinstate a two-tiered system that gives lawmakers a leg up.
“Repeal looks like it’s worse than anyone would have thought,” a Democratic official said. “Not only are Republicans helping their insurance company donors, they’re also trying to help themselves. House Republicans are set to repeal the promise that members of Congress have health care just like everyone else and to restart the perk of lifetime government health care for themselves.”

Before the Affordable Care Act became law, with Grassley’s amendment attached, members and their staffs bought insurance through the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program (FEHBP). They would return to the FEHBP if the law is repealed, the Democratic official said. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Democrat Candidate continues Campaign Despite Anti-Semitic Remarks

July 9th 2012

Evelyn Garcia Debbie Wasserman
Evelyn Garcia and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz

The Floridian Democratic National Committee (DNC) member whose e-mails exposed a deep disdain for Israel called it quits over the weekend, the JTA reports.

Evelyn Garcia apologized and resigned her post at the DNC, which she has held since 2008.

"In passionately advocating my position supporting the rights of people I felt were being harmed, I used language that I now regret,” she said in a released statement. “The gist of the conversation had to do with my concern for innocent people being oppressed, but such support for the oppressed does not diminish my support for the good people of Israel.”

Despite leaving the DNC, Garcia has not yet ended her bid for the Florida House of Representatives. One of four remaining candidates, her district includes the heavily Jewish populated area of Palm Beach.

The e-mails, first released by BizPacReview, expose a vitriol and disgust with Israel and the Jews that is hard to deny. In one she writes, “by supporting Israeli occupation with US foreign aid, we are all complicit and guilty of their crimes against humanity.” She goes on to write, “Palestinians had nothing to do with the Holocaust and it’s about time this guilt trip was taken off their backs.” Read more ..


The Edge of Justice

Sen. Reid Defends Holder, Blasts GOP Lawmakers

July 8th 2012

Harry Reid

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) blasted Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives for holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress and attempting to try him in federal criminal court, according to a press statement released on Friday.

“Instead of focusing on jobs, House Republicans are pursuing a political witch hunt against the Obama administration and Attorney General Eric Holder,” Reid said in a statement.

“I support Attorney General Holder, who has done an outstanding job protecting our nation and prosecuting threats to our national security. The attorney general has cooperated with the House, but it’s clear that no amount of cooperation will ever be enough for Tea Party-driven House Republicans,” Reid added.

Top conservative talk show host Mark Levin, who served as chief of staff at the U.S. Justice Department during the Reagan administration, often calls the Nevada senator "Harry 'the body odor' Reid," a reference to one of Reid's remarks about tourists visiting the Capitol who emit a foul odor.

"Reid often makes astounding comments, but because he's a Democrat he's never suffered politically by having wall-to-wall news coverage of his remarks," said political strategist Mike Baker. For example, the Senate Majority Leader had to apologize for making racist comments during the 2008 presidential campaign. According to reporters Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, in a discussion with candidate Barack Obama, Reid told him that he would be a success since he was "light skinned" and spoke with no "Negro dialect." Read more ..


Broken Government

ALEC Faces Challenge to Tax-Exmpt Status

July 7th 2012

Lobbyist

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) “elevates commercial gain for a few over the well-being of society’s less fortunate,” says a complaint penned by Marcus Owens, the former chief of the Internal Revenue Service’s nonprofit corporations division, on behalf of Clergy VOICE, a group of ministers from progressive churches in Ohio.

ALEC has attracted attention recently for its model “stand your ground” and voter ID laws which led major corporate backers like Coca Cola and Kraft Foods Inc. to drop their membership in the face of a threatened boycott by activists. The Florida gun law became a hot topic following the slaying of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teen, by a neighborhood watch volunteer in February.

Until recently, ALEC has enjoyed a low profile, despite its substantial influence over legislation in the nation’s statehouses. The group claims on its website that it has helped craft close to 1,000 bills introduced by state lawmakers and that “an average of 20 percent become law.” Read more ..


The Economy on Edge

A Tepid Job Market Recovery Continues

July 7th 2012

Unemployment Line in California

Private sector employment grew for the 28th consecutive month in June, but it rose just 84,000. The pace of payroll growth was about half the average rate of gain in the preceding 27 months. Declines in government employment offset some of the June growth in private payrolls, so total employment rose by only 80,000. Since April, net job gains in the BLS employer survey have averaged 75,000 a month, a pace that is too slow to keep the unemployment rate from rising. Job growth averaging between 90,000 and 100,000 a month is needed to hold the unemployment rate constant.

The Labor Department’s household survey offers a brighter picture of job gains in May and June. The number of adults reporting they hold a job increased 128,000 in June following an estimated employment gain of 422,000 in May. Since January the household survey has shown employment growth averaging 156,000 a month, about one-quarter faster than the pace of job gain shown in the BLS employer survey. Neither survey shows a robust or sustained improvement in employer demand since the start of the year. If the economy were near full employment, the pace of job gains would be neither surprising nor disappointing. In an economy in which the unemployment rate has exceeded 8.0 percent for 41 months, however, the job gains represent an intense disappointment. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Republicans Re-Group and Finesse their Message following Obamacare Decision

July 7th 2012

US Capital Day

The Supreme Court ruling on healthcare reform has upended the parties’ messaging war, and led to a series of adjustments on both sides of the aisle. Republicans, still reeling from the conservative-leaning court’s decision to uphold President Obama’s signature law, are looking to regain their political legs. Democrats, who were pummeled by the GOP over the last couple of years on healthcare, are going on offense. House GOP leadership officials have scheduled a floor vote on repealing the law next week in what will represent the opening of a new chapter in the intense message battle.

Throughout the 2009 and 2010 debate on the bill, Democrats were divided on what direction to pursue on healthcare. Republicans, meanwhile, were united in their opposition. The political dynamic continued after Obama signed the unpopular measure into law, evidenced by the GOP’s historic electoral victories in 2010. But now, Republicans are fractured on whether the individual mandate is a tax or a penalty, and are openly worried that they are running out of time in their quest to repeal “ObamaCare.”

In this new round, Republicans face newly empowered Democrats eager for a second chance to convince the public on the merits of the law. Democrats are also anxious to exploit weaknesses in the GOP’s presumptive presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, who played into opponents’ hands this week when his campaign veered from the party line on the ruling. The floor vote in the House could open Republicans up to charges that they are losing their focus on the economy, especially in light of a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll that found political independents are tiring of the debate. Read more ..


Transpotation on Edge

Obama Signs Highway Bill

July 6th 2012

Traffic Jam

President Obama signed a $105 billion transportation bill on Friday, bringing to an end a three-year fight over road and transit spending. The bill signing capped a day that began with an unemployment report showing the U.S. economy had added only 80,000 jobs in June, leaving the national unemployment rate unchanged at 8.2 percent.

Obama has touted the highway bill as a jobs bill, and at the White House signing ceremony he was surrounded by construction workers and students. The ceremony began after the president concluded a two-day campaign trip through the swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania. “First of all, this bill will keep thousands of construction workers on the job rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure,” Obama said in a quick speech delivered less than an hour after he landed at Andrews Air Force base in suburban Washington.

“Second, this bill will keep interest rates on federal student loans from doubling this year, which would have hit nearly seven and a half million students with an average of $1,000 more on their loan payments,” he continued. “These steps are going to make a real difference in the lives of millions of Americans.” Republicans had sharply criticized the president for the unemployment numbers on Friday. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

President Launches Bus Tour in Key Swing States

July 5th 2012

Obama Campaign 2012

President Obama launches a bus tour Thursday through two battleground states crucial to his reelection bid. Obama’s focus during the trip through Ohio and Pennsylvania is the economy, and it begins a day before a critical monthly report on jobs — an event the White House is awaiting with some anxiety after May's figures fell far short of analysts' predictions.

The “Betting on America" tour is a nod to the near-certainty that November's elections will hinge on jobs, housing and other economic indicators despite the recent fervor from both parties over the Supreme Court's surprise verdict to uphold Obama's healthcare reform law. Rather than sitting on his heels for those employment numbers, Obama's schedule hints at a campaign that wants to get out in front of any bad economic news that might be forthcoming. Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said the president will use the tour both to tout his economic recovery efforts and to attack Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, on his record atop Bain Capital, a private equity firm that's come under fire for buying up struggling companies and streamlining them, often by firing employees. Read more ..


The Climate Edge

Extreme Weather Costs EU’s Transport at Least €15 Billion Annually

July 4th 2012

Blizzard

A study carried out by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland indicates that extreme weather conditions cost EU transport system at least €15 billion a year. Currently, the greatest costs incurred are from road accidents, with the associated material damage and psychological suffering. However, costs arising from accidents are expected to decrease in volume, though time-related costs attributable to delays are projected to increase. In part, this is due to climate change, whose impact on extreme weather phenomena was addressed in the study, and because of consequent costs.

In the study conducted by VTT and EWENT project partners, researchers calculated the costs, caused by extreme weather phenomena for the transport system, its users and customers of freight carriers in the 27 EU member states. This marks the first time calculations have been completed on this scale and scope. The study shows that the mode of traffic most vulnerable to extreme weather is road traffic. It continues to have a higher volume than the other modes, with the additional factor of not being centralised or professionally controlled, in contrast to rail or aviation. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

House GOP Wants Chief of Failed Solar Firm to Testify

July 3rd 2012

Solar panels

House Republicans want the CEO of the bankrupt company Abound Solar to testify at a hearing this month, a sign of GOP plans to continue shining the political spotlight on the struggles of the Energy Department’s loan program.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Republicans have asked CEO Craig Witsoe and his predecessor, Tom Tiller, to appear at a July 18 hearing.

The Colorado-based maker of advanced solar panels, which has drawn $70 million in federal loans, filed for bankruptcy Monday and will liquidate.

Trent Waterhouse, an Abound spokesman, noted Witsoe has appeared before the committee in the past and added, “it would be his intention to cooperate again.” Witsoe appeared at a May 16 hearing of the government spending subcommittee, which will also hold the upcoming hearing. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the panel's chairman, sent Witsoe a July 2 letter asking him to appear. Abound is the second Energy Department-backed manufacturer of solar panels to go belly-up. Solyndra, which had won a $535 million loan guarantee in 2009, collapsed last year.  Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Saudi Student Convicted of Terrorism in Texas

July 2nd 2012

jail door blue

A federal jury in Texas convicted a Saudi Arabian citizen, living in the U.S. on a student visa, of attempting to create a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) as part of his plot to attack various targets in the United States, according to a Justice Department statement released yesterday.

One of the Saudi terrorist's main goals was the bombing of former President George W. Bush's home, according to court testimony. Khalid Aldawsari, a matriculated student at South Plains College in the Lubbock area, in an e-mail referred to President Bush's Dallas home as a "tyrant's house."

Testimony during Aldawsari's trial in Amarillo, revealed to the jurors that the 22-year-old Saudi had been visiting Internet web sites in order to learn how to build an improvised explosive device (IED), using easy-to-obtain chemicals, according to federal law enforcement officials. Courtroom testimony also revealed that Aldawsari conducted research on the Internet regarding targets throughout the United States.

In addition, law enforcement agents stated that Aldawsari had written blog entries about his ambition of "violent jihad and martyrdom." "[Wednesday's] guilty verdict shows how individuals in the Untied States with the intent to do harm can acquire the knowledge and materials necessary to carry out an attack," Special Agent in Charge Diego Rodriguez of the Dallas FBI field office said in a statement.

A diary found at Aldawsari's apartment revealed that he had come to the U.S. in order to commit terrorist acts and he even boasted of how the scholarship he received "will help tremendously in providing me with the support I need for jihad." Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Possible Treatment to Reduce Scarring Discovered

July 1st 2012

Lighting a candle against the darkness

Whether from surgery or battle wounds, ugly scars can affect body and mind. Now a new research report offers a new strategy to reduce or eliminate scars on the skin. Specifically, scientists from NYU describe how agents that block receptors for adenosine (a molecule generated from ATP which is used by the body to provide energy to muscles) can be applied topically to healing wounds to reduce scar size, yielding skin that feels more like the original, unscarred skin.

"Scars can be disfiguring and, if extensive enough, can lead to diminished function and quality of life," said Bruce N. Cronstein, M.D., a researcher involved in the work from the Division of Translational Medicine in the Department of Medicine at New York University School of Medicine in New York, NY. "We hope that our findings may lead to new agents that diminish scarring and disfigurement following burns, wounds, or even illnesses that destroy skin and lead to a better quality of life for victims of these traumas."

When the skin or other tissues are wounded, ATP leaks from the damaged cells and is then converted to adenosine which promotes healing. Scars form when adenosine continues to be produced at the wound site after the injury is healed, leading to larger, thicker scars than what may have otherwise been there. Read more ..



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