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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 ..


Broken Borders

Sheriff Arpaio: I Will Enforce State Laws

July 1st 2012

Joe Arpaio

Following the U.S. Supreme Court decision on immigration enforcement and the Obama Administration response -- that includes a special hotline for complaints against Arizona law enforcement officers who dare to enforce immigration laws -- controversial Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio gave President Barack Obama and his minions a "virtual raspberry" and defiantly announced, "I'm going to enforce our state laws."

The most controversial provision of the much maligned Arizona immigration law, a provision that requires police check the status of anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally, was the only provision to be upheld by the nation's highest court on Monday.

However, the high court's ruling is leaving the door open to additional challenges by the Obama White House and Attorney General Eric Holder, who has been investigating Arpaio for years.

"I'm concerned about whether the federal government will pick up the illegal aliens that law enforcement and my office come in contact with. In fact, I predicted this morning they won't, and I just heard that the Homeland Security said they're not going to pick up illegal aliens that the law enforcement comes in contact with on traffic stops," said Sheriff Arpaio during an appearance on Fox News Channel's Your World with Neil Cavuto on Tuesday. Read more ..


Broken Government

AG Holder denounces 'Political' Vote on Contempt Charges

June 29th 2012

Eric Holder gesturing

Attorney General Eric Holder blasted the House's vote to hold him in contempt and vowed to stay focused on his work at the Department of Justice.

Speaking at a press conference Thursday shortly after the vote concluded, Holder said Republicans and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, held a "politically motivated" vote.

"Today’s vote is the regrettable culmination of what became a misguided — and politically motivated — investigation during an election year. By advancing it over the past year and a half, Congressman Issa and others have focused on politics over public safety," he said. The Republican-controlled House voted 255-67 to hold the attorney general in contempt, the first time in American history that the head of the Justice Department has faced such a sanction. Seventeen Democrats joined the GOP in voting for the resolution. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

The Supremes Validate Obama's Healthcare Reform

June 28th 2012

US Supreme Court

The Supreme Court on June 28 upheld the insurance mandate in President Obama’s healthcare law, a stinging defeat for conservatives who had insisted the law is unconstitutional. The decision vindicates Obama and congressional Democrats, who maintained throughout the legal challenge that even this court, with its conservative majority, would have to break with decades of precedent to overturn the healthcare law.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion for the court in the 5-4 decision on the mandate, ruling that Congress has the authority to enforce the healthcare law’s individual mandate, which will require most U.S. taxpayers to buy insurance or pay a penalty.

Roberts said the mandate could survive as a tax. "Nothing in the Constitution guarantees that individuals may avoid taxation by inactivity," Roberts said from the bench. Roberts tacitly acknowledged the passionate opposition to the healthcare law, but he said policy decisions belong to the elected branches of government, not the court. "It is not our job to save the people from the consequences of their political decisions," he said.

The decision allows Roberts — whose legacy will depend in large part on this case — to avoid the severe repercussions that both sides of the case had feared. The court did not strike down the signature domestic achievement of a sitting president, nor did it give its approval to an expansion of Congress's powers to regulate commerce.

House Republicans, in reaction, announced they would vote on repealing the full law on July 11. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Next Generation WiFi Hotspot Technology Starts Commercial Trials

June 28th 2012

smartphone user

Major operators in Europe are set to carry out advanced tests of a new WiFi standard for easy access hot spots using newly standardized equipment after successful trials using prototype kit over the last six months.

Many of the world’s largest operators and vendors have signed up to test Next Generation Hotspots (NGH) which use the Wi-Fi Passpoint standard approved this week. This allows users to log in without user names and passwords, relying on SIM card and serial number data instead. European operators in the trials include BT, BskyB’s The Cloud, Deutsche Telekom, Everything Everywhere, Orange, Portugal Telecom TMN, Swisscom, Talk Talk, TeliaSonera and Telefónica. Equipment suppliers include Ericsson and Comfone AG as well as Intel, Cisco, HP and Juniper.

The trials will test operator-to-operator billing procedures to ensure that they are compensated when carrying each other’s subscribers and test features that allow users to change their hotspot subscription package or set up a connection. The trials will also test a variety of authentication methods, including SIM-based, for the growing number of smartphones, as well as non-SIM based, for tablets, laptops and legacy phones which cannot support SIM authentication. The methods to be tested are EAP-TLS, EAP-TTLS, EAP-SIM and EAP-AKA. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Obama and Romney in Dead Heat in Battleground States

June 28th 2012

Obama and Romney

A new poll finds President Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney locked in tight races in three key battleground states, but with voters split on the economy.

An NBC News/Marist poll released Thursday shows Obama with a slight edge in Michigan and North Carolina and the two candidates deadlocked in New Hampshire.

But on the central issue for many voters, jobs and the economic recovery, the survey’s findings show openings for both candidates to bolster their support.

In Michigan, voters back Obama on the economy over Romney 44 percent to 42, while Romney holds the edge in New Hampshire, with his policies being favored by 46 percent to the president’s 42. In North Carolina the two are deadlocked with 43 percent backing each contender. "The economy plays both ways in all three states," says Marist College Institute for Public Opinion director Lee Miringoff. Read more ..


Students on Edge

Congress Close to Deal on Student Loan and Transportation Bills

June 27th 2012

College expenses

Congressional leaders on Tuesday moved closer to passing two high-profile bills in what could be the final burst of major legislative activity before the 2012 elections. Senate leaders announced a deal to extend federal subsidies for college loans and floated the possibility of attaching the language to a multiyear transportation authorization measure.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters that he is confident the student loan legislation will pass while pegging the chances of the highway bill at better than 50-50.
Both Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) signaled they are open to combining the bills into one package. They also cautioned that the GOP-led House, where the politics are more delicate on these issues, would have to sign off as well.

The boomlet of activity comes a week after the Senate passed a multiyear farm bill. Earlier this year, the House and Senate cleared legislation on helping start-up businesses, banning insider trading for lawmakers and reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank. Perhaps not coincidentally, approval ratings for Congress have hit 20 percent — more than double what they were during 2011, a year of multiple partisan showdowns. The emerging dynamic is that Senate Republicans are increasingly eager to show they can work with Democrats, which hampers President Obama’s strategy of running against congressional obstructionism. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Obama Uses Crowd’s Boos to Claim High Road Over Romney

June 27th 2012

Obama Campaign 2012

President Obama is exhorting supporters on the campaign trail to avoid rounds of boos or catcalls directed toward his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney. The repeated efforts by Obama — used as recently as Tuesday at an Atlanta fundraiser — are intended to send a signal that he’s heading up a positive campaign even as he runs countless ads excoriating Romney’s business background.

It’s also part of a calculated effort to contrast his handling of the hecklers with Romney’s. The presumptive GOP nominee has witnessed crowds at his events booing Obama but has not sought to quiet them.

And, in an interview on Fox News, Romney would not commit to urging his supporters and staff to stop the heckling. “I can assure you that we do not believe in unilateral disarmament,” he said, echoing earlier comments he made that “if you’re going to be heckling us, why, we’re not going to sit back and play [by] very different rules.”
Like Romney, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the 2008 GOP nominee, faced a slew of belligerent supporters. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Russian Missile Designer and Dissident Flees to the Netherlands

June 27th 2012

Aleksandr Dolmatov
Russian activist Aleksander Dolmatov in Amsterdam.

Russian political activist Aleksander Dolmatov has requested political asylum in the Netherlands, according a report by the Dutch de Volkskrant newspaper and news broadcaster NOS. Dolmatov had been working as a designer for a company that makes tactical missiles for the Russian military. However, Dolmatov claims that his association with a non-registered opposition party led the Russian secret service to persecute and threaten him despite his association with Russia's arms industry.

“A manager at the company where I work told a reporter that they will murder me,” Dolmatov told de Volkskrant via telephone from a government safehouse somewhere in the Netherlands.

According to the Interfax news agency, Alexander Averin - spokesman for the unregistered opposition party "The other Russia" - said "Opposition activist Alexander Dolmatov was forced to leave Russia. He addressed the authorities of the Netherlands with a request of a political asylum."  Read more ..


Islam's War on Christianity

June is the Bloodiest Month: As Promised by Nigeria's Boko Haram Islamists

June 26th 2012

bomb in kaduna nigeria

Nigeria's Christian community was shocked to learn of plans by the Islamic sect known as Boko Haram for an upsurge in the already deadly violence directed at Christians. Boko Haram, which means 'Western learning is un-Islamic,' has issued a threat to make this June "the bloodiest month for Christians." The Islamic sect had already promised to purge northern Nigeria of Christians as part of its effort to eventually impose Muslim religious law over the entire country. Bombs, armed assaults, and directed killings have been used by Boko Haram to rout Christians while also posing an as yet unresolved challenge to the national government.

Boko Haram claims to have trained some three hundred suicide bombers ready to attack Christians at churches in the states of Plateau and Kaduna (southern Nigeria). On June 17, for example, Boko Haram conducted a series of coordinated car bomb attacks at churches as worshippers gathered in Kaduna. Scores of Christians, and Muslims, were killed by the bombings.

Reprisals by Christians ensued in Kaduna, as enraged mobs dragged Muslims from their cars and killed them. Then in the northeastern city of Damaturu, Muslims went on the rampage to avenge the deaths of their co-religionists in Kaduna and elsewhere. The Nigerian army imposed a curfew but fighting continued sporadically, preventing medical teams and emergency personnel from aiding the wounded. Read more ..


Broken Government

Democrats portray Contempt Charges against AG Holder as Assault on Minorities

June 26th 2012

US Capital Day

Democrats are seeking to portray the Republican contempt motion against Attorney General Eric Holder as an assault on minority rights. Republicans have repeatedly accused Holder and the Obama administration of stonewalling Congress, but Democrats are now trying to steer the “Fast and Furious” debate away from transparency and toward voter suppression.

At the front of the push is a group of seven national civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, that is scheduled to hold a press conference on June 26 about the effect that placing Holder in contempt of Congress would have on his ability to protect the rights of black and Hispanic voters, homeowners and immigrants. “I’m not saying that this is because Holder is black, and I’m not calling [Republicans] racists. I’m saying what they’re doing has a racial effect, and that’s what we’re going to talk about [on June 26],” said Sharpton in a phone interview.

“The question one would have to raise is: If he is held in contempt, under that cloud, how does he fight for voter rights? This compromises the Justice Department from being able to do a lot of fighting.” Read more ..


The New Egypt

Gaza Celebrates while Israel is Concerned about Islamist Victory in Egypt

June 25th 2012

Sheikh Ismael Haneiya
Former Hamas Prime Minister Sheikh Ismael Haneiya (c).

The victory by a Muslim Brotherhood candidate in presidential elections in Egypt is raising concern in neighboring Israel.

Israel says it respects the outcome of the democratic process in Egypt, in which Islamist candidate Mohammed Morsi was elected president. A statement by the prime minister’s Office in Jerusalem Sunday said Israel hopes the new Egyptian administration will respect the 33-year-old peace treaty between the two countries, which Israel says “contributes to regional stability.”

But some Israeli analysts and media are warning that the peace treaty is in jeopardy.

“I think they will try to kind of freeze or to minimize the agreement,” said Zvi Mazel, a former Israeli ambassador to Cairo. He says Morsi is a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, which traditionally has been hostile toward Israel. “It is an Islamic, extremist movement. They have said they hate Israel; they would like to see Israel wiped off the map.” Read more ..



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