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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 ..

Human Rights and Arms

U.S. Points Finger, and Arms Exports, at Human Rights Abusers

June 24th 2012

The People Want Human Rights in SA
Saudi protester with sign: 'The people want human rights'

Every May and June, different branches of the State Department paint contrasting portraits of how Washington views dozens of strategically significant countries around the world, in seemingly rivalrous reports by its Human Rights and Political-Military Affairs bureaus.

The former routinely criticizes other nations for a lack of fealty to democratic principles, citing abuses of the right to expression, assembly, speech and political choice. The latter tallies the government’s latest successes in the export of American weaponry, often to the same countries criticized by the former.

This year was no different. The State Department’s Military Assistance Report on June 8 stated that it approved $44.28 billion in arms shipments to 173 nations in the last fiscal year, including some that struggled with human rights problems. These nations include the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Israel, Djibouti, Honduras, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain.

Three nations with records of suppressing democratic dissent in the last year — Algeria, Egypt, and Peru — are listed in the report as recently receiving U.S. firearms, armored vehicles, and items from a category that includes chemical and riot control agents like tear gas. The State Department confirmed that U.S. tear gas was delivered to Egypt up to the end of November, but has declined to confirm it was also sent to Algeria and Peru. Read more ..

Broken Government

Norquist Tax Pledge Shouldn't Become 'Trap' to Debt Deal

June 24th 2012

Credit:  Gage Skidmore

Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.), the only Senate Democrat to sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, says he will not let it stop him from backing a deficit-reduction package that raises new taxes. Nelson, who is retiring from Congress at the end of the year, said that signatories of the pledge should not let it become “a trap.”

Democrats say the anti-tax pledge authored by Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, is the biggest obstacle to reaching a deal to reduce the deficit.
Extension of the Bush tax cuts, avoiding an automatic $1.2 trillion cut to discretionary spending and raising the nation’s debt limit may well hinge on getting a broader deficit deal.

“I look at the pledge as a commitment, not a trap. If it was set as a trap, then it’s unfortunate. I have attempted to, and I think others too, to abide by the spirit of it,” Nelson told The Hill. “I don’t think that it ought to be misused by anyone either.”

The pledge states that those who sign it will oppose “any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses.” It further states that signatories will “oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.” Nelson says cutting spending should be the priority. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Iran Threatens to 'Collapse' Israel

June 23rd 2012

Iran holy missiles

On June 23, an Iranian general said that any military action by Israel on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program would lead to a collapse of the Jewish state, according to the Fars news agency. This followed the failure of multilateral talks in Moscow, in which Iran and interlocutors such as the U.S. and Russia failed to come to an agreement on the nuclear program.

Fears were thus heightened that Israel might take unilateral military action to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, which is feared to be bent on producing nuclear weapons. However, agreement was reached for a follow-up meeting of technical experts on July 3, saving the process from outright failure.

Iranian Brigadier-General Mostafa Izadi, who serves as Iran’s deputy chief of staff of the armed forces, said of Israel, "They cannot do the slightest harm to the (Iranian) revolution and the system," according to Fars. "If the Zionist regime takes any (military) actions against Iran, it would result in the end of its labors," he added. He also said, "If they act logically, such threats amount to a psychological war but if they want to act illogically, it is they who will be destroyed." Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Secretary Clinton: 'I can absolutely bet' on Arms Race should Iran go Nuclear

June 23rd 2012

Hilary Clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cautioned that Iran not be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon, not only because of own intentions, but because she believes it would spur a regional arms race.

"Everybody needs to know — most particularly the Iranians — that we are serious that they cannot be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. It’s not only about Iran and about Iran’s intentions, however one tries to discern them. It’s about the arms race that would take place in the region with such unforeseen consequences," Clinton told Charlie Rose in an interview posted online on June 21 and aired on CBS's "This Morning."

Clinton warned that a nuclear-armed Iran would create a "cascade of difficult challenges" for both the United Stated and its ally Israel.

"You name any country with the means, anywhere near Iran that is an Arab country, if Iran has a nuclear weapon — I can absolutely bet on it and know I will win – they will be in the market within hours," she said.

Clinton's remarks came as part of an hour-long interview, during which she spoke alongside former Secretary of State James Baker at the State Department in a special series Wednesday on "Charlie Rose," called "Conversations on Diplomacy."

Baker, free of political office, agreed that every possible avenue should be explored to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, but said if all else fails, "we ought to take them out" — which drew laughter from Clinton. "We're working hard, we're working hard," she added. Read more ..

Egypt on Edge

Egyptians Protest Military Council, Delayed Vote Results

June 22nd 2012

Mohammed Morsi #2

Thousands of demonstrators turned out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square after Friday prayers, heeding an appeal by Islamist parties to protest against the country’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Several secular and youth groups also joined in to denounce recent moves by the council, including the dissolution of parliament.

Protesters braving searing summer heat chanted slogans against Egypt’s ruling military council. Organizers were calling the protest a “million man march,” although webcam images from above the square showed crowds in some areas and empty spaces in others.

A top leader of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood said the sit-in protest at Tahrir Square would continue until the decision to dissolve parliament is reversed. Protest organizers blocked entrances to the square early Friday, preventing traffic from entering.

Anxiety is building, both in Cairo and elsewhere across Egypt, over the delay in announcing the winner of last week’s presidential runoff election. Both the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi and his rival, former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, claim to have won. Read more ..

Broken Banking

Moody's Downgrades 15 of the World's Biggest Banks

June 21st 2012

I Bailed Out a Bank

Moody's Investors Service issued downgrades to 15 of the world's biggest banks Thursday, saying that they all had "significant exposure" to volatility and risk inherent in their global trading activities.

Banks such as Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and Bank of America were among the firms downgraded by the rating agency — a move that could require the banks to pony up billions in additional collateral to cover their derivatives transactions, and also make it more expensive for them to borrow.

"All of the banks affected by today’s actions have significant exposure to the volatility and risk of outsized losses inherent to capital markets activities", said Greg Bauer, the firm's global banking managing director. "However, they also engage in other, often market leading business activities that are central to Moody’s assessment of their credit profiles. These activities can provide important ‘shock absorbers’ that mitigate the potential volatility of capital markets operations, but they also present unique risks and challenges." Read more ..

Pakistan on Edge

Pakistan's Supreme Court Ousts Prime Minister

June 21st 2012

Pakistan PM

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has ousted Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani from office, throwing the country into political uncertainty. President Asif Ali Zardari was meeting with the leadership of the ruling People’s Party and coalition partners to discuss the way forward.  Former law minister S.M. Zafar says a political crisis can be avoided if the President and parliament move quickly.

“The solution is easy, which is that the present government has a very good majority in the national assembly and they can elect a new prime minister probably by tomorrow. If they do that, the vacuum or the void that has happened on account of no prime minister being available at this moment in the country will be easily solved.  But if they don’t do that, then suddenly there is a difficulty in the situation,” Zafar said.

The Court based its decision on an earlier ruling that found Gilani in contempt of court when he refused to open a corruption investigation against President Zardari. The prime minister had refused to step down despite the April ruling. Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision came after opposition political parties filed a petition against him.

Lawyer Hamid Kahn, of the opposition party PTI, confirmed the next step would be a parliamentary vote for a new prime minister. “The president has been directed to act according to the constitution by taking further steps under the constitution, naturally for the election of a new prime minister,” Kahn said. Read more ..

Egypt and Israel

IDF Chief Gantz: Terror Bases are Forming in Sinai

June 19th 2012

Hamas Rocket

As rockets continue to fly into Israel on Tuesday, following a deadly attack on Monday in which an Israeli-Arab was killed at the country’s border with Egypt, the IDF’s Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, relayed a message to Egypt, as that country attempts to work through political turmoil and upheaval.

“We expect the Egyptians to exercise their sovereignty in Sinai,” he said.

As Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood claims victory in the nation’s recently finished presidential elections, and calls for protests against the Egyptian military in Cairo become louder, Israel and it’s defense apparatus have made adjustments to try and deal with the persistence of both political instability in Egypt and a recent revival of attacks from the Hamas terror group in Gaza. Read more ..

The Edge of Justice

WikiLeaks Founder Assanges Seeks Asylum in South America

June 19th 2012

Julian Assange

Officials for the leftist government of Ecuador claim that controversial WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has asked for political asylum in the South American republic. Ecuador, which is led by President Rafael Correa, is considering the request. "Ecuador is studying and analyzing the request," Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño told reporters in Quito on June 19.

Assange faces extradition to Sweden over alleged sex crimes against two women there. Assange has denied the allegations. While Assange is not currently charged with any crime, Swedish officials they want to question him over the allegations. On June 14, the British Supreme Court rejected Assange's request to reopen his appeal against extradition to Sweden. The extradition proceedings are scheduled to begin on June 28.

Assange reportedly fears that he should he be extradited to Sweden, he would be one step closer to being sent to the United States to face charges relating to his activities at WikiLeaks. Assange may opt to appeal his case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which is currently being planned by his attorneys. Swedish authorities have said the ECHR would intervene if Assange faced "inhuman or degrading treatment or an unfair trial" in any potential extradition to the U.S.

Assange published classified materials he allegedly received from U.S. Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, who allegedly downloaded more than 250,000 classified documents from the State Department, and another 500,000 U.S. Army reports, and provided them to Assange. Manning is facing espionage charges as well as violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for his activities. Read more ..

Egypt and Israel

Israelis Attacked: Egypt Losing Control of Sinai Peninsula to Terrorists

June 19th 2012

Islamic Terrorists

With the Egyptian government in a state of flux due to problems with establishing a civilian government and the military's internal problems, terrorists belonging to various Islamic groups are sneaking into Israel from the Sinai Peninsula and attacking Israeli civilians. The latest such violence occurred on Monday morning, an Israeli police source stated.

The sudden and vicious attack launched by terrorists at the Israel- Egypt border is creating a serious security issue especially for inhabitants of the Sinai Peninsula. Denouncing "in the strongest terms" what she called the " terrorist attacks" on civilians in Israel from Sinai, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said "We remain concerned about the security situation in the Sinai Peninsula and call for restraint on all sides."

But counterterrorism expert Mike Snopes, a former NYPD detective and military intelligence officer, believes Nuland has it all wrong. "I always get a little hot under the collar when some minion from the Obama administration starts with 'all sides' jargon. It's the terrorists who need restraining, not innocent Israeli civilians. And as far as response, the Israeli police or military or both have every right to retaliate," said Snopes. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Iran Urged to 'Engage Seriously' in Nuclear Talks

June 18th 2012

Ahmadinejad at Iranian nuclear plant

An EU spokesman says six world powers have begun talks with Iran in Moscow with an appeal for the Iranian side to "engage seriously" with an offer to resolve international concerns about the Iranian nuclear program.

Michael Mann said in a phone interview, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States) plus Germany hope Iran "finally" will negotiate on the proposals they made in the previous round of talks in Baghdad last month. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is representing the world powers in the talks, which resumed Monday in Moscow. The two sides have made little progress since an April meeting that ended a 15-month break in negotiations.

The world powers have been pressing Iran to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent purity, a level that some see as a short-step from the higher purity needed for nuclear weapons. The six-nation group also has been calling for Iran to remove stockpiles of highly-enriched uranium from its territory and shut down an underground facility at Fordo that has been producing the material. Read more ..

The New Egypt

Muslim Brotherhood's Morsi Claims Win in Egyptian Election

June 18th 2012

Mohammed Morsi #2

The Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi has claimed victory in Egypt's first post-uprising presidential race. But the rival camp of old guard candidate Ahmed Shafiq disputes the unofficial results, while the ruling military council claimed sweeping powers, throwing this major test of the nation's transition into doubt.

Morsi's claim was just one in a stunning series of events in the turmoil that has attended Egypt's historic poll.

Just after the polls closed, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces issued a constitutional declaration, granting itself legislative powers, control of the economy and the right to pick who will draft the next constitution. With presidential powers still unclear and the Islamist-dominated lower parliament dissolved by court order Thursday, any victory Morsi might have when official results are announced later in the week would seem compromised from the start. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

Romney Pledges to Do 'Opposite' of Obama on Israel

June 17th 2012

Obama and Israel

Mitt Romney says Barack Obama has got Israel all wrong.

On Saturday, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee told Pennsylvania voters that his Israel policy will be the exact opposite of Obama's, who has been criticized for being too hard on Israel and too cozy with Arab dictators.

The Washington Post reports: “I think, by and large, you can just look at the things the president has done and do the opposite,” Romney said when asked about Israel. On the issue of Iran, Romney was even more blunt. The former Massachusetts governor said the president seems more intent on preventing Israel from destroying Iran's nuclear facilities than aiding the Jewish state. Read more ..

The Digital Age

ITC to Probe RF Chips Used by Moto, HTC

June 17th 2012

HTC thunderbold droid phone

The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) said it voted to institute an investigation into radio frequency ICs and devices containing them made by Motorola Mobility Inc., HTC Corp., and RF Micro Devices Inc.

The investigation, based on a complaint by Peregrine Semiconductor Corp., (San Diego) will focus on products including RF switches that allow users to transmit and/or receive wireless signals more efficiently while consuming less power, the ITC said in a statement. The investigation will also focus on cellular handsets incorporating such RF circuits, the ITC said.

Peregrine's complaint alleges that some of RF Micro Devices' chips infringe on Peregrine's patents related to silicon-on-insulator (SOI) technology for RF ICs. According to Peregrine, the ITC investigation involves five Peregrine patents and 38 separate patent claims. Motorola Mobility and HTC market products that incorporate the alleged infringing RF ICs, Peregrine said. Peregrine is seeking, among other remedies, an exclusion order preventing the importation and sale of infringing products in the United States, the company said. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Senate Races Testing Viability of GOP 'Businessman-Candidate'

June 17th 2012

Linda McMahon wrestling

As President Obama and Democrats litigate whether Mitt Romney’s business credentials make him a suitable occupant for the Oval Office, the effects are being felt down-ballot in Senate races across the country.

A half-dozen competitive Senate races this cycle feature a Republican businessman running solely on his or her record of creating jobs and generating revenue. It’s a message that resonated particularly well with voters amid a lagging economy, high unemployment and general disdain for an entrenched class of career politicians. “They feel like the government is broken, and the theory is if you put a businessman or businesswoman in power, they’ll do a better job at cleaning up the mess,” said Chris Perkins, a Republican pollster. An executive resume has automatic appeal in a Republican primary, strategists said, because it suggests fiscal competence and an understanding of the factors that drive prosperity and growth.

For independent and general-election voters, businessmen-candidates can capitalize on anti-incumbency sentiments and the feeling that Washington is fiscally and morally bankrupt, satisfying the hunger of those who want to “throw the bums out.” The only place businessmen don’t play well is in a Democratic primary, said Perkins. “Their base has a distrust of business, because that smells of Wall Street or corporate America” he said. “It doesn’t fit the ideological mode of traditional Democratic voters because they’ve heard about class warfare from the Democrats before.” In Connecticut, Republican Linda McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, has a commanding lead in the GOP primary to replace retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).  Read more ..

The War Next Door

Abducted Journalist Discovered Dead in Eastern Mexico

June 16th 2012

Mexican Drug Police2

A deadly Mexican drug gang abducted and then murdered a crime reporter who covered the drug war and rampant violence in Mexico's Veracruz state. The reporter was later found dead by police. The killing is another in a long string of journalists who have been killed since the war on drugs was initiated by President Felipe Calderon in 2006, according to the source, who frequently travels to Mexico in his capacity as liaison officer for a U.S. law enforcement agency.

The journalist, Victor Baez, worked for Mexican daily newspaper Milenio at the time of his abduction. The suspects kidnapped him as he was leaving his office in the town of Xalapa late Wednesday. Police found his body in the morning in the city center, said the Veracruz state government in a statement. Mexican police said that the reporter's attackers were three armed men but did not give details about how Baez was killed. Usually victims' remains are left dismembered, mutilated or decapitated by cartel members. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Anti-Assad Insurgents Seize Church as Terrified Syrian Christians Flee

June 16th 2012

Christian church closeup

The Greek-Catholic church of St. Elias in Qusayr, near the Syrian city of Homs, has been occupied by a group of insurgents who are fighting against the forces of President Bashar al-Assad's government. The gunmen have established the church as their base of operations. Eyewitnesses reported to the FIDES news service that on June 13, Islamic radicals stormed into the church, forcing the door, ringing bells and carrying out a demonstration of contempt that raised concern among local Christian leaders.

The group is now camped in the worship space and is carrying out its activities from there. The local Church condemns the incident, saying such "behavior unacceptable and disrespectful toward a sacred place," according to remaining members of the Catholic hierarchy in Syria.

Christian authorities in Syria have launched an appeal that the current conflict "does not degenerate into the desecration of temples and sacred places, of all communities. " Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Al-Shabaab-trained Terrorist Pleads Guilty in Manhattan

June 16th 2012

Click to select Image

Mohamed Ibrahim Ahmed pled guilty on Wednesday evening to conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist group and for receiving terrorist training such as bomb-making from Somalia's al-Qaeda ally known as Al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab is listed as a foreign terrorist organization by both the U.S. Department of State and Treasury Department officials who have placed sanctions on the group as well as certain individuals in Al-Shabaab. The 38-year-old Ahmed pled guilty before U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel, who is scheduled to pronounce sentence on Nov. 2, 2012. The convicted terrorist will continue being incarcerated in New York City's Riker's detention center until sentencing.

According to the U.S. Attorney, Preet Bharara, Mohamed Ibrahim Ahmed traveled a long way from his home in Sweden to Somalia, where he took up the radical Islamic cause of Al-Shabaab, a deadly terrorist organization and sworn enemy of the United States and its people. On Wednesday, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly stated, “This plea is important to the ongoing efforts by the NYPD and federal partners to deter terrorist organizations and their followers, who continue in their attempts to put New York City and the United States at risk.” Read more ..

The War Next Door

Mexican Cops Discover Human Slaughterhouse in Truck

June 14th 2012

Mexican Drug Police2

In yet another grisly find for Mexican authorities, on Tuesday evening police officers discovered at least 14 mutilated and dismembered corpses packed into a large truck abandoned on the median of a highway in Veracruz, a Drug Enforcement Administration source stated. The van was located on the Alamo-Potrero del Llano Highway near the border with Tamaulipas state, the scene of the worst gang wars in northeastern Mexico, according to the DEA source.

The Veracruz General Attorney, Reynaldo Escobar Perez, called in Army and Navy personal to help the police officers remove the bodies and transport them to the federal forensic laboratory. Eventually, the remains were transported to the state capital and Gulf coast port of Veracruz, according to an official statement. According to the local newspapers, the bodies had been hacked and packed in bags, which made it extremely difficult for law enforcement officers and forensic examiners to count the number of bodies involved and the identities of the victims.  Read more ..

Legislative Compromise

Rubio's Support Gets President Obama's Envoy to El Salvador Over the Top

June 14th 2012

Sen Marco Rubio (R-FL)

The Senate on Thursday approved President Obama's envoy to El Salvador despite Republican efforts to derail Mari Carmen Aponte's nomination over her public support for gay rights and allegations that she was romantically involved with a Cuban spy two decades ago.

Obama gave Aponte a recess appointment in 2010, but it ran out at the end of last year after Republicans filibustered her nomination. This time, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), under pressure to approve the Puerto Rican nominee, garnered enough support to get cloture on Aponte's nomination, 62-37.

“Frankly, I have not seen any nominee forced to go through such an arduous and drawn-out confirmation process as Ms. Aponte," said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). "As someone who personally reviewed her record, as someone who personally looked at the files, I believe there is nothing to prevent Ambassador Aponte to be confirmed by the Senate." Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said Rubio did not have any qualms about Aponte personally but held her up until the administration made changes to some of its policies in Latin America.  Read more ..

The Environmental Edge

Bush EPA Chief Urges Action on Chemical Hazards

June 14th 2012

BP Texas City after Explosion

Christine Todd Whitman, Environmental Protection Agency chief under George W. Bush, urged the EPA Tuesday to use its authority under the Clean Air Act to impose stricter safety standards on American chemical facilities vulnerable to accidents or terrorist attacks. “I cannot understand why we have not seen some action when the consequences of something happening are so potentially devastating,” Whitman said in a teleconference that included representatives of labor and environmental groups. 

As Bush’s EPA administrator, Whitman was prepared to unveil a proposal requiring chemical plants to use safer processes in the months after 9/11. Under the Clean Air Act’s general duty clause, Whitman said, the EPA had the authority to require hazard reduction at facilities at risk of catastrophic chemical releases. But the plan was scuttled by the White House, which maintained that chemical hazards could be better addressed by legislation, Whitman said. Congress had moved quickly to pass bills on water safety and bioterrorism, and the EPA thought it was “on the right track” to pass a bill on chemical security as well. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Adelson Throws $10 Million Behind Romney’s Super PAC

June 13th 2012

mitt romney

After reports began to circulate earlier this month that billionaire Sheldon Adelson was getting ready to throw his financial weight behind Mitt Romney’s bid for president, the Wall Street Journal and ABC News have confirmed the casino magnate has donated $10 Million to Romney’s super PAC “Restore Our Future”.

The independent political action committee supporting Romney is not allowed, by law, to coordinate its plans with Romney’s campaign, however it can spend an unlimited amount of money in support of the candidate.

Adelson, the chief executive of Las Vegas Sands Corp., and his wife, gave over $20 million to the super PAC which supported Newt Gingrich’s campaign for president, but after Gingrich dropped out of the race, Republican leaders hoped Adelson would provide similar support for Romney. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Feinstein Fires Back at McCain as Parties Battle Over Security Leaks

June 13th 2012

Dianne Feinstein (sen,ca,d)

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was wrong to accuse President Obama of hypocrisy for opposing a special counsel to investigate recent national security leaks. “Senator McCain has his way of saying things,” Feinstein told reporters. “He’s a United States senator — he can certainly say what he wants. I don’t happen to agree with that.”

Feinstein’s pushback against McCain’s hypocrisy charge comes as a major divide has opened between Democrats and Republicans over how to investigate a series of national security leaks, including disclosures about a U.S. cyberattack against Iran, a “kill list” and a double agent in Yemen. Both Feinstein and McCain are in agreement that the recent series of intelligence leaks is the worst cases they have seen as senators — more egregious than the Valerie Plame CIA leak under the George W. Bush administration.

The partisan fight that’s broken out over the leaks this week stems from deep disagreement over the best way to get to the bottom of the security leaks and Republican anger toward perhaps the most contentious figure in the Obama administration, Attorney General Eric Holder. Republicans allege that the leak investigation Holder announced Friday, in which two U.S. attorneys will investigate and possibly prosecute the leaks, will not be an independent investigation.

McCain on Tuesday said it was the “height of hypocrisy” for Obama to oppose a special counsel when Obama called for independent investigations of the Plame and Jack Abramoff scandals during the Bush administration. McCain has introduced a nonbinding resolution demanding a special counsel to investigate the leaks. Read more ..

Broken Economy

JPMorgan CEO Dimon: I Was 'Dead Wrong' on Trading Loss

June 13th 2012

Frantic Wall Street denizen

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon accepted blame Wednesday for the billions of dollars his bank lost on a bad trade while standing firmly behind his criticism of the Wall Street reform law. Appearing before the Senate Banking Committee, Dimon admitted he was “dead wrong” about the complex bet on corporate debt that damaged his bank’s bottom line and reputation.

"Under any name, what you call it, I will not defend it," he said. "It violated common sense." "I'm absolutely responsible; the buck stops with me," he added later.

Dimon said it was "likely" that the executives overseeing the trades out of the bank's London office would see their compensation clawed back. He blamed "complacency" at JPMorgan for allowing such a risky trading position, noting that the London office, and that particular portfolio, had previously reaped revenue. The pool of assets that drove the more than $2 billion in losses was structured to earn large amounts of revenue during a systemic event such as a financial crisis, according to Dimon, who said it performed as advertised during the last meltdown. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

US National Security Leaks Roil Capitol Hill

June 13th 2012

US Capital Day

U.S. congressional Democrats and the Obama administration are resisting Republican demands for an independent probe of national security leaks to the news media. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder sat Tuesday at the center of the growing firestorm on Capitol Hill, where he rejected a call for his resignation. Recent months have seen detailed news media accounts of U.S. cyber activities against Iran, anti-terrorist drone operations, and covert U.S. activities in Yemen. Lawmakers of both parties have decried the leaking of classified information that could compromise national security.

What to do about it has become a partisan issue on Capitol Hill. The Justice Department has assigned two federal prosecutors to lead an investigation. What does not satisfy Republicans like Senator John McCain of Arizona. “Here we are with a very serious breach of national security - in the view of some, the most serious in recent history. And it clearly cries out for the appointment of a special counsel,” McCain said. Read more ..

The Edge of Crime

US Charges Alleged International Child Porn Distributor

June 12th 2012

Shadowy Computer User

Federal prosecutors in New Jersey announced the indictment of a Ukrainian man in what they called the most "significant" child pornography investigation ever, one that has led to 560 convictions in the U.S. so far. Thirty-three-year-old Maksym Shynkarenko made his first appearance in a federal court in New Jersey on Monday following his extradition from Thailand, where he had been jailed since 2009. He faces 32 counts related to allegedly founding and operating child porn websites from Ukraine that drew Internet customers worldwide from 2003 to 2008.

New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman told reporters that the videos and images showed the victimization of children ranging in age from infants to teenagers. “What we’re talking about are images, pictures and videos of the brutal sexual assault and torture by adults of children - preserved for the later gratification of strangers," he said. Fishman said that 560 American subscribers to Shynkarenko’s website, in 47 states, have already been convicted in the investigation, which began in 2005. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Rights Groups Protest Israeli Arrests of African Migrants

June 12th 2012


Israeli security officials have arrested 62 African migrants in the past two days as part of a new operation to deport illegal aliens. Human rights activists are protesting, saying the government should first determine their asylum status. The migrants are mostly from South Sudan. A local representative of Human Rights Watch, Bill Van Esveld, said the move points to an alarming trend by the Israeli government.

"Arrests should only be used as a last resort. Israel has basically an ad-hoc and very disorganized immigration system. It doesn't really have much of a policy when it comes to anyone who is not Jewish," Van Esveld said. He notes that the government has been increasingly concerned over growing numbers of immigrants, primarily from Africa, who are slipping across the 240-kilometer-long border with Egypt. Read more ..

Broken Economy

Lawmakers Expect Answers from JPMorgan Chief on Trading Losses

June 11th 2012

I Bailed Out a Bank

Members of the Senate Banking Committee are looking for answers on JPMorgan Chase's multibillion-dollar trading losses, and expect chief executive Jamie Dimon to provide them.

The head of the nation's largest bank is set to testify Wednesday before the Banking panel in the latest round of the congressional investigation into how a complex bet on corporate debt left the bank with $3 billion and counting in losses.

Lawmakers want to know what went amiss in the bank's risk management that allowed it to take the damaging trade position, as well as what Dimon knew and when. The high-profile losses are not expected to threaten JPMorgan’s solvency, but are serving as fodder for the latest fight over what limits the federal government should impose on the financial sector and whether further steps should be taken to stabilize the system following the financial crisis.

The incident has also threatened to undercut Dimon’s position as the public face of industry criticism of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. An aide with the Banking Committee said members expect Dimon to come "fully prepared" to answer questions on the trade. Read more ..

The Massacre in Syria

Syrian Christians Flee as they are Violently Dispossessed of Life and Property

June 10th 2012

Patriarch Gregorios Lanham of Antioch
Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregorios Laham

The remaining Christians of Qusayr, a town near Homs, have fled for their safety. This followed an ultimatum from the chieftain of the forces opposing the Assad regime in Syria, Abdel Salam Harba. Reports out of Syria note that of the 10,000 Christians who once lived in Qusayr, only 1,000 had remained since the beginning of the conflict in 2011 between government forces and insurgents. Following months of threats, mosques in Qusayr broadcast an ultimatum from minarets that usually call faithful Muslims to prayer. The statements from the mosques declared, "Christians must leave Qusayr within six days, which expires this Friday." The ultimatum expired on June 8.

The Christians who had remained took courage from calls from an Catholic priest from Italy, Jesuit Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, who had stayed in Qusayr for a week and called the faithful towards "praying and fasting for peace in the midst of the conflict".

The reasons for this ultimatum remain unclear. Some argue that it came because Christians had openly expressed their loyalty to the Syrian state and for this reason the insurgents wish to drive them away. Christians under President Bashar Al-Assad’s rule had enjoyed relative peace despite living in a majority Muslim country. The Assad family, which belongs to the Alawite branch of Islam, had been particularly severe with members of other branches of Islam. The insurgents are made up of opponents to Assad’s dictatorial rule, but also those influenced by Al-Qaeda and Iran. Read more ..

The Massacres in Syria

New Syrian Opposition Leader Reaches Out to Other Groups

June 10th 2012

Syrians by VOA photog Elizabeth Arrot

The new leader of the main opposition Syrian National Council is pledging to widen support for the organization by reaching out to Syria's minority groups. Newly chosen Syrian National Council leader Abdulbaset Sieda says he is determined to build greater support from all sections of Syrian society in the battle to bring down President Bashar al-Assad's government. During a news conference in Istanbul, Sieda called for action. 

He says he is calling on all expatriate Syrians to organize sit-down protests outside Syrian embassies.  He also asked U.N. observers to immediately go to the city of Homs and for all members of the Syrian armed forces to defect.  He says the country is now at a very critical stage, with the Assad regime on its last legs. Following the news conference, Sieda said the U.N. Security Council must intervene. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

GOP Governors Bolster Internet Sales Tax Push

June 10th 2012

LectureTools student user

Gov. Terry Branstad of Iowa this week became the latest in a string of top Republican state officials to back federal legislation giving states more freedom to collect online sales taxes. Branstad’s letter of support, obtained comes not long after another prominent Republican governor, Chris Christie of New Jersey, also urged Congress to get moving on sales tax legislation.

But despite the increasingly vocal push from Republican governors and retail groups for a federal solution, supporters of online sales tax legislation face a heavy lift in getting a measure through Congress this year. Christie and Branstad are among about a dozen GOP governors to back the push for online sales tax legislation. Other state leaders who are on board include Mitch Daniels of Indiana, Paul LePage of Maine and Rick Snyder of Michigan.

Branstad, who was Iowa governor in the 1980s and 90s and who won a fifth term in 2010, heads a swing state that plays a prominent role in nominating presidential candidates. In a letter sent Thursday, Branstad encouraged his home-state senators to support a solution that he said would close a longstanding loophole. “I understand that the coalition supporting this legislation is now very broad which gives me hope that, under your leadership, this legislation can be passed yet this year,” Branstad wrote to Sens. Chuck Grassley (R) and Tom Harkin (D). Read more ..

Broken Economic

Legislation to Raise Minimum Wage

June 9th 2012

Rep. George Miller (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Workforce Committee, is readying legislation to raise the minimum wage. Miller's proposal  which will include a series of small, gradual hikes modeled on a bill championed by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) – strays from the approach urged this week by a score of House liberals who, behind Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), want a sharp and immediate increase in workers' wages.

Miller’s staged design is sure to get some pushback from Democrats and worker advocates who want party leaders to go the more aggressive route.  Jackson this week called the gradual approach “unacceptable.”
Still, the Democrats' newfound focus on higher wages for lower earners – an issue all but ignored by party leaders this election cycle – launches a new phase of the party's broader campaign strategy to paint Republicans as champions of the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.

Rep. John Larson (Conn.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Friday that the difference between the Miller and Jackson bills is largely inconsequential. What's important, he emphasized, is that Democrats support the concept of a minimum wage hike and Republicans don't. "The Democrats are going to be for the minimum wage [hike]. How they get there, that's an entirely different issue," Larson said. "It's drawing the distinctions." Read more ..

The Edge of Health

WHO Official Says 'Close to Wiping Out Polio, But Obstacles Remain'

June 9th 2012

Click to select Image

The world is closer than ever to eradicating polio, says the World Health Organization. At the same time funding shortages are threatening the vast progress made worldwide to prevent the disease. The funding gap has forced the cancellation of vaccination drives in more than 20 countries. Our reporter spoke with Bruce Aylward, WHO’s assistant director-general for polio eradication, who says the organization has about half of the $2.2 billion it needs over the next 24 months to carry out a global emergency action plan.

Nancy Palus: "Given how the polio infection is spread, what is the significance of missing a round of vaccinations as happened recently in countries around the world, including 15 African countries?"

Bruce Aylward: "Every time we skip a round of vaccinations we are gambling with the incredible achievements so far in polio eradication. This is particularly the case in West Africa and Central Africa, because in these areas the routine immunization systems are weak. Right now the virus is really hemmed in into the northern part of Nigeria, in a very small area; so if we can keep vaccinating the surrounding countries while we can get transmission finished in northern Nigeria, we will be successful. That’s the recipe for success." Read more ..

The Defense edge

Rumsfeld to Face Off With Military Brass Over Law of the Sea

June 8th 2012

U.S. Naval Carrier

Donald Rumsfeld is returning to Capitol Hill next week to testify against the United States joining the United Nations's Law of the Sea treaty, pitting him squarely against the military brass that he used to command as former President George W. Bush's secretary of Defense.

Rumsfeld's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is especially relevant because he was former President Reagan's emissary against the treaty back in 1982, when international momentum was for it. Proponents of the treaty have been trotting out former Reagan officials — former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Deputy National Security Adviser John Negroponte — to argue that changes to the treaty would have met with Reagan's approval, but Rumsfeld's appearance throws a wrench in that strategy. Critics say it would curtail the U.S. military's freedom of navigation while allowing a UN agency to directly tax U.S. oil-and-gas companies. Rumsfeld wasn't available to comment. Read more ..

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