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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 ..

The Obama Edge

Lawmakers Express Concerns with Holder Leadership Following Testimony

June 8th 2012

Eric Holder gesturing

Following the testimony of Attorney General Eric Holder this week, Congressman Lamar Smith expressed concern with Holder’s leadership of the Justice Department and the Obama administration’s efforts to impose a partisan agenda on the American people.

The chairman of House Judiciary Committee, Lamar Smith (R-Texas), grilled Attorney General Holder at the hearing in Washington, D.C. about whether White House officials were aware of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF’s) Operation Fast & Furious, which contributed to the shooting death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

The Attorney General appeared before the House Judiciary Committee for an oversight hearing on the Justice Department’s activities. Outstanding questions surrounding the controversial ATF operation that allowed guns to be purchased in the U.S. and trafficked to Mexico dominated the Committee’s discussion. Read more ..

Broken Taxes

Democrats Paralyzed On Tax Cuts

June 8th 2012

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Senate Democratic leaders are politically paralyzed on how to proceed on the Bush-era tax rates. With five months to go before the election, President Obama and key congressional Democrats remain at odds on whether the threshold for extending the George W. Bush-era rates for families should be $250,000 per year or $1 million annually. Obama backs the former while most Democratic leaders, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), support the higher threshold.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has no immediate plans to advance a bill allowing Bush-era tax rates for the wealthy to expire, and instead will let House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) move first on the Bush rates. Boehner plans to move a bill before the August recess. Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson disputed the characterization that the Democratic leadership is paralyzed. He said the pressure is on Republicans to offer a compromise if they are to avert tax rates reverting to pre-2001 levels for all income brackets. Democratic leaders maintain they are content to play defense, but are worried that some vulnerable Democrats might defect and support a temporary extension of all the Bush-era rates, which would undercut their negotiating position. Read more ..

Greece on Edge

Greek Neo-Nazi Politician Batters Communist Opponent on Television

June 7th 2012

Ilias Katsiaris goes ape shit

An arrest warrant has been granted by a Greek court for Ilias Kasidiaris, a representative of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party in Greece, after a televised affray in which he repeatedly struck a female representative of the Communist Party. In an animated debate over whether there are submarine oil reserves south of the island of Crete, the discussion unraveled into a brawl when Kasidiaris first threw water across the studio at Rena Dourou of the SYRIZA party.

Standing to voice his objections, Kasidiaris was then met by Liana Kanelli who also got out of her chair at the U-shaped table where the debate aired. Kasidiaris is seen slapping Kanelli, a middle-aged woman who tried to respond in kind. Broadcast on ANT-1 television from Athens, the televised debate went off the air following Kasidiari’s battery of the Communist politician.

The outspoken Kanelli, whose KKE party goes back for decades and participates actively in the democratic process, told local media that Kasidiari’s misbehavior is proof positive that voters who supported the Golden Dawn (Chrysi Avgi) in May 6 parliamentary election should switch their vote for the June 17 election. Said Kanelli, "With the power of their vote on June 17, citizens must isolate every thuggish hand, which has no qualms about striking at any time." Read more ..

Broken Elections

Florida Challenges Holder Over Voter Purge

June 7th 2012

Eric holder

Florida government officials yesterday responded to Attorney General Eric Holder's and the Obama Justice Department's claim that its statewide examination of voter records to identify illegal voters is illegal. One of the Sunshine State's top officials stated Wednesday that it is Holder and Department of Justice officials who are in violation of the law.

"The Florida Department of State has a solemn obligation to ensure the integrity of elections in this state. Permitting ineligible, non-citizen voters to cast ballots undermines that mission and erodes the justified faith the electorate has in the fairness and reliability of the electoral process," said Florida Secretary of State Kenneth Detzner in a letter to the Justice Department.

"As Florida’s Chief Election Officer, I am committed to ensuring the accuracy of Florida’s voter rolls and the integrity of our elections. It is my duty to protect the right of all eligible voters who are able to participate in the process. This is the security that voters and candidates expect from us in every election. The Department will continue to act in a responsible and cautious manner when presented with credible information about potentially ineligible voters. No one that has the right to vote has been denied the opportunity to cast a vote, and as the Secretary, it is my duty to ensure that remains the case," stated Detzner's letter. Supporters of Florida's voters check say it is a legal means of clearing voter rolls of non-citizens or deceased registrants. But leftists and advocates for illegal aliens call it part of disenfranchising minority voters. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syrian Activists Report At Least 78 More Killed Near Hama

June 7th 2012

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Syrian activists say pro-government militia and security forces have killed at least 78 people, including women and children, in the central province of Hama. They say some of those killed in the villages of al-Kubeir and Maazarif Wednesday were stabbed to death and at least 12 bodies were burned. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said militiamen armed with guns and knives carried out the attack after regular troops had shelled the area. The Observatory described a similar pattern of events as recounted from the May 25 Houla massacre in which 108 Syrian civilians were murdered, nearly half of them children. That incident has provoked international outrage.

Activists called for an immediate investigation. There was no comment from the Syrian government, and events on the ground are difficult to verify as Syria tightly restricts access to international media. Meanwhile, senior U.S. officials are warning Syria and its backers that tougher international action against President Bashar al-Assad's government could follow unless Damascus demonstrates "meaningful compliance" with U.N efforts to end the violence. U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said June 6th the administration and its allies could soon tighten sanctions against the Syrian government and its leaders. He spoke to representatives from 55 countries gathered in Washington to discuss increasing pressure on Assad and his top officials. "Strong sanctions, effectively implemented, aggressively enforced, can help deprive the Syrian regime of the resources it needs to sustain itself and to continue its repression of the Syrian people. Strong sanctions make clear to the Syrian business community and other supporters of the regime, their future is bleak so long as the Assad regime remains in power," he said. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

Obama Tells Orthodox Jews: I Care More About Israel Than Palestinians

June 6th 2012

Obama and Flag

President Obama met with leaders of America's Orthodox community Tuesday, telling them that Israel's security is sacrosanct and admitting that Mahmoud Abbas may not want peace.

The meeting, attended by about a dozen top rabbinic and communal leaders, follows a similar meeting with leaders of Conservative Jewry last week. According to Haaretz, the president told meeting participants that his administration has favored Israel over the Palestinians.

Obama said that peace is good for Israel, and stressed that he has been a stalwart believer that Israel should thrive - and that he has provided much support for the country.

The Times of Israel reported, based on anonymous comments from meeting participants, that Obama stressed Israel's security was more important than "evenhandedness" in the peace process.

... the president stressed that his administration has pressed the Palestinian leadership – not just Israel – to make necessary concessions for a peace deal. The source added that Obama makes no apologies for pursuing peace and believes it is in Israel’s interests to do so as well. One source reported that Obama said his calls to freeze settlement expansion reflected the same positions of his four predecessors, and blamed differences with Israel in part on the quirk of history of a centrist U.S. government and a right-wing Israeli government coexisting. Read more ..

Mali on Edge

Clamor Grows for Pan-African Intervention in Strife-Torn Mali

June 5th 2012

Tourag at Timbuktu

"Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra, is engaged in raising the morale of the army to prepare it for a possible intervention in the north. Last weekend he traveled to the Tibou region to meet military forces in the area " saids, a spokesman for the Catholic bishops of Mali. The central African nation remains divided, while the northern portion remains in the control of contending armed groups. "The Arabs of the north have not yet chosen a field where to draw up. This is why they have met in Mauritania to see what position to adopt, whether to draw up with the Islamists or not," said Fr. Dembele.

As to whether negotiations may be in the offing for representatives of the government based in Bamako, the capital city, and the contending northern parties, Fr Dembele said, "There is no official news about it, but it is possible that there are also representatives of the authorities in Bamako." Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Iran Issues List Of Banned Cities, Banned University Courses For Afghans

June 4th 2012

Iran Cyber Cafe

Iran's National Organization for Educational Testing has issued a list of university courses that are banned for Afghans living in Iran, including atomic physics, nuclear engineering, aerospace engineering, chemical engineering, and military sciences. The list has been published by the semi-official Mehr news agency, which reports that Afghans are banned from studying courses that will create "employment obligations" for the Islamic republic.

Mehr also says that Afghans can apply only at universities that are not located in areas where they have been banned from living. The "prohibited areas" where Afghans are not allowed to reside, according to Mehr's list, include a dozen provinces and a number of cities in different parts of Iran. Read more ..

Broken Economy

Clinton Says US Economic Recovery Needs Europe at 'Full Speed'

June 4th 2012

Hilary Clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the United States needs a strong recovery in Europe to help right its own economy. Given the long-standing importance of cross-Atlantic trade, Clinton says the health of the U.S. economy is tied in part to how Europe manages its debt crisis. "In order to fully recover from the economic downturns of the last years, Europe has to be strong and operating at full speed once again. So we support the need for changes to be made in order to improve Europe's competitiveness," she said.

Following talks with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, Clinton said Washington will do everything it can to support changes among the 17 countries in the eurozone, but the tough decisions themselves are up to Europeans. Prime Minister Reinfeldt cautioned against calls by some Europeans for stimulus spending to offset unpopular austerity, noting the sound public finances and better growth of many northern European nations after more than 20 years of structural reforms.

"At the same time, we talk sometimes about the troubled situation in part of central and southern Europe as if it was only related to a demand problem. But to me it is also deeply rooted in challenges relating to an ongoing financial crisis in part of Europe, a debt crisis that is of course a consequence of poor public finances, and still also problems with competitiveness," he said. Unemployment in the eurozone is at 11 percent, the highest level since records were first kept in 1995.

Analysts said the eurozone's stagnant economy could push the unemployment rate even higher in the months to come. The currency union has struggled to boost economic growth while coping with a governmental debt crisis that is now in its third year. The eurozone is in a sharp political debate over how to boost economic growth even as governments seek to rein in deficit spending. The call by new French President Francois Hollande for policies to foster more job creation collides with austerity measures pushed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Read more ..

Europe on Edge

Britain's Queen Joins Giant Flotilla for Jubilee Celebration

June 4th 2012

Queen Elizabeth

This weekend marks the culmination of year-long celebrations in Britain marking the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. A specially outfitted ship carried the 86-year-old queen and her family along the River Thames at the head of a 1,000-boat parade. Rain and cold kept many people away, but tens of thousands came out anyway to cheer, underlining the queen's popularity. “The monarchy has gone through a lot of ups and downs in its time, in her time on the throne, high peaks and then very low troughs. She has fulfilled her oath to her people," said one man in London.

Historian Miles Taylor of the University of London says the monarchy continues to be relevant. “I think there is still a place for monarchy. It is the most visible and familiar symbol of our national identity. Yes, there’s the glamor, there’s the glitz, there’s the tradition, but the monarchy by the early 20th century was playing a hugely important role in the voluntary sector, in making all charities, philanthropy, all the kind of civic-mindedness work in the country," he said.

The queen also maintains a political role, speaking for the government and advising prime ministers. She meets with foreign leaders from all corners of the world. And she is the leader of the the Commonwealth, the nations once part of the British Empire. During Queen Elizabeth’s 60-year reign, Britain has endured a variety of troubles, including terrorist attacks. When Princess Diana died in 1997, the queen had some of her toughest days, enduring criticism for not sharing the depth of the nation’s grief.

But the queen emerged with a status unparalleled in Britain and many other countries. And in recent years, she has allowed the spotlight to focus on the most popular members of her family. An 80-year-old British army veteran, who gave his name only as Tom, is among relatively few people here who can remember a time when Elizabeth was not their queen. “I was at Windsor when King George VI died. I attended his funeral down there, and then I had to go around the town, march around the town, with the proclamation of the queen, Princess Elizabeth then, becoming our queen. And that sticks in my heart now. I think she’s held this country together," he said. Read more ..

The Arab Winter in Egypt

Egypt's Christians Fear for their Safety should Muslim Brotherhood Sweep Elections

June 3rd 2012

Mohammed Morsi of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood

A leader of the Christian community in Egypt expressed fears about the future safety of his people, should the Muslim Brotherhood emerge victorious in the presidential elections. Coptic Catholic Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina of Guizeh (Giza) said that while it was difficult to say which candidate would best guarantee liberty for the country’s Christians he had fears about the Muslim Brotherhood taking power.

In an interview with the UK-based ACIN news service, Bishop Aziz said, “The Muslim Brothers say one thing then tomorrow they do another thing. They don’t maintain their promises – that’s the problem.” The prelate that it would be difficult to vote for the Muslim Brotherhood without guarantees from them.

No one was the outright victor of Egypt’s first round of presidential elections so there will be a run-off between Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, and Ahmed Shafik, formerly prime minister under President Hosni Mubarak, on June 16-17. Morsi received 5.7 million votes, while Shafik garnered 5.5 million, according to Egypt’s electoral commission.

Bishop Mina hoped that the future government of Egypt will secure freedom for all Egyptians, regardless of religion. He said, “Whoever will guarantee liberty and democracy and a good constitution for Egypt will have our vote.” The bishop added, “We have a situation with the elections and the constitution and the future of our country – whoever wants to be president needs to guarantee a good constitution, in which everyone will be able to find his place in our country. He needs to guarantee the minimum of liberties we seek.” Read more ..

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