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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

Click to select Image

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

Click to select Image

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 ..

The 2012 Vote

Bloomberg’s Hard Line on Soft Drinks has Industry Shook Up

June 3rd 2012


New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on large sodas put big beverage companies back on the defensive this week — an increasingly familiar spot for the industry. Anti-obesity advocates have homed in on soft drinks over roughly the past five years, and Bloomberg described his proposal as a way for the city to take immediate action to curb obesity.

He wants to ban sodas larger than 16 ounces at restaurants and movie theaters. Bloomberg’s controversial plan is just the latest in a long string of proposed soft drink taxes and regulations, including brief discussions of a federal soda tax during the debate over healthcare reform. Certainly, there are some lawmakers who would unjustifiably assign most of the blame for the obesity rate to soft drinks,” said Chris Gindlesperger, director of public affairs at the American Beverage Association. The beverage industry has successfully beaten back every proposal to tax or otherwise restrict sugary drinks — and it has shelled out millions of dollars in the process. The American Beverage Association spent nearly $13 million lobbying against a proposed soda tax in New York state in 2010 — one of the highest totals ever for a single group in a single year, according to the New York Public Interest Research Group. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Trust Busters Put Google in Crosshairs

June 2nd 2012

Google HQ

Federal regulators are weighing whether to sue Google for engaging in anti-competitive conduct, an action that could prove devastating for the Internet giant.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is investigating whether Google manipulates its search results to ensure that its own services, such as YouTube, Google Maps and Google Plus, appear above its rivals.

Google's competitors argue that the company shouldn't be allowed to use its dominant search engine — which has about a 65 percent market share — to stifle competition. The company says there is nothing unfair about its search rankings. Even if the results did boost Google products, the company says, it wouldn’t be illegal. The FTC's antitrust investigation, which began about one year ago, has been heating up. Investigators have been interviewing Google officials and plan to speak with company Chairman Eric Schmidt in the coming days, according to Bloomberg News. Read more ..

Religious Tolerance

Pakistan Cleric Condemns Wedding Party to Death for Dancing

June 1st 2012

Pakistan wedding

A group of Pakistani tribal leaders and Muslim clerics issued a death decree against 2 women and 4 men for dancing together at a wedding in a small village located in village called Gada, in the administrative district known as Kohistan, located in the mountainous Khyber Pakhtun Khwa Province, about 176 Km from Islamabad.

Sultan Muhammad, a resident of Gada, said, "2 women and 4 men were dancing and enjoying their friend`s wedding, were captured in a video. All of them are married, they were just dancing with joy. This video reached some local clerics, who immediately summoned other religious leaders and decided to call the person who made the video."

The person who made the video identified the people, while the Muslim clerics summoned them and their relatives to an Islamic court. Without listening to the testimony of the accused, the Muslim clerics issued a decree that men and women dancing together is an un-Islamic act and must be condemned. Those accused are expected to be given a strict punishment, so as to discourage others from repeating the affront to Muslim sentiments. Read more ..

The Edge of Justice

Israel to Indict Journalist for Revealing Secret Protocols for Assassination

May 31st 2012

Paper Stack

Israeli law enforcement officials announced yesterday that it was prepared to indict a major publication's journalist for revealing secret military protocols that address assassinations of Palestinian terrorist leaders, according to Israeli sources.

Israel's Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein formally charged reporter Uri Blau of the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz with illegal possession of top secret army documents. Weinstein claimed they had "great potential" for damaging Israel's security, the Israeli police source stated.

"The exposure of the documents or the possibility they would reach hostile groups would have caused damage to the state's security and risk the lives of IDF (Israel Defense Forces) soldiers," read a statement by Weinstein. "Unlike the United States government, the Israeli leaders have no qualms about arresting and prosecuting a journalists who compromises national security. In the U.S., the leftists would make the man a hero," said former intelligence officer and NYPD detective Sid Franes.

The journalist was reportedly interrogated in Oct. 2010 for his role in acquiring and then publishing details contained in more than 1,500 secret and top-secret military documents. Read more ..

Britain and Israel

Is Prince Charles Headed to Israel?

May 31st 2012

Prince Charles

Prince Charles may become the first senior member of the Royal Family to visit Israel, according to Eric Moonman, President of the Zionist Federation

“There will be a chance for a senior royal to go to Israel, although it’s unlikely to be the Queen because of her diary and the prominence she gives the Commonwealth,” Moonman said.  ”So it falls to Prince Charles, or perhaps even Prince William and Princess Catherine.”

It is Prince Charles’ interest in the environment and Israel’s advancemenets in technology and the green sector, that might induce the prince to travel to the Jewish state.

“People who are close to him have told me he has kept abreast of countries which have made a real impression in that area,” Moonman said. “Prince Charles has one or two Jewish people who he trusts and these are the people, combined with the right approach and a peaceful situation in Israel, who can make it possible.” Read more ..

Broken Labor

Lawmakers seek Legislation to Combat Labor Union Sabotage

May 31st 2012

Union Violence

With incidents of labor union officials and members advocating—and sometimes committing—acts of violence against businesses and non-profit organizations becoming so prevalent in the U.S., especially during disputes with management over benefits and pensions, the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives are considering specific legislation.

On May 23, the U.S. Senate introduced S.3178, the Freedom From Union Violence Act of 2012, which would amend the Hobbs Act of 1951 to authorize imposition of a fine of up to $100,000, 20 years’ imprisonment, or both for obstructing, delaying, or affecting commerce or the movement of any article or commodity in commerce by robbery or extortion (or attempting or conspiring to do so), and threatening physical violence to any person or property in as part of a plan to interfere with commerce by threats or violence.

However, S.3178 provisions would be inapplicable to conduct that is incidental to otherwise peaceful picketing during the course of a labor dispute, consists solely of minor bodily injury, or minor damage to property, or threat or fear of such minor injury or damage, and is not part of a pattern of violent conduct or of coordinated violent activity. Such conduct would be subject to prosecution only by the appropriate state and local authorities. The House had introduced a similar billin February titled, H. R. 4074, the Freedom From Union Violence Act of 2012. Both amendments were introduced by GOP lawmakers.   Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syrian Leader Assad is Apparently Not on Obama's Hit List

May 31st 2012

President Bashr el Assad of syria
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

President Barack Obama rejected a French-Saudi plan to assassinate Syrian President Bashar Assad, intelligence source DebkaFile reports.

Despite urging by the French president and Saudi king, Obama nixed the plan, saying American involvement in Syria's affairs would only heighten the conflict there.

Human rights groups estimate that more than 13,000 people have been killed in the year-long conflict, most of them civilians. Most recently, more than 100 Syrian civilians were killed when pro-Assad forces attacked the town of Houla. Forty-two children were among the dead.

According to DebkaFile:

Their plan was for the presidential palace situated atop Mount Qassioun northeast of Damascus to be devastated by French warplanes taking off from the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier off Syria’s Mediterranean coast and Saudi and United Arab Emirates bombers flying in through Jordan.

They would bomb the palace for 12 hours in several sorties while at the same time American fighter jets launched from a U.S. aircraft carrier cruising in the Mediterranean or Red Sea would shut down Syria’s air defenses, which are considered among the most sophisticated and densely-arrayed in the region. U.S. warplanes would also keep the Syrian Air Force grounded and prevented from repulsing the incoming bombers. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Link Between WikiLeaks And Hacker Group Revealed

May 31st 2012

Hacker's Hand

With the U.K. Supreme Court to rule on May 30 on whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to Sweden over rape and sexual-assault claims, a new book has revealed a damning link with a hacker collective that could undermine Assange's previous claims that WikiLeaks doesn't solicit information.

"We Are Anonymous," a new book from Parmy Olson, the Forbes London bureau chief, about the shadowy world of hackers, has shed some light on the connection between WikiLeaks and hacker group LulzSec. Olson details how, in June 2011 when Assange was holed up in the English countryside, he sent out tweets supporting LulzSec. According to Olson, he quickly deleted those tweets as "he didn't want to be publicly associated with what were clearly black hat hackers." Read more ..

Edge of Eugenics

Republican Fire Back 'War on Women' Charge at Democrats concerning Sex-Selective Abortion

May 31st 2012

US Capital Day

The Republican author of a bill to ban sex-selective abortion called out the "Asian immigrant community" for allegedly contributing to an increase in the practice in the United States. The remarks from Rep. Trent Franks (Ariz.) came as opponents of abortion rights seek to volley a "war on women" charge back at Democrats over the issue. "A number of academic papers have now published evidence that the practice of sex-selection abortion is demonstrably increasing here in the United States, especially but not exclusively in the Asian immigrant community," Franks said during a floor debate on May 30.

Franks went on to describe an academic study published in 2011 in the journal Prenatal Diagnosis that concluded that data on third births and beyond in U.S. Chinese, Asian Indian and Korean communities "strongly" suggests prenatal sex selection in favor of male children. The research was conducted by staff at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, according to a copy obtained online.

Franks cited another study he said "discussed in detail the multiple forms of pressure and outright coercion" some immigrant women suffer from family members related to a cultural preference for sons. "Sex selection abortion is extreme violence against unborn baby girls and their mothers," he said.

The World Health Organization has called sex-selective abortion an "increasing cause of concern" in countries such as India and China, which has a one-child policy. Read more ..

Counting Palestinians

State Department Affirms Support for 5 Million “Palestinian Refugees”

May 31st 2012

Sen. Mark Kirk

In the wake of a Senate amendment requiring the United States to quantify how many Palestinians receiving U.S. aid were displaced after the Israeli War of Independence and how many are only descendants of such refugees, a State Department official told The Cable that the U.S. considers the descendants to be actual refugees.

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk’s amendment, which unanimously passed the Senate Appropriations Committee May 24, has been strongly opposed by the State Department. Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides, in a letter to U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), said Kirk’s amendment “would be viewed around the world as the United States acting to prejudge and determine the outcome of this sensitive issue.”

Nides affirmed the State Department’s view on the number of Palestinian refugees by emphasizing in his letter that the UN and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) “provides essential services for approximately 5 million refugees,” The Cable reported. Read more ..

The Way We Are

‘Monitoring the Future’ Receives $35 Million to Continue For Another Five Years

May 31st 2012

Brain Waves

“Monitoring the Future,” one of the largest and longest-running studies of American youth, as well as of college students and young adults, will receive a $35 million award to continue for another five years. “Monitoring the Future: A Continuing Study of the Lifestyles and Values of American Youth” (MTF) began 37 years ago with funding from the White House and the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), and it has received continuation funding from NIDA (one of the National Institutes of Health) since then. The project is conducted annually at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR).

Because MTF is an investigator-initiated research project, the investigators must submit renewal proposals every five years, which then are evaluated by a committee of their peers. “Every five years we do our best to make the case that this scientific study is worth its considerable cost,” says Lloyd Johnston, the principal investigator. “But to some degree it’s a crapshoot because of the way reviewers are chosen. Every committee has a different composition. Further, the competition for research monies is severe.” The new awards will total $35 million, making MTF one of the largest, if not the largest, investigator-initiated research study supported by any of NIH institutes.

The 2012 Vote

Bloomberg Endorses Rangel in New York

May 30th 2012

Charley Rangel

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) has endorsed Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) – giving the longtime congressman a high-profile boost in his difficult reelection bid. "I'm proud to join with [former Democratic New York Mayor] Ed Koch and so many others in endorsing Charlie Rangel," Bloomberg said in a statement released by Rangel's campaign.

"For more than four decades, he has delivered for New York City time and time again. We've had six very different mayors during his tenure in Congress, but we all shared one thing in common: When the city needs results in Washington, you pick up the phone and call Congressman Rangel." Koch, for his part, cited Rangel’s military service and said he had been a champion for New York’s interests on Capitol Hill.

"I have worked with Charlie Rangel since 1963," Koch said in the statement. "He served the country heroically in the Korean War and he has served New York City very well in Congress. He needs our help, let's do it!" Rangel, who was first elected in 1970, is facing a tough primary challenge in New York’s 15th Congressional District from New York state Sen. Adriano Espaillat (D).

So far, the two biggest Democratic surrogates have stayed out of the race. President Clinton, who lives in the district and backed Rangel during his competitive 2010 primary, has remained on the sidelines because one of Rangel's other rivals was a former top aide at the Clinton foundation. Read more ..

The Edge of Justice

Liberia's Taylor Sentenced to 50 Years for War Crimes

May 30th 2012

Charles Taylor

 Former Liberian president Charles Taylor has been sentenced to 50 years in prison for aiding and abetting horrific war crimes committed during Sierra Leone's civil war. Both defense and prosecution are expected to appeal the sentence by an international court in The Hague.  Taylor is expected to serve any jail term in a British prison.

Dressed in a dark blue suit and yellow tie, Taylor listened somberly to his sentence that was read by presiding judge Richard Lussick. "Mr. Taylor, for the forgoing reasons, the trial chamber unanimously sentences you to a single term of imprisonment of 50 years for all the counts on which you have been found guilty," said Lussick.

Last month, the Special Court for Sierra Leone found Taylor guilty on 11 counts of aiding and abetting rebels who killed, raped and mutilated thousands of people during Sierra Leone's civil war. He is the first African leader to be convicted by an international court and, more generally, the first head of state to face such a conviction since World War II. Read more ..

The Edge of Justice

WikiLeaks' Founder Assange Loses Extradition Case in Britain

May 30th 2012

Julian Assange

Britain's Supreme Court has ruled that Julian Assange, the Australian founder of the controversial website WikiLeaks, can be extradited from Britain to Sweden to face charges of rape and sexual assault. Two former WikiLeaks volunteers are Assange's accusers.

Wednesday's 5-2 decision by the high court upholds earlier decisions made by two lower courts to extradite the 40-year-old Assange, who is wanted in Sweden on a European arrest warrant for questioning over allegations that he raped one woman and sexually assaulted another in 2010. The court rejected arguments by Assange's lawyers that the warrant is invalid because the prosecutor had no legal authority to issue it.

"The majority has concluded that the Swedish public prosecutor was a judicial authority, within the meaning of both the framework decision and the extradition act," said British Supreme Court president Nicholas Phillips. "It follows that the request for Mr. Assange's extradition has been lawfully made and his appeal against extradition is accordingly dismissed.'' Read more ..

The China Edge

China Beats US as World's Top Auto Market

May 30th 2012

Car Love

Whole books and hundreds of studies have been written about the American “automobile culture” - our “love affair with the car.” But the United States is no longer the world’s largest auto market. China is.

Time magazine cites a report from J.D. Power that in 2010, Chinese and Indian consumers together bought just under 20 million new passenger vehicles. That’s 70 percent more cars than Americans purchased that year.

It’s not just Asia’s booming economies that may explain why this is happening. The Washington Post notes that Americans - especially young, fairly new drivers who once couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel and go anywhere and everywhere, and fast - do not regard the automobile as part of the American Dream quite so fervently any more.

In the newspaper’s words, they’re “ditching the keys for the keyboard” - more entranced by texts and apps and such than sleek steel lines and horsepower. As the Post put it, “younger people seem more interested in fiddling on the Internet than under the hood.” Why?  For one, American roads are more congested than ever. One can often get to work faster - and certainly cheaper - on a bicycle or subway train than in a gas-guzzling automobile. Dollar-a-liter gasoline prices can be prohibitively expensive for young people who are trying to pay off their college tuition loans. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Iran Says It Can Destroy Data-Stealing Virus

May 29th 2012

Hacker's Hand

 The Iranian government said Tuesday it has produced an antivirus program capable of fighting what computer experts are calling "the most sophisticated cyber weapon yet unleashed." The data-stealing virus has been infecting computers in Iran and other parts of the Middle East.

Iran's Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center (CERTCC) said Tuesday the antivirus tool can identify and remove the sophisticated spyware, identified a day earlier by a Russian Internet security company. The Iranian ministry did not say if the virus had done any damage.

​​Russia's Kaspersky Lab dubbed the virus "Flame" and described it as a malicious program whose "complexity and functionality exceed those of all other cyber menaces known to date." It said the virus has stolen information from computers in Iran, Israel and other parts of the region. In a separate report, the Hungarian Laboratory of Cryptography and System Security named the virus "sKyWIper" and said Hungarian computers also have been infected. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

China Condemns Civilian Deaths in Syria

May 29th 2012

Dead Syrians

On Monday China denounced last week's killing of at least 108 civilians in Syria, but avoided directly blaming the Syrian government for the massacre. China is calling all parties to support mediation efforts this week in Syria. The Chinese government condemned the attack on the Syrian town of Houla Friday and Saturday, but side-stepped blaming the Assad government for the incident, saying that the perpetrators of the massacre must be found.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said China is shocked by the massacre and strongly condemns the cruel killings of women and children as well as other innocent civilians. On Sunday, the 15-member U.N. Security Council issued a statement condemning the Syrian government's role in the attack on Houla, a Sunni community 24 kilometers northwest of Homs. The statement did not blame the Syrian government directly for all of the killings, but criticized Syria's use of heavy weapons in civilian areas. China's foreign ministry demanded an investigation to find who was responsible for the civilian deaths, and again called on Syria to implement a cease fire. Read more ..

Inside the Vatican

Papal Butler agrees to Testify in Widening Vatican Leak Scandal

May 29th 2012

Paolo Gabriele
Paolo Gabriele riding in Popemobile.

Accused of leaking confidential information from the Vatican, Paolo Gabriele has agreed to cooperate with investigators. The former butler of Pope Benedict, Gabriele was arrested on May 24 by Vatican police and is being held in a cell at the Vatican City. The Italian media is circulating rumors that a cardinal of the Church may be involved in the scandal. However, papal spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi has said “there is no cardinal under suspicion.” Incriminating documents were found in Gabriele’s Vatican City apartment.

Often seen in the company of the pope, Gabriele was frequently photographed while sitting in the so-called Pope-mobile during papal visits. The man who “lives in the Pope’s shadow” is the one person sees Pope Benedict most frequently on a daily basis even though he is not ordained nor holds any other ecclesiastical distinctions. Gabriele’s arrest came during the same week as the president of the Vatican Bank was ousted after the book Your Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI revealed that conflicts over his management of the institution led to clashes within the Church. Banker Ettore Gotti Tedeschi said that he would have to say “ugly things” in order to defend himself, so he would instead stay quiet out of his respect for Pope Benedict, reports the Los Angeles Times. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

News Agency Removes Report On Iran's 'Physical' Involvement In Syria

May 29th 2012

Syria - bombardment of Hama

The semi-official Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA) has removed an interview with a senior member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force in which he said Iran had been involved in Syria to prevent the killings of civilians. ISNA has not provided an explanation for the removal of the interview. The short interview is, however, still available on other Iranian websites.

Deputy Quds Force commander Ismail Ghaani was quoted on May 27 by ISNA as saying that "Thanks to Iran's presence in Syria-- physically and nonphysically-- big massacres were prevented." Brigadier General Ghaani said that the Quds Force had had an "effective" presence in Syria. "Despite all the problems that the Syrian government has -- and we have asked them to address those -- Syria is a location of resistance. The reason for all the pressure from the U.S. and Israel is that they have realized the country is impossible to occupy," he told ISNA. Ghaani also claimed that "if the Islamic republic had not been present in Syria, the massacre of its people would have been multiplied." Read more ..

Kazakhstan on Edge

Toddler Tragedy Galvanizes Kazakh City

May 29th 2012

Khazahkstan Toddler

Two-year-old Yegor Khmil was out for an evening stroll with his mother in the east-central Kazakh city of Temirtau on May 24 when he fell through an open manhole and into the drainage system. Despite frantic efforts, his mother was unable to save him. Divers recovered his tiny body from a reservoir three days later.

More than 1,000 locals, many carrying stuffed toys and flowers, gathered for Yegor's funeral on Monday. Many expressed anger at municipal authorities who had been warned that scrap-metal scavengers had been stealing manhole covers but did little to stop the thievery. Shortly before the tragedy, Mayor Nurken Sultanov was asked at a press conference what he thought of the problem of open manholes. Sultanov responded that it was city residents themselves who are stealing the covers and that the authorities were fed up with replacing them. Sultanov then challenged journalists to come up with a solution to the problem. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Envoy Kofi Annan in Syria Amid More Violence

May 28th 2012

Kofi Annan

International peace envoy Kofi Annan is in Syria to salvage a peace plan that he admits is not being comprehensively implemented, as rights activists report a government assault on the central city of Hama that killed at least 34 people.

After arriving in the Syrian capital, Damascus on Monday, Annan called on all sides to lay down arms and help resolve Syria's 15-month conflict peacefully. "I urge the government to take bold steps to signal that it is serious in its intention to resolve this crisis peacefully and for everyone involved to help create the right context for a credible political process. And this message of peace is not only for the government, but for everyone, every individual with a gun," Annan said.

Syrian officials said the former U.N. secretary-general would meet Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem later in the day and President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday. His arrival came after rights activists said security forces bombarded neighborhoods in the flashpoint city Hama from Sunday into early Monday, in retaliation for rebel attacks on government positions. They said the fighting killed soldiers, rebels and at least 13 civilians. Read more ..

Transportation on Edge

Gridlock, On Roads and in Highway Bill Talks, Marks Travel Weekend

May 28th 2012

Traffic Jam

Drivers heading south from Washington on Interstate 95 for the start of the traditional summer tourism season this weekend will be driving on what traffic tracking firm INRIX calls the fourth worst highway in America.

They will also be leaving behind negotiations in Congress on a possible transportation funding bill that some observers say could come to a standstill just as quickly as the traffic they will likely encounter over the long holiday weekend. “We have a huge infrastructure crisis that’s going to be on a lot of people’s minds this weekend and all they see is that Congress can’t do anything about it,” said Parris Glendening, president of the Smart Growth America Leadership Institute and a former governor of Maryland.
“The only thing they’re going to hear, if they are paying attention at all, is that the hill doesn’t have its act together,” Glendening added. “They’re going to be sitting there on I-95, in the gridlock just before and after Richmond, and it’s going to be frustrating.”

Members of the 47-member committee of lawmakers who have been trying to work out a deal between the House and Senate on transportation spending for the better part of a month have sounded more optimistic. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.), told reporters this week “approximately 80 percent” of the bill was non-controversial. "This is a very substantial report I'm giving you." Read more ..

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