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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

Morsi
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

Soda

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.
Read more ..


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 ..


The Battle for Syria

UN Security Council Blames Syria Massacre Partly on Government

May 28th 2012

Dead Syrians

The U.N. Security Council has issued a statement strongly condemning the Syrian government for firing artillery and tank shells at a rebellious town last week during a massacre of at least 108 people, many of them children. In the press statement issued Sunday, the Council said U.N. observers had confirmed the killing of dozens of civilians “in attacks that involved a series of government artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighborhood” of Houla in central Syria.

The 15-nation body also condemned the killing of Houla residents “by shooting at close range and by severe physical abuse” in last Friday's incident, one of the deadliest of Syria's nearly 15-month rebellion against longtime President Bashar al-Assad. But, the Council's non-binding statement did not say who was responsible for the shooting or physical abuse. Earlier, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent a letter to the Council saying U.N. observers who viewed the bodies of the Houla victims Saturday saw wounds from artillery and gunfire. He said the monitors also found artillery and tank shells and fresh tank tracks in the area. The observers reported seeing 108 corpses, including those of 49 children and 34 women. Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja-afari repeated his government's denial of any role in the massacre, blaming it instead on armed terrorist groups Damascus says are behind the rebellion. Read more ..


The Race for LEDs

European LED Commercial Lighting Market Value To Increase Seven-Fold

May 28th 2012

LED bulb

According to a report from market researcher LEDinside, the European LED lighting market's rapid growth is attributed to the energy-saving awareness and high electricity prices in Europe, especially the latter. For example, if a 7W LED light bulb (a replacement for 40W incandescent light bulb) is used for eight hours a day for a month (31 days), it can save 8 kWh compared to using an 40W incandescent light bulb. With the electricity prices of EU-27, US$2 can be saved every month by adopting a LED light bulb instead of incandescents.

As for the future of LED, the market research company expressed "high hopes" for LED commercial lighting's prospects. Given the global anti-nuclear trend and no room for the electricity prices to dip, the energy-saving demand will only climb. LEDinside predicts that LED price will see a drastic drop starting from 2012 and expects the value of European LED commercial lighting market to reach US$1.9 billion by 2015, seven times more than that in 2011. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

ACLU v. CIA: Intelligence Agency Wins Court Battle on Waterboarding Issue

May 28th 2012

Click to select Image

A United States Circuit Court of Appeals panel of judges handed a decisive defeat to the ACLU this week that stated the Central Intelligence Agency doesn't have to release documents regarding its use of waterboarding, or a photograph of the suspected terrorist, Abu Zubaydah, taken around the time that he was subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

This was yet another defeat suffered by the American Civil Liberties Union in its anti-anti-terrorism battle with U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies. "It's deja vu in America, thanks to the liberal-left. Instead of anti-anti-communists, we now have anti-anti-terrorists attempting to poke holes in U.S. defenses," said former military intelligence officer and civilian police detective Sid Franes.

The three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, upholding the district court’s ruling, agreed with the agency’s argument that the requested cables do not have to be turned over in the American Civil Liberties Union’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit because they relate to “intelligence methods.” Officials at the ACLU have complained about the outcome of their court case, and continue their use of the term "torture" to describe waterboarding and other aggressive interrogation methods. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Pentagon has Military Plans Ready to Prevent Nuclear Iran, says Panetta

May 28th 2012

Leon Panetta Pensativo
Leon Panetta

The Pentagon has a plan ready for military action to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, but the United States and its allies remain focused on reaching a diplomatic solution, according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. “The international community’s been unified [and] . . . we are prepared for any contingency in that part of the world. But our hope is that these matters can be resolved diplomatically," Panetta said during an interview on ABC's This Week.

When asked if the Defense Department has plans in place to support or carry out a military strike against nuclear development sites in Iran, Panetta replied that the Pentagon will be ready if the White House makes that call. "One of the things that we do at the Defense Department, Jake, is plan. And . . . we have plans to be able to implement any contingency we have to in order to defend ourselves," Panetta said. "We will do everything we can to prevent [Iran] from developing a weapon," he added. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Obama Refines Economic Pitch by Focusing on Steady Jobs Growth

May 28th 2012

Obama pensive with flag

Obama is highlighting job growth and a steep decline in the unemployment rate to convince voters his policies are working. President Obama’s campaign is highlighting job growth and a steep decline in the unemployment rate over the last year to sell the public on the idea that his economic policies are working. Obama’s greatest challenge this campaign cycle is convincing voters to give him another four years to try to improve the economy, the central issue of the 2012 campaign.

Republican Mitt Romney is hammering Obama on the issue as the jobless rate hovers at 8.1 percent. No president has been reelected with an unemployment rate that high since Franklin Roosevelt, who inherited an economy in the midst of the Great Depression. Team Obama’s strategy is to remind voters that the economy has added jobs for 26 months in a row, while hammering home the point that Romney would return to the policies of former president George W. Bush, something underlined by the campaign’s recent slogan, “Forward.” Polls suggest voters aren’t happy with Obama on the economy, but that many believe he inherited a mess from Bush. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Romney Uses Lessons from GOP Primary to Fight Back at Obama

May 27th 2012

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney is finding that the lessons he learned in the GOP primary are serving him well against President Obama. Romney, who is expected to easily secure the 1,144 delegates he needs to sew up the GOP nomination with a victory Tuesday in Texas’s primary, is now employing some of the techniques he used to secure his party's nod to fight back against Obama’s attacks on his private equity background.

When the Obama campaign released a pair of commercials earlier this month depicting Bain as a “vampire” that raided corporations with little regard for job losses, it largely mirrored similar efforts by Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry during the South Carolina primary this January. But the Romney campaign was quickly able to turn the critique to their advantage, using — as they had before — off-message surrogates and questions about commitment to free-market principles to undermine the core of rival attacks.

Romney’s rebuttal was centered primarily around not conceding an inch on economic issues, and he used the renewed focus on jobs to cast Obama as naive on the way the free market functions. "There's no question but that he's attacking capitalism, in part I think because he doesn't understand how the free economy works. He's never had a job in the free economy, neither has Vice President Biden,” Romney told Fox News Thursday. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

Report Says NATO Air Strike Kills Eight From Same Family

May 27th 2012

MQ-1 Predator Drone

Local authorities say a NATO air strike has killed eight members of a family in eastern Afghanistan. Provincial government spokesman Rohullah Samoon says the attack on May 26 in the Suri Khail village of Paktia's Gurda Saria district killed a man, his wife, and their six children. NATO-led coalition forces said they were aware of the reports and were investigating what happened.

The UN says nearly eight out of 10 civilian deaths in Afghanistan are the result of attacks by Taliban insurgents or Al-Qaeda-linked militants. But the deaths of civilians caused by NATO-led forces continue to be an irritant in Afghan President Hamid Karzai's relationship with foreign troops in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) says four of its service members have been killed in separate bomb attacks in southern Afghanistan. ISAF said in a statement that the soldiers died "following separate improvised explosive device attacks" on May 26. No other details were provided. One of the soldiers is thought to be a British soldier killed in an explosion in the Nahr-e Saraj region of southern Helmand Province. Read more ..


Egypt on Edge

US Faces Dilemma as Muslim Brotherhood Leads in Egypt Vote

May 26th 2012

Muslim Brotherhood Marching

Congress and the White House are facing a dilemma as the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate has taken the lead in the initial round of Egypt’s first democratic presidential elections.

U.S. leaders are deeply troubled by the possibility that the Islamist party could roll back religious and women's rights and break ties with Israel if it takes the presidency after winning almost half the seats in Parliament. But they're also wary of ending up on the wrong side of history as democratic upheaval upends the Middle East.

“I believe, and I've said here repeatedly, that the United States of America — the government of Barack Obama and members [of Congress] of both parties — we look forward to working with whoever is elected,” said House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.), the sole lawmaker observing this week's elections in Egypt. “We may have a preference, but how can we encourage the development of pluralism and self-determination and then reject the outcome of that?” Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi won about 25 percent of the vote according to preliminary results and will face a June 16-17 run-off against Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, former Egyptian Air Force commander Ahmed Shafiq. Morsi, an engineer who has taught in the U.S. and worked on NASA space shuttle engines in the 1980s, has promised to implement Islamic law even as his party touts itself as a moderate movement in meetings with U.S. and other foreign governments. Read more ..


Ethiopia on Edge

VOA Reporter Detained in Ethiopia

May 26th 2012

Peter Heinlein

A Voice of America reporter has been detained in the Ethiopian capital while trying to cover a demonstration Friday. Witnesses to the arrest said that reporter Peter Heinlein and his translator Simegineh Yekoye were detained while seeking to interview protesters during a Muslim demonstration following Friday prayers in Addis Ababa.

Another Western reporter said there was a heavy police presence at the demonstration and that he also was stopped by police and told to leave the area. Tom Rhodes, East Africa spokesman for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said he understood that Heinlein was accused of acting "unprofessionally and illegally." Rhodes said a government spokesman accused Heinlein, who is married to a Danish diplomat, of improperly using a diplomatic vehicle and refusing to show media accreditation. Rhodes added that the accusations seemed at odds with Heinlein's reputation as a highly professional journalist who has worked for VOA since 1988. "However, I would add that Peter Heinlein is a veteran reporter, an experienced and professional broadcaster, so personally I find it rather hard to believe that someone like Heinlein would be reporting unprofessionally," Rhodes said. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Phablets Hybrid Communication Devices to Surpass 208 Million Unit Shipments Annually in 2015

May 25th 2012

Smart phone

More than 208 million phablets, a hybrid device that is larger than a smartphone but smaller than a tablet, like the Samsung Galaxy Note, will be shipped globally in 2015, says ABI Research. Despite the slow start for phablet smartphones in 2011, the market is at the dawn of the phablet era. HTC, LG, and Huawei will each introduce phablet smartphones in 2012, joining the ranks of Samsung's Galaxy Note and Nexus. Additionally, another phablet smartphone was released earlier this month, the Samsung Galaxy S3.

“One of the chief drivers for phablets is the amount of time people use their smartphones for web browsing, reading articles and newspapers on the go, or simply navigating their journeys,” says senior analyst Joshua Flood. “The larger screen sizes make a significant difference to the user’s experience when compared to conventional-sized touchscreens between 3.5 to 4 inches.” Additionally, new phablet-styled devices provide an attractive two-in-one device proposition and are beginning to see the competition between these larger smartphone form factors and smaller media tablets (less than seven inches). Phablets are defined as having a touch screen size between 4.6 to 5.5 inches. Global shipments for phablets will increase by a factor of 10 in 2012 from 2011. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Unions Angry with Democrats Over Lack of Help in Wisconsin Governor's Recall

May 25th 2012

union protest

Top union officials are lashing out at Washington Democrats, claiming they haven't done enough to help them unseat Gov. Scott Walker (R) in Wisconsin's recall election.

President Obama has been silent on the race since his campaign released a statement endorsing Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) immediately after his primary victory two weeks ago. The Obama campaign is helping Barrett with get-out-the-vote operations, but the president has not publicly mentioned the race. The Democratic National Committee has been similarly tight-fisted. The DNC sent out a fundraising email for Barrett, and DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) will be in Wisconsin for a fundraiser next week, but the national party has refused entreaties to give the state party money. The election is on June 5, just 10 days away.

International Association of Fire Fighters President Harold Schaitberger acknowledged the DNC’s help on the ground but said a major cash investment would have been worth a lot more. "I'm very disappointed that the DNC has not seen fit to make a dollar investment," Schaitberger said. "When you're facing $25 million or more in super-PAC funds, you need money. The campaign needed funds to get up on the air to fight back. ... I think that would have been a good investment going into November." Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Iran Rush Increases Nuke Enrichment to 27%

May 25th 2012

iran_nuclear_scientist

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, diplomats tells the Associated Press that while Iran has been negotiating with the world’s powers, the Mullahs have been increasing uranium enrichment to its highest levels yet. According to information obtained by the AP, the International Atomic Energy Agency has found traces of enriched uranium up to 27 percent at the Iran’s Fardo plant, which is carved into a mountain in order to protect Iran’s fledging nuclear weapons program from attack. Although enrichment remains well below the 90 percent required for weaponization, it is the Islamic state’s highest level yet, indicating their intent to move towards that goal.

On Thursday Iran reaffirmed its commitment to its nuclear program, as negotiations with the P5+1 countries – including United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany - were postponed again, without any resolution. Iranian chief negotiator Saeed Jalili stated at a press conference that a peaceful nuclear project was, "an undeniable right of the Iranian nation ... especially the right to enrich uranium." He also insisted that Iran has been sticking to its end of the bargain under the Non-Proliferation Treaty guidelines. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Viral Video calls on Catholics to Vote their Conscience in November

May 25th 2012

Produced by a Florida-based organization, a video calling on Catholics to vote against politicians favoring same-sex marriage, abortion, and euthanasia is going viral on YouTube. With over 1.5 million hits, ‘Test of Fire’ depicts a blacksmith in a darkened workshop pounding out on a forge the words ‘jobs,’ ‘taxes,’ and ‘energy,’ as haunting vocals and symphonic music provide a background reminiscent of Carmina Burana.

The video tells viewers that some issues, such as the above, are negotiable even while others are not. “Many issues are at stake,” the video declare, “but some are not negotiable.” Among these are the defense of life, "From conception. Until natural death," says the video in a quote from Pope Benedict XVI. “This November,” the video says, “Catholics across the nation will be put to the test,” in reference to the current contest between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Governor Mitt Romney. In the video, a presumably Catholic woman is seen striding to a polling place to cast her ballot on Election Day.

Polling shows that while a majority of Catholics supported Obama’s election campaign, there is now a majority that rejects his administration’s mandate requiring Catholic hospitals and charitable institutions to provide insurance coverage for contraception to employees, even against Catholic teachings. This has been considered a dealbreaker by much of the Catholic hierarchy. As a result, this week some 43 Catholic universities and institutions have filed suit in federal courts to challenge the mandate imposed by the Department of Health and Human Services.

“In generations past, the church has always been able to count on the faithful to stand up and protect her sacred rights and duties. This generation of Catholics must do the same,” declares the video in an opening graphic. Saying that issues such as jobs and energy require work by America’s citizens, the video asks rhetorically “But what if we labor in vain?’ Referring to Scripture, the video provides an answer from the 127th Psalm “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” Read more ..


China on Edge

China Targets Immigrants in North Korea Border Region

May 25th 2012

China Security

Chinese state media say authorities have begun a crackdown against illegal immigration in a northeast border region with a large population of defectors from North Korea. The China Daily said Friday the five-month campaign began last week in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, where North Koreans have long fled to escape political persecution and famine.

The paper quoted a local police official as saying the campaign will target foreigners who live and work illegally, saying they are “hidden troubles, and they might pose potential threats to social stability.” The official also said the campaign will crack down on “illegal activities” by foreign NGOs and religious organizations, raising fears that many of the South Korean Christian missionary groups who assist North Korean refugees may be targetted. News of the crackdown in Yanbian comes days after a similar campaign against illegal immigration got underway in the capital, Beijing. Read more ..


The Edge of Terror

U.S. Congressional Panel Slashes Pakistan Aid For Jailing Doctor

May 25th 2012

Hillary Clinton 2
Hilary Clinton

A U.S. Senate committee preparing next year's aid budget to Pakistan has cut its recommendation by $33 million to protest the jailing of a doctor who reportedly helped the CIA find Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's hiding place in Pakistan. The recommended reduction represents $1 million for every year of Shakil Afridi’s sentence. The full Senate must still vote on the overall foreign aid budget, possibly this summer, for the cuts to come into effect.

Afridi ran a vaccination program in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad that was aimed at helping the CIA verify bin Laden’s presence at a compound there. U.S. special forces killed the Al-Qaeda leader in a night raid on May 1-2, 2011. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington "does not believe there is any basis" for Afridi's imprisonment. "As I have said before, the United States does not believe there is any basis for holding Dr. Afridi," she said. "We regret both the fact that he was convicted and the severity of his sentence." "We are raising it and we will continue to do so because we think that his treatment is unjust and unwarranted," Clinton said in Washington on May 24. Pakistan earlier in the day had rejected any U.S. criticism of Afridi's sentence, saying the doctor had received a fair trial. "I think as far as the case of Mr. Afridi is concerned, it would be decided in accordance with Pakistani laws and by the Pakistani courts," Read more ..


China on Edge

China Blames Philippines for More Ships in Disputed Sea

May 24th 2012

Chinese Aircraft Carrier

  China has acknowledged sending additional ships to the territory it disputes with the Philippines in the South China Sea but is blaming Manila for the escalation. Thursday, China on called the Philippines "insincere" in wanting to resolve a two-month standoff about a disputed island in the South China Sea.

China’s Foreign Ministry cited unspecified provocative actions by Manila around the Scarborough Shoal. At the same time, spokesman Hong Lei acknowledged sending more ships to the rocky islands, known as Huangyan in China, to strengthen its control.

China has indisputable sovereignty over Huangyan Island, he said. Ships there are government vessels and conduct maritime surveillance and provide some guarantee to the fishing boats. By providing such assurance, Hong said Chinese fishermen can operate freely there. The Scarborough Shoal has been the site of a standoff since April when a Philippine warship tried to stop Chinese fishing boats.

Chinese surveillance ships blacked them from being detained and the two sides have since engaged in a war of words. The arrival of more Chinese ships demonstrates how Beijing’s naval capabilities compare to the Philippines, said Carl Thayer, professor at the Australian Defense Force Academy. Read more ..



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