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Russia on Edge

Russian Opposition Leaders Freed From Jail

May 24th 2012

Uldatsov
Sergei Udaltsov

Two key figures in the ongoing street protests against Putinism and Russian political stagnation have been released after serving two-week jail terms over a demonstration.

The leader of Russia's opposition Left Front, Sergei Udaltsov, was the first to be freed, after serving his 15-day sentence. He immediately headed for a gathering of opposition activists at the Arbat in Moscow.

Udaltsov and another key opposition voice since Duma elections aroused public anger in December, Aleksei Navalny, were detained during a demonstration in Moscow on May 9.

Navalny, who has parlayed his status as an anticorruption blogger into star status among those disgruntled with Kremlin maneuvering, was also released overnight. Udaltsov joined activists near the monument to well-known Soviet-era musician Bulat Okudzhava, urging supporters not to give up their protests against the return of Vladimir Putin to the presidency and the government.

Udaltsov told ITAR-TASS he would attend a public hearing on a new bill to stiffen penalties for holding or participating in unsanctioned demonstrations later in the day and would then spend time planning the next protest action scheduled for June 12. Navalny was also released. Read more ..


The Edge of Terror

Amnesty Report Says Governments 'Fail To Lead' Against Abuse

May 24th 2012

Assad and Putin
Assad and Putin

Amnesty International says courage shown by rights protesters during the past year has been matched by an "endemic failure of leadership" from local and international authorities. Amnesty's annual human rights report, released on May 24, says Arab Spring uprisings made 2011 "a watershed year for activism." But despite growing protests against rights abuses, it says the year was "depressingly familiar" with "governments of all political hues continuing to operate selectively and, whatever their rhetoric, to subordinate human rights to their own perceived and partisan interests."

Noting the Syrian government is a major buyer of military weapons produced by Russian firms, it criticizes Russia and China for blocking international action against the Syrian regime's deadly crackdown on dissent. It says Russia and China have made the UN Security Council seem "tired, out of step, and increasingly unfit" as a protector of human rights. "What we had over the last 12 months -- as approximately 9,000 Syrians were being killed by their own government -- was a UN Security Council unable to act effectively," says Widney Brown, Amnesty International's senior director of international law and policy. Read more ..


North Korea on Edge

S.Korean Official Says North Preparing for Nuclear Test

May 24th 2012

North Korean Rocket

South Korea's government on Thursday issued its clearest public statement to date expressing a belief that North Korea has made technical preparations to conduct another nuclear test at any time. Defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok explains to reporters this conclusion is based on recent satellite imagery showing excavation work at the Punggye-ri site, combined with other undisclosed intelligence data. Kim says since it appears that the recently excavated tunnel has been refilled it is logical to conclude that a nuclear device probably has been inserted. Thus, he explains, the North could technically conduct a test any time and it is a political decision in Pyongyang that will determine whether or not a detonation is ordered.

A senior U.S. diplomat, traveling in East Asia this week has been warning North Korea not to proceed with another nuclear test attempt. Glyn Davies, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea, says such an action by Pyongyang would be “a highly provocative act.” His comments come amid a statement from North Korea seen as an indication it will push ahead with its nuclear program. The statement, attributed to a foreign ministry spokesman in Pyongyang, said it had not planned another test but what it termed continuing “U.S. hostility” was compelling it not to abandon such activities. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Romney: Lower Jobless Rate First Term to 6 Percent

May 23rd 2012

Mitt Romney expansive

Mitt Romney says his administration would lower the unemployment rate to 6 percent by the end of his first term.

“I can tell you that over a period of four years, by virtue of the policies that we’d put in place, we’d get the unemployment rate down to 6 percent, and perhaps a little lower,” Romney says in a Time magazine interview. The 6 percent prediction is a bold claim that Romney will surely be held to by Democrats if he’s elected.

When Obama took office in January 2009, unemployment stood at 7.8 percent and rose throughout the year, peaking at 10 percent in October. It’s been slowly declining since, hitting 8.1 percent in April, although job growth has slowed in recent months.“This is a President who spends his time blaming other people for the fact that he has been unsuccessful in turning around this economy,” Romney says in the Time interview. “And I think the reason you’re seeing across the country, people saying they’d like to try someone new, is because they believe this President, while he may be a nice guy, is simply not up to the task of helping guide an economy.” Read more ..


France on Edge

New French Interior Minister: I Will Not Accept Preachers of Jew Hatred

May 23rd 2012

Manuel Valls, new French Interior Minister

In his first official outing to Marseille, France’s second largest city, the newly elected French Interior Minister, Manuel Valls, sent a strong message of commitment to the country’s Jewish community.

Addressing the Representative Council for Jewish Institutions in France (CRFI) at the annual dinner yesterday, Valls said he would not accept the presence of “so-called theologians” preaching “hatred of the Jews.” He stated, “As interior minister, I will not accept so-called preachers who advocate Jew-hatred, whether with harsh words or sweet words. When a Jew is attacked in France, it is the Republic itself that is under attack.”

The evening began with a moment of silence in commemorating the victims of the Toulouse attacks, and was also attended by Mohammed Moussaoui, President of the French Muslim Council.

Valles, who originally ran against new French President Francois Hollande in the Socialist Party’s primaries last year, was appointed as Interior Minister on May 16. Hollande’s new government, only the second Socialist government in the last two decades, stirred mixed feelings among the 800,000 Jewish population of France, with Richard Prasquier, president of the CRIF expressing concern that it might lead to a rise in the anti-Israel left. Read more ..


After the Balkan Genocide

Mladic Genocide Trial A Big Story Everywhere—Except Serbia

May 23rd 2012

Click to select Image

The opening of the trial of Ratko Mladic in The Hague on May 16 made news all over the world. All over the world, that is, except Serbia. The former Bosnian Serb general appeared in court on 11 charges of genocide and war crimes. He is accused of orchestrating the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of nearly 8,000 Muslims and the 44-month siege of Sarajevo, in which more than 11,000 people were killed.

Yet, if television stations everywhere broadcast at least part of the proceedings, Serbian stations did not. They confined the news to the headlines, then moved on to other events. Branka Trivic, an RFE/RL correspondent in Belgrade, says that is in line with how Serbia reacts these days to any news from The Hague.

"The Hague tribunal and the trials under way there are getting almost no attention in Serbia's media," Trivic says. "The impression is that once they delivered the last guy indicted of war crimes, they just closed that chapter, and there is no discussion whatsoever about, for instance, who were those responsible for hiding Mladic so long?" Mladic was arrested by the Serbian Security Intelligence Agency on May 26, 2011, after being on the run since he was indicted in 1995. He was found living in northern Serbia, without disguise and in plain sight.

Today, if he seems to be a taboo subject for Serbia's mainstream media, he also is an invisible man to the country's politicians. He has received almost no mention in Serbia's ongoing presidential race, which will conclude with a second-round vote on May 20.Boris Tadic, who announced Mladic's arrest last year when he was Serbian president, rarely speaks of The Hague in his debates with presidential challenger Tomislav Nikolic. That is despite the fact that Nikolic, a nationalist, used to criticize Tadic for handing over suspects to the tribunal as part of the country's drive to join the European Union. Read more ..


Mali on Edge

Attack on Mali's Interim President Sparks Condemnation

May 23rd 2012

mali uprising mar 2012

 Mali residents are expressing shock at an attack on the country's interim president by protesters unhappy with an agreement to let him stay in office for a year. West African leaders have condemned the attack and threatened sanctions on those it finds responsible for trying to block a return to civilian government, two months after a military coup.

Tuesday marks the end of Mali's interim president Dioncounda Traore's initial 40-day mandate. However, the soldiers who ousted the nation's previous leader in March signed a deal Sunday with West African regional bloc ECOWAS.  The accord keeps Traore in charge for one year to organize elections.

Hundreds protested that agreement Monday in Bamako. They screamed "Down with ECOWAS" and "Mali is a sovereign nation.  Mali can choose its own president." Protesters broke down the door to Traore's office at the palace and beat him unconscious after demanding he step down. 

The interim leader has been released from the hospital where he was treated for what his staff said were not life-threatening head wounds. Some see Traore as part of a much-disliked political elite.  As head of the National Assembly, Traore was designated by Mali's constitution to take the reins following the military coup.  Read more ..


The Arab Fall in Egypt

Egyptians Vote For A President

May 23rd 2012

Mohammed Morsi
Muhammad Mursi

Egyptians are casting ballots in the first presidential elections since veteran ruler Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power in a popular uprising last February. Voting is taking place May 23 and May 24 at some 13,000 polling stations across the country. Thirteen candidates are on the ballot, although one candidate has already withdrawn. The candidates have a range of views, with some having served as officials during Mubarak's nearly 30 years in power. Other candidates represent parties backed by Islamic groups.

The former Arab League head and foreign minister under Mubarak, Amr Moussa, and Muhammad Mursi, the U.S.-educated candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, are seen as two of the leading candidates. With no candidate expected to get more than half the votes for an outright first-round victory, a runoff is likely in June. Some 50 million people are eligible to cast ballots. Queues were reported outside polling stations in Cairo shortly after voting began on the morning of May 23. The election will be closely watched to see whether Islamist parties add to their gains after sweeping most of the seats in the first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections that ended in January. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Boehner tops Pelosi with $70M

May 23rd 2012

R Candidates 2012

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has raised more than $70 million for Republicans since winning the Speaker’s gavel, easily topping his fundraising haul for the previous two years in the minority. The total, disclosed in a memo provided to The Hill by Boehner’s political office, puts the Speaker in elite fundraising company as he leads the GOP bid to keep the House majority this fall. The $70 million figure comprises money Boehner has raised for his campaign and political action committees, as well as for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and individual candidates and members. In all of 2009-2010, Boehner raised $50 million, his office said.

Boehner’s total so far eclipses that of the House Democrats’ fundraising juggernaut, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.). As of May 1, Pelosi had brought in $43.4 million for Democrats since the beginning of 2011, a spokeswoman said. At a similar point in 2010, then-Speaker Pelosi had raised $28.5 million for Democratic committees and candidates, according to a report at the time in The Washington Post. Pelosi is seen as perhaps the biggest Democratic fundraising draw next to President Obama, but Boehner has also proven to be effective in his perch as the nation’s top elected Republican official. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Russian State Duma Passes Bill To Boost Fines On Protesters

May 22nd 2012

Russian Protest

 Russian lawmakers have approved in its first reading a bill that would dramatically boost fines on protesters. The draft law, backed by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, proposes fines of up to 1.5 million rubles ($48,000) per detained demonstrator found guilty of violating legislation governing street rallies.

The initiative has been condemned by opposition supporters, who say it could threaten the survival of their public protest movement against President Vladimir Putin. The three opposition parties at the State Duma lower house of parliament, which generally follow United Russia's lead, voted against the bill, which passed in its initial reading with 236 in favor, 207 opposed, and one abstention.

"We have not supported this law and we cannot support it," Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov said ahead of the vote. "Fines of up 1.5 million rubles have been introduced for the slightest sneeze or cough. Sergei Mironov, the leader of the A Just Russia party, said the new fines were designed to crush dissent. "Why was there a need to increase the fines by 1,500 times?" he asked. "The answer is clear: to intimidate those ready to take part in civic protests." Read more ..


Italy on Edge

Italy Quake Recovery Efforts Underway

Italy Earthquake Red Cross 2012

Thousands of people in northern Italy woke up in tents and cars Monday morning, May 21st, after a powerful 6.0 magnitude earthquake killed seven people and devastated centuries-old cultural sites in the early morning hours. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was centered about 35 kilometers northwest of Bologna.

It struck about 4 a.m. local time, sending panic-stricken residents running into the streets. A series of aftershocks followed. Many of those residents said they are afraid to go back to their homes, fearing more aftershocks. Civil protection crews are checking government buildings, schools, businesses, homes, churches and other cultural heritage sites to evaluate the scale of damage and costs of rebuilding.

The Italian Culture Ministry called the damage significant, with the quake turning historic buildings and churches into piles of rubble and dust. Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti has sent condolences to the victims. He plans to leave the NATO summit in the U.S. city of Chicago to return home early. Read more ..


The Euro Zone on Edge

Paul Krugman Predicts Greek Euro Exit, But Larger Crisis Averted

May 22nd 2012

Paul Krugman

American economist Paul Krugman thinks introducing the euro was a mistake. But he also thinks it needs to be saved.

The current crisis in the eurozone is being driven by heavily indebted Greece, which is spiraling into political and economic chaos caused by a public backlash over government austerity measures. EU and International Monetary Fund (IMF) leaders have demanded the measures in return for bailing the country out. Fears are rising that Athens is on its way out of the eurozone. Krugman thinks it probably is, and says the consequences would be "ugly."

"It's going to hit the Greek economy pretty hard; there will be some losses on loans to Greece, but those losses are probably going to happen regardless," Krugman says. "And if it's contained, if the Europeans do what's necessary so that it doesn't cause a full breakup of the euro zone, then it's not such a bad thing." But that's a big "if," says the winner of the Nobel Prize in economics. Krugman is a strong opponent of austerity measures during economic crisis, which is the path many European leaders are currently on. Many European citizens agree with him, as evidenced by revolts against budget slashing in the streets and in the voting booth. Voters in France and Greece earlier this month soundly rejected pro-austerity governments.

Now the European Central Bank needs to help out, Krugman says, by becoming an "open-ended lender to banks and governments" and raising its inflation targets as a way to stem the crisis and save the euro. Read more ..


Health Care on Edge

Notre Dame, Catholic Institutions Sue Obama Over Contraception Mandate

May 22nd 2012

Archbishop Timothy Dolan Face the Nation

The University of Notre Dame joined other Catholic institutions Monday in suing the Obama administration over its contraception mandate. The lawsuit argues the mandate in the health-care law requiring that insurance plans cover birth control for women without a co-pay violates the religious freedom of Catholic institutions. The Archdiocese of Washington, the Michigan Catholic Conference and the Catholic University of America are among the other plaintiffs in the suit. Notre Dame's participation is notable because Obama gave a controversial commencement speech at the school in 2009. Anti-abortion-rights groups criticized the school for inviting Obama because of his position on abortion.

The suit was one of 12 similar actions filed Monday around the country, a release from the Archdiocese of Washington stated, bringing the total number of cases now pending over the mandate to more than 30. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, praised the trend in a statement. "We have tried negotiation with the administration and legislation with the Congress—and we’ll keep at it—but there's still no fix," he said. "Time is running out, and our valuable ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now." Read more ..


The Health Edge

US Panel Recommends Ending Routine Blood Test for Prostate Cancer

May 22nd 2012

blood test

An independent panel of U.S. public health officials is recommending that physicians no longer use a blood test to screen men for prostate cancer. The Congressionally-created advisory group, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, says the widely-used test does more harm than good. Prostate cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer among men in the U.S. Last year, more than 240,000 mostly older men in their 60s got the news. An estimated 33,000 died of the disease.

The prostate is a small, walnut-shaped organ that’s part of the male reproductive system, producing the fluid that carries sperm. Since the 1990s, the so-called prostate specific antigen or PSA test has been a routine part of medical care for men aged 55 and older in the U.S. and other developed countries. The PSA test measures levels of a protein in the blood that are elevated in the presence of prostate cancer. If cancer is found, it is treated aggressively, in nearly 90 percent of patients, with radiation, surgery or estrogen therapy designed to shrink the tumor. But the PSA test has a high rate of false positives. So, men who turn out to have no cancer at all, or whose tumors are so small they pose no real health threat, often get unnecessary interventions such as uncomfortable and medically risky prostate tissue biopsies. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Facebook Stock Plunges in Second-Day Trading

May 22nd 2012

Facebook page

The price of shares of social-media giant Facebook plunged on its second day of stockmarket trading. Investors quickly started selling the stock on the Nasdaq exchange Monday, sending the price of Facebook shares down 13 percent in the first hour. It later regained some strength, but still was down more than 10 percent in midafternoon trading at below $35 a share.

Facebook shares traded publicly for the first time on Friday, when they edged up to $38.23, 23 cents above the initial offering price.

With more than 900 million users, the social networking site is a well-known product. However, some financial analysts say they think the company is overvalued, and some projections of its future advertising revenue have been reduced.

The Nasdaq exchange said Sunday it mishandled the opening session of trading. Some investors say they lost money because of technical problems that prevented some large and small investors from completing stock trades. Nasdaq says it is recreating the mishandled trades to determine which stock buyers and sellers are owed compensation.


Edge of Terrorism

Scores of Yemeni Soldiers Killed in Bomb Attack

May 21st 2012

Destroyed terrorist vehicle

 Yemeni officials said a suicide bomber has killed at least 96 soldiers and wounded more than 200 during a military parade rehearsal in the capital Sana'a. Officials said the bomber was dressed in a military uniform and detonated his explosives while hundreds of soldiers were around him. Yemen's defense minister was at Monday's rehearsal but was unharmed.

The soldiers were preparing for a parade on Tuesday to mark the unification of Yemen's north and south. Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi was due to attend the parade. Reports by Yemen's state television showed dozens of soldiers sprawled on the ground. At a nearby military hospital, doctors worked to save badly wounded soldiers.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. But it coincides with a U.S.-backed Yemeni government offensive against al-Qaida militants who seized parts of the country's south last year as it was engulfed in a popular uprising against then-president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Mr. Hadi, who succeeded Mr. Saleh in February, has vowed to fight the growing presence of the terrorist network's regional affiliate, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. Read more ..


The Afghanistan War

World is Behind Strategy for Afghanistan Says Obama

May 20th 2012

Obama - Karzai

U.S. President Barack Obama says the NATO summit in Chicago shows that the world is behind the strategy to help Afghanistan achieve peace and development. Mr. Obama spoke alongside Afghan President Hamid Karzai on the sidelines of the summit Sunday.  The U.S. president is hosting representatives from more than 50 countries to discuss NATO's future in Afghanistan, from transferring all security control to Kabul in 2014 to providing assistance in the long term.
 
President Obama said all of this is part of a shared vision NATO has that Afghanistan can transition from decades of war to a transformative decade of peace and development. Mr. Karzai said that Afghanistan is looking forward to an end to the war and its transformation, so that it is no longer a burden to the international community. Earlier Sunday, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said "there will be no rush for the exits" in Afghanistan, despite the new French government's promise to withdraw troops two years ahead of schedule. Rasmussen promised that the coalition would see its operation through until it successfully hands over security control to the Afghan government by the end of 2014. Read more ..


Pakistan on Edge

Pakistan Restores Twitter Access Following 'Blasphemous' Depictions of Mohammad

May 20th 2012

twitter jail

According to local telecommunications authorities, Pakistan restored access to Twitter on May 21, only hours after blocking the site over posts concerning a contest involving caricatures of Mohammed, the founder of Islam. Following an order from Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, Mohammad Younis Khan, speaking for the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, said "Twitter service has been restored." Thus ended a 12-hour hiatus in access to the popular website.

Khan said that PTA had been ordered by Pakistan’s ministry of information technology, but did not identify the reasons for the change. No word was forthcoming from the ministry.

Speaking earlier on May 21 before the ban was lifted, Khan said that "Facebook and Twitter were involved. We negotiated with both. Facebook has agreed to remove the stuff but Twitter is not responding to us." It was thus that the IT ministry had ordered Twitter to be blocked, he said. 

On May 20, Khan gave the reasons for the ban, saying "The website has been banned by Ministry of Information Technology and the decision was conveyed to us. There was blasphemous material on Twitter." Khan blamed the “caricatures of Prophet Muhammad" for the shut-down. However, some tech-savvy observers in Pakistan expressed fears that the shut-down may have actually been a test of a URL-blocking filter being tried by Pakistan's government. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Assad's Forces Kill 16 Fellow Citizens including Children in Hama

May 20th 2012

syrian explosion

A Syrian human rights group says security forces have attacked a rebellious town in the country's central province of Hama, killing 16 people including children. Based in the UK, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Syrian government artillery and gunfire hit the town of Souran on May 20. There was no independent confirmation of the casualties.

Elsewhere, a roadside bomb exploded near a team of U.N. officials and journalists who were touring the Douma suburb of Damascus. No one was hurt by the blast, which happened about 150 meters away from the group that included visiting U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous and the head of U.N. observers in Syria, Maj. Gen. Robert Mood.

A Syrian security official said gunmen had been active in Douma prior to the explosion, attacking and wounding about 30 security personnel. Recent fighting between government and rebel forces in the district has left its streets largely deserted. Douma has been been a major center of the 14-month uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's 11-year rule. Read more ..


The 2012 Race

Claims of Obama's ‘Secret Deal’ with Russia Draw Democrats’ Ire

May 20th 2012

Dmitry and Barack buddies

Democrats are crying foul over GOP suggestions that President Obama has a “secret deal” on missile defense with Russia.

The fight began in March, when a hot mic at a summit caught Obama telling then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he’d have more “flexibility” on the issue after the election. Medvedev famously responded that he would transmit that information to Vladimir Putin, who is now Russia's president. Republicans immediately attacked Obama for making a secret deal, and they used this week’s floor debate on the Defense authorization bill to highlight their argument. No one in Congress has been more vocal about Obama’s comments than Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), who chairs the Armed Services subcommittee that deals with missile defense.

Turner mentioned a secret deal seven times during the committee mark-up of the Defense bill last week, and he took up the same line of criticism on the House floor Thursday. “The issue of the president’s secret deal with the Russians is not really one that’s open to interpretation,” Turner said. “When we ask what are the terms of this deal, Mr. President, the terms that you won’t let the American public see, he says nothing.” Read more ..


Wolrd Economy on Edge

Obama Declares 'Emerging Consensus' Among G8 on Economic Growth

May 20th 2012

Barack Obama with Flag

President Obama expressed confidence Saturday that there’s an “emerging consensus” from the world’s most industrialized nations that more must be done to promote growth and job creation to help Europe’s sputtering economy. Wrapping up a two-day G8 summit at the presidential retreat in Maryland, Obama together with the other leaders, urged German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to ease her push for austerity and endorse a pro-growth agenda that would help Europe’s economy accelerate.

In a brief statement to reporters at the end of the two-day summit, Obama said more work needs to be done to help Europe’s economy. “All the leaders here today agreed growth and jobs must be our top priority,” Obama said.

A central question facing Europe is whether Greece will be able to retain its membership in the European Union and keep the euro as its currency. Greece’s departure from the euro-zone would throw Europe into uncharted territory, which in turn would inject huge amounts of uncertainty into global financial markets—the last thing the still-struggling U.S. recovery needs. Obama emphasized the importance of a “strong and cohesive” Euro-zone and reaffirmed the leaders’ interest in Greece staying a part of the economic group while respecting its commitments.

In his brief remarks, the president sought to explain why Europe’s current economic crisis could hurt the U.S. and why more needs to be done to help the countries rebuild. “Europe is our largest economic partner,” Obama said, standing at a small lectern outside his presidential cabin, his sleeves rolled. “Put simply, if a company is forced to cut back in Paris or Madrid that might mean less business for manufacturers in Pittsburgh or Milwaukee and that might mean a tougher time for families who depend on that business. “That’s why even as we confronted our own economic challenges over the past two years, we’ve collaborated closely with our European allies and partners as they’ve confronted theirs,” Obama said.

But Obama—who is in reelection mode with six months to go in the presidential campaign—said Europe can emulate what the U.S. has done, embracing a growth agenda with an eye toward cutting deficits in the future. “We know it is possible,” Obama said. “In my earliest days in office, we took decisive steps to confront our own financial crisis from making banks submit to stress tests to rebuilding their capital. Obama said because of his administration’s work, putting in place some of the strongest financial reforms since the Great Depression “we’ve worked to get our own fiscal house in order in a responsible way." Read more ..


The Economy on Edge

Obama to Congress: Implement Wall St. Reforms for Growth

May 19th 2012

Obama and Flag

Any progress the country has made in recovering from the economic downturn is threatened by Congress' threat to undo financial reform, President Obama warned Saturday. "For the past three and a half years, we’ve been fighting our way back from an historic economic crisis," Obama said in his weekly address.

"We’ve recovered taxpayer dollars that were used to stabilize troubled banks. And we’ve put in place Wall Street reform with smarter, tougher, commonsense rules that serve one primary purpose: to prevent a crisis like that from ever happening again." "And yet," he warned, "for the past two years, too many Republicans in Congress and an army of financial industry lobbyists have actually been waging an all-out battle to delay, defund, and dismantle Wall Street reform."

Congress needs to "stand on the side of reform," Obama said. "We can't afford to go back to an era of weak regulation and little oversight," he said. Obama explained the rules in question require more banks to hold onto more capital as to not risk a taxpayer bailout if they make a mistake, as J.P. Morgan did recently. And if they fail, banks would be required by new regulations to have a "living will" to determine the way its assets would be distributed. Read more ..


World Economy on Edge

Fiscal Issues Loom as G8 Summit Opens with Iran, Syria Talks

May 19th 2012

2009 G8 Summit
2009 G8 Summit

President Obama and other world leaders opened the Camp David G8 summit Friday evening discussing a “dual track” approach with Iran while also attempting to focus on the political transition in Syria. But the European fiscal crisis hung over the talks.

At a two-hour dinner with leaders at the presidential retreat, Obama and the other world leaders — including the newly elected French President Francois Hollande — discussed the way forward with Iran with the intention of increasing pressure on the regime with a unified front.

Turning to Syria, the leaders discussed supporting the Kofi Annan plan and its call for political transition. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev appeared to support an international consensus on both issues. A senior administration official said Russia has been unified in the Iran talks. When the subject turned to Syria, there was not any disagreement among the world leaders that there needs to be a political transition. But the nature of the transition will be worked out in further detail in the coming days. Read more ..


Labor on Edge

Dems Wade into Major Airline Union Battle

May 19th 2012

american airlines

Democratic lawmakers have waded into what's becoming a messy union organizing battle at American Airlines.

Both senators and House members have sent letters to American Airlines CEO Tom Horton this week asking the airline to move forward with a union election at the company. The airline, in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings, filed a lawsuit against the National Mediation Board (NMB) earlier this month that objected to the agency setting a union election for the Communications Workers of America (CWA) at the company.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Horton, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), as well as Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), urged him to hold the union election at American Airlines.

“While we respect American’s right to pursue this issue through the court system, we strongly urge you to allow the election process to move forward in the interim. Your workers have the right to a prompt and fair election, and we urge you to respect that right,” the senators wrote in their letter. Read more ..


The Edge of Defense

House Adds East Coast Missile Shield Site in $643 Billion Defense Bill

May 19th 2012

Misselle Launch with Jets

On May 18th the House approved a sweeping defense authorization bill for 2013 that calls for the construction of an East Coast missile defense system in the United States by the end of 2015. The bill obligates $100 million next year to plan for the site, but the project would cost billions of dollars in later years that has yet to be funded. The language was derided by a House Democrat as an "East Coast Star Wars fantasy base" but nonetheless escaped further scrutiny during floor debate Wednesday and Thursday on amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

By afternoon, members approved the bill in a 299-120 vote after approving dozens of amendments, some after fierce debate that revealed disagreements on issues such as detainee policy, nuclear cooperation with Russia and the speed of the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Seventy-seven Democrats support the bill, while 16 Republicans opposed it. The NDAA authorizes $643 billion in spending for the Department of Defense and overseas contingency operations, $8 billion above the spending caps in last year's Budget Control Act (BCA) and $3.7 billion higher than President Obama's request. The House authorization level will lead to a showdown with the Senate, which is marking up the authorization bill in committee next week, because the Democratic-led Senate is expected authorize funding roughly at the President's level. Read more ..


Broken Borders

Arizona Democrat, Immigration Advocate Charged with Bribery, Fraud

May 18th 2012

One Million Dollars

A Democrat member of Arizona's House of Representatives who fights for illegal aliens' rights, Paul Ben Arredondo, was charged on Wednesday by a federal grand jury with bribery, fraud, attempted extortion and false statements he made to the FBI in connection with receiving more than $6,000 in tickets to sporting and special events while he was a Tempe, Arizona, council member and a member-elect of the Arizona House, according to a federal law enforcement official.

The indictment charges the 63-year-old liberal with one count of federal programs bribery, two counts of honest services mail fraud, one count of attempted Hobbs Act extortion and one count of making false statements. Arredondo will be arraigned on May 30, 2012, in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lawrence O. Anderson. According to the indictment, Arredondo was a council member in Tempe for 16 years, until July 2010. He was elected to the Arizona House of Representatives in November 2010. Read more ..


The Koreas on Edge

Japan Launches South Korean Satellite Into Orbit

May 18th 2012

Click to select Image

Japan has successfully launched a South Korean satellite. The historical accomplishment puts the Japanese in the same arena as European and Russian entities in the lucrative commercial space launch business. The roar of the H-2A launch vehicle shattered the early morning silence On the southern Japanese island of Tanegashima.  The space center was illuminated as the liquid-fueled 57-meter high two-stage rocket rose off the pad with four satellites on board. Sixteen minutes after launch, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced the first payload had successfully separated.

The Arirang-3 satellite (also known as KOMPSAT-3) was then placed into orbit. The Korean Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) says it is functioning normally. Also deployed Friday from the H-2A rocket was a satellite with the world's largest revolving antenna. The Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer 2 (AMSR2) is able to measure water temperature from the sea surface with an accuracy of 0.5 degrees Celsius. Scientists say the Japanese satellite, nick-named “Shizuku,” will play an important role in monitoring global water circulation and climate change. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Mobile Data Explosion Drives Massive Increase in Network Cost

May 18th 2012

Mobile devce users

The tremendous growth in mobile data traffic—Solon Management Consulting expects a more than 15-fold increase between 2011 and 2016 for Germany alone—will put strong pressure on operators. Mobile operators face significantly higher cost for providing additional network capacity. According to the Solon white paper "Mobile Data Growth: How operators can handle the traffic explosion," which is being released today, the cost for access and backhaul network could almost double within five years. Solon recommends a set of measures that will enable operators to provide bandwidth in a more cost-efficient way.

"Mobile operators need to act now to meet the mobile cost challenge," warns Stephan Kalleder, Principal at Solon and author of the white paper. Without adequate countermeasures, network expenditures will increase from 12 per cent of revenues in 2011 to 23 per cent of revenues in 2016 according to Solon estimates. "Since voice revenues are expected to grow moderately at best, the future profitability of mobile operators is strongly determined by how quickly they can improve the network cost base," says Kalleder. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Protesters Continue Moscow Sit-In Despite Arrests

May 18th 2012

Russian Protest

Dozens of opposition activists remain camped on a central Moscow square, despite police arresting some 20 fellow protesters overnight. Opposition leader Ilya Yashin was among those detained. The protesters moved to Kudrinskaya Square on May 16 after riot police uprooted them from another Moscow site where they had been camped for a week.

The sit-in demonstrations are part of a so-called "unlimited" protest, which the opposition launched after violent clashes between demonstrators and police on May 6, the day before Vladimir Putin was sworn in for a third term as Russia's president.

Pro-opposition television presenter Ksenia Sobchak, a driving force behind the sit-ins, visited the square following the arrests. "At the moment I think it's important to be here, and we'll see what happens, what [the police] are planning and whether they keep their promises this time on not dispersing the people who are gathered here," she told journalists. Sobchak said on her Twitter account that local district officials -- many of whom belong to the opposition -- had legalized the sit-in by granting it the status of  a "festival." Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Wikileaks May Have Led Iran to Execution of “Israeli Spy”

May 17th 2012

Iranian Revolutionary Guard

Majid Jamali Fashi’s execution in Iran this week is being linked to the Wikileaks’ release of U.S. diplomatic cables, by The Times of London. The UK paper reports that a Birmingham University professor said information detailed in a cable from the U.S. embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan, which identified a “licensed martial arts coach and trainer” who educated U.S. government personnel on how Iran pressures masters of martial arts to train the country’s Revolutionary Guards and Basij militamen, may have led Iran to arrest, convict, and hang Fashi.

Fashi, who was a professional kickboxer, was convicted of helping Israel’s Mossad Spy Agency assassinate Massoud Ali-Mohammadi, an Iranian nuclear scientist, two years ago, and was in Baku just days before the embassy cable was published. Iranian authorities claimed that Fashi admitted to receiving Mossad training in Tel Aviv, before returning to Tehran to plan the assassination of Ali-Mohammadi. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Democrats Refuse to Apologize to NYPD for Anti-Cop Amendment

May 17th 2012

Times Square bomb response

U.S. House Democrats are ignoring calls by Republican lawmakers for them to offer an apology to the New York City Police Department for backing an amendment that effectively rebuked the NYPD over its counterterrorism surveillance and investigative techniques. 

The formal rebuke of the NYPD, which failed to pass this week on a mostly party-line vote, would have punished the 40,000-member law enforcement department by prohibiting funding for police and security organizations engaged in alleged unconstitutional or unlawful discrimination.

GOP Rep, Peter King (R-NY) -- chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee -- and Rep. Bob Turner (R-PA) called the vote shameful, while several police officials said that the Democrats "stayed true to form." "The Democrats obtain campaign contributions from groups like CAIR and other Islamic organizations and they in turn protect them from the 'big bad cops,'" said one anonymous police officer who works in the NYPD's Arson & Explosion Unit. While the amendment would apply to any jurisdiction in the nation, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) who sponsored the legislation made it clear that he was targeting the NYPD, especially those divisions and units tasked with combating terrorism. Read more ..


From the Heartland

Singer Forced From Home Because Of Sewage Flooding Charges Landlord Non-Chalence

May 17th 2012

Sarah Lockwood and Daughter
Sarah Lockwood and daughter, homeless after flood

Singer Sarah Lockwood and her family are struggling to recover from both a messy apartment flood and the drought of response and empathy from her landlord. The Lawrence, Kansas singer returned home to discover several inches of raw sewage back up into her home. She resides in a basement apartment and a local back-up from a main forced sewage and stench into her residence. Four other units in her complex were wrecked by the sewage back-up. Now most of Lockwood's belongings are ruined.

"I have a 10-year-old daughter who has school tomorrow, with nothing to wear," she said.

Four families in the housing complex were forced to harvest what they could from the smelly miasma. The rest is a total loss. Equally upsetting to them, they complain, is the lack of concern from their landlord. "One tenant says Midwest Property management contacted carpet cleaners, but didn't do anything to help them Tuesday night," local media reported. Local media adds, "Some tenants received help from an area church. Others were forced to fork over cash for motels." See local coverage here.

Lockwood says it was not until Wednesday morning that she heard from her landlord, who finally offered to help with temporary housing. But not help has been forthcoming for her total loss. An Internet relief fund has been established to help Lockwood. See the donation site here. It's unclear if any of the residents will be reimbursed for damaged or destroyed property.


The 2012 Vote

Sen. DeMint Defends His Role in Upset in Nebraska's GOP Senate Primary

May 17th 2012

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Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) is not apologizing for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars through his leadership fund in Nebraska’s Senate Republican primary, despite criticism from a Republican colleague. Nebraska Sen. Mike Johanns (R) said Wednesday that DeMint should be careful about jumping into primaries in states where he does not fully understand the political dynamics. DeMint said Wednesday that money spent by his Senate Conservatives Fund helped make the Nebraska GOP primary competitive, which helped the winner, state Rep. Deb Fischer.

Fischer defeated state Attorney General Jon Bruning, who was considered the front-runner in the race until late, and Don Stenberg, the former state attorney general. “If we had waited until late, Bruning would have won by 20 points,” DeMint said. “In Nebraska, we got in early because there was a conservative in Don Stenberg and there was one we did not feel would fare well in the general election in Bruning,” he said. “If we hadn’t gotten involved there would have never been a race.” DeMint’s leadership PAC invested more than $900,000 in Stenberg by acting as a conduit for donors and making independent expenditures for him.

Johanns criticized DeMint indirectly on Wednesday. “I think you have to be very careful entering into the political fray in areas quite honestly you don’t understand,” Johanns said when asked if there was a message for DeMint in Stenberg’s loss, according to National Journal.

DeMint said Wednesday he was pleased with the outcome of the race. “I think we’re going to have a really great candidate,” he said. “I think we had a good outcome there.” “I’m not just willing to sit back and have K Street and a lot of the big interests decide who are candidates are,” he added. DeMint said spending by his PAC helped Fischer because Bruning had a big lead in the polls and fundraising at the start of the race. “I think she’ll tell you that and we all know that. Unless we had created a race, she would have never had a race,” he said. But DeMint says he’s not looking to take credit. “It’s only when we have a good candidate and an active grassroots, all we can do is add a little bit of a spotlight,” he said. “I’ve never said I was a kingmaker and I’m not. We don’t need any more kings up here.” Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Israeli Court Orders Three West Bank Settlements Demolished

May 16th 2012

Demolition of the Shepherd Hotel

 The European Union this week continued the international condemnation of Israel's policy of building settlements in largely Palestinian areas. The enclaves are a stumbling block to restarting peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. But in a minor win for Palestinians, an Israeli court has ordered three small West Bank settlements to be demolished after ruling they were illegal. The houses of Ulpana overlook Beit El, an Israeli settlement of 7,000 people not far from the major Palestinian city of Ramallah. The Israeli High Court has ruled that five of Ulpana's 14 buildings are on land belonging to a Palestinian man. It has ordered Israel's government to demolish them and evict the 30 young families living there.

Palestinians and much of the international community consider all Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to be illegal.  But the case regarding Ulpana is much narrower, and the ruling could pose a challenge for Israel's new unity government. Residents here say they bought the land legally although the sale was never registered. The Israeli administrator for the area, Danny Dayon, says the houses were built with government loans. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

US Aids Yemen al-Qaida Strikes

May 16th 2012

Kabul Hotel attacked.jpg

With U.S. troops reportedly guiding air raids from a nearby base for the first time, Yemeni jets attacked positions of al-Qaida insurgents Tuesday in southern Yemen's Abyan province. Yemeni officials said a "four-pronged assault" on the militants was being waged on the ground, backed by heavy artillery and aerial bombardment, and that U.S. troops stationed at al-Annad air base in Lahj province were providing logistical support.

The reported participation of U.S. forces in directing Yemeni fighter jets would represent a major escalation in U.S. involvement. The U.S. Defense Department acknowledged having trainers in Yemen, but a Pentagon spokesman said he would not go into detail about whether these operations were specifically stationed in Lahj province. In all, the raids and ground fighting reportedly killed more than 40 people, including al-Qaida militants and civilians. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Roadside Blast Hits UN Convoy; 20 Killed at Syrian Funeral

May 15th 2012

arab league observers

The United Nations says a roadside blast hit a convoy carrying a group of its unarmed observers near the Syrian city of Hama on Tuesday, damaging their vehicles but not injuring the monitors. Meanwhile, Syrian activists have accused the government of killing at least 20 mourners at a funeral in the same area.

The U.N. mission in Syria says a convoy of four of its vehicles was struck by a blast from an improvised explosive device as it drove through the town of Khan Sheikhoun, near the flashpoint city of Hama on Tuesday afternoon. U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said, “Three U.N. vehicles were damaged, but no U.N. personnel were hurt in this explosion. The mission has sent a patrol team to the area to help to extract those U.N. military observers.” Upwards of 200 U.N. monitors are on the ground in Syria, mandated with monitoring the cessation of hostilities that went into effect on April 12, but which has all but collapsed with continued violence in a number of cities across the country. Read more ..


Broken Banking

JP Morgan Multi-Billion Loss Proves Regulation Needed Says White House

May 14th 2012

JP Morgan Chase

White House press secretary Jay Carney said that in the wake of JPMorgan Chase's $2 billion trading loss, it's "amazing" that some — including presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney — are still looking to repeal the president's Wall Street reform law. Speaking to reporters Monday, Carney said the staggering loss reinforces the need for the Dodd-Frank financial reform law and the president's call for tougher financial regulations. "The president fought very hard against Republicans and Wall Street lobbyists to get Wall Street reform passed," he said, according to a pool report.

"This merely reinforces why the president was right to take on this fight," he added.

Carney did not mention Romney by name, but the president's reelection campaign jabbed at the GOP front-runner over the weekend, as the nation's largest bank was still reeling from its big trade gone wrong.

"Mitt Romney has been clear that he would repeal Wall Street reform, an engraved invitation for Wall Street to return to the biggest, riskiest bets that crashed the economy, destroyed trillions of dollars of wealth, and cost millions of workers their jobs," said campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt, according to Bloomberg.

Romney has repeatedly called for the repeal of Dodd-Frank on the campaign trail, but his campaign highlighted his belief in "the importance of oversight and transparency in the derivatives market" once JPMorgan's trade attracted headlines. It also noted that Romney believes some provisions of the law have merit.

Carney also pointed out that Dodd-Frank was never intended to prevent trading losses on Wall Street, but simply to protect taxpayers from bearing the brunt of them. In JPMorgan's case, he said, the appropriate parties were paying the price for the bad trade. Read more ..


Germany on Edge

Regional Electoral Defeat Deals a Blow to Chancellor Merkel's Political Fortunes

May 13th 2012

Angela Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives suffered an embarrassing loss in the May 13 legislative election in Germany's most populous state as she continues pushing for economic austerity in Europe.

Preliminary results show the opposition left-wing Social Democrats winning 39 percent of the vote in North Rhine-Westphalia. Merkel's Christian Democrats won 26 percent. The Social Democrats will likely form a coalition with the Greens in the state. The conservative candidate for governor, German environment minister Norbert Roettgen, calls the May 13 election a bitter defeat that really hurts. Some German political analysts say the results in North Rhine-Westphalia may be a harbinger of next year's federal election, in which Chancellor Merkel plans to seek another term Read more ..


America and China

Congress Eerily Quiet over Chinese Take-Over of US Banks

May 13th 2012

Industrial and Commericial Bank of China

U.S. lawmakers have been unusually silent about federal regulators' decision to allow a Chinese bank to take over 13 bank branches in New York and California, suggesting that they think American banks have much to gain.

Members of both parties usually relish the chance to bash China on everything from government subsidies to the yuan's exchange rate. Yet the May 9 decision by the Federal Reserve to certify a Chinese bank acquisition for the first time was met by near-universal silence.

Scott Talbott, the head lobbyist for the Financial Services Roundtable, said that's unsurprising. The U.S. wants China to open up its financial services market – foreign ownership of Chinese banks is limited to 25 percent – and allowing a Chinese presence in the U.S. is seen as a necessary trade-off. “What this boils down to is that there are a ton more potential customers in China for U.S. banks than there are potential customers for the Chinese here,” Talbott said. “So in the long run, the approval is going to benefit the U.S.”

The decision on May 9 allows Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, which is 70 percent owned by the Chinese government, to take an 80 percent stake in a Hong Kong-based bank with 13 branches in the U.S. The Fed also allowed two other Chinese banks to open branches in New York and Chicago. The decision came days after Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner met with top Chinese officials for annual talks in Beijing. China agreed during those talks to allow foreigners a greater stake in Chinese brokerage firms.

Julian Pecquet writes for The Hill, from where this article is adapted. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Uganda Captures Lieutenant of Notorious Joseph Kony of Lord's Resistance Army

May 13th 2012

Caesar Achellam
Caesar Achellam of Lord's Resistance Army

The Ugandan military says it has captured a commander of the Lord's Resistance Army during an operation in the Central African Republic. Caesar Achellam was seized on May 12 following a firefight with Ugandan forces. The arrest of Caesar Achellam is a major victory for multi-national forces combating the LRA across central Africa.

The operations center in the Central African Republic, shared by the Ugandan military and American Special Forces, has posted Achellam's photograph to a wall, next to the other top targets in the LRA, including rebel leader Joseph Kony. The Reuters news agency quoted Ugandan military spokesman Felix Kulaigye describing Achellam as “a big fish.”

The military says he was arrested in the Central African Republic, one of the countries where the LRA is known to operate. The group once numbered in the thousands, but U.S. and Ugandan military officials believe there are only a few hundred fighters left. Read more ..



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