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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 ..


The Battle for Syria

Christians Rousted from their Homes by Anti-Assad Forces in Syria

May 13th 2012

Patriarch Gregorios Lanham of Antioch
Patriarch Gregorios III Lanham of Antioch

The fighting between Syria's President PaAssad and dissidents seeking to overthrow his government made a disturbing turn in at least two different areas of the country. Recently near the city of Homs, according to Vatican sources, combatants have forcibly expelled all Christian families from the village of Al Borj Al Qastal in the province of Hama. News agencies and local Church sources confirmed that militias of the composite Syrian Liberation Army had penetrated the village, driving out all Christian families and taking possession of their homes and turning a church into a military headquarters. The village had been home to approximately 10 Christian families who are now refugees.

In another incident, Father George Louis, a Catholic priest and pastor of St. Michael's parish in Qara, Damascus province, was attacked in his home during the early morning hours on May 11. According to Vatican sources, it was at dawn on May 11 that two masked gunmen entered Fr. Louis' home, threatening him and demanding the keys to the house. Binding his hands and tying him to a chair, one of the them struck him on the head with a glass bottle that caused a deep wound. While the priest was bleeding profusely, the assailants struck him again, breaking his teeth. Read more ..


The North Korean Threat

North Korea Warned by Chinese, Japanese, and South Korean Leaders

May 13th 2012

Kim Jong Un

The leaders of China, Japan and South Korea say they will not tolerate further provocation from North Korea, amid fears that Pyongyang is preparing for a new nuclear test. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak made the remark Sunday after meeting in Beijing with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. North Korea's failed rocket launch last month led to sanctions from the U.N. Security Council. The launch drew immediate condemnation from the United States and its allies, who view it as a disguised ballistic missile test barred under U.N. resolutions. The three leaders decided Sunday to start free-trade negotiations before the end of the year. They also signed an investment agreement. China, Japan and South Korea are the three largest East Asian economies. At the same time, the leaders of South Korea, China and Japan pledged to work together to keep North Korea from escalating tensions, saying it is unacceptable for Pyongyang to conduct a nuclear test or other provocative acts after last month's rocket launch. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Vulnerable Democratic Senators Balk at Obama's Gay Marriage Endorsement

May 12th 2012

Gay Marriage

Senate Democrats facing difficult reelections are breaking with President Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage, a sign the issue is politically dangerous in battleground states. Sens. Jon Tester (Mont.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.), the two most vulnerable Democratic senators, have declined to endorse Obama’s call for the legalization of gay marriage.

Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Bob Casey (Pa.) and Bill Nelson (Fla.), Democrats who have easier races but in states that could become more competitive by November, have also backed away from Obama’s stance.
They all represent states with constitutional amendments or laws banning same-sex marriage. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) predicted Thursday the Democratic Party would adopt a pro-gay marriage plank in its platform. While that may happen when delegates to the Democratic National Convention meet September in Charlotte, N.C., the party remains divided. Read more ..


Syria on Edge

Mass Protests Across Syria, Bomb Plot Foiled

May 11th 2012

Syria Protest

Mass protests broke out across Syria on Friday, a day after at least 55 people were killed in twin bombings that marked the deadliest attack since the start of the anti-government uprising 14 months ago. The car bomb explosions in Damascus Thursday were among a string of attacks that have occurred since U.N. observers arrived in Syria to monitor a shaky cease-fire brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan.

State television reported Friday that troops killed a suspected suicide bomber in the northern city of Aleppo. The report said the would-be attacker's car was filled with 1,200 kilos of explosives. The Syrian government on Friday urged the U.N. Security Council to take action to combat terrorism, in the wake Thursday's blasts.

State media said the government made the plea in letters to the Security Council and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon. It said "escalating crimes" were proof that Syria is facing terrorist attacks led by groups receiving foreign support. There have been several attacks in Damascus since the anti-government uprising began 14 months ago. These were the most deadly. Read more ..


China on Edge

Protesters Gather Outside Chinese Embassy in Manila

May 11th 2012

Anti-Chinese Protests in Manilla
Anti-Chinese Protests in Manila

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Chinese Embassy in Manila gathered May 11 to show supporthfor the Philippines in a simmering standoff with China over a disputed island chain in the South China Sea. Many of the protesters waved national flags, chanted anti-China slogans, and carried signs calling for the Chinese government to pull its ships away from the contested Scarborough Shoal, known as Panatag in the Philippines.

Rally organizer Emman Hizon says he wants the international community to help resolve the month-long dispute. "The main objective of the protest action is to call the attention of the international community with regards to the Chinese government's continuing and escalating intrusions in the Panatag shoal area, which we strongly believe is part of the Philippines' territory," said Hizon.

China has issued a safety warning to its citizens in the Philippines and is calling on Manila to ensure that the demonstrations remain peaceful. However, the protests appeared to be smaller than expected and no violence was reported. Read more ..


Pakistan on Edge

ICRC Suspends Most Operations in Pakistan

May 11th 2012

Red Cross Pakistan

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it has stopped most of its relief operations in Pakistan following the brutal murder of one of its workers.  These types of killings are making it increasingly difficult for foreign aid groups to operate in the country. The decision by the International Committee of the Red Cross to suspend operations in three of Pakistan's four provinces is expected to affect thousands of people who depend on the aid. ICRC spokeswoman Anastasia Isyuk says the move is in response to the murder of 60-year-old Khalil Dale, who worked for the organization in Baluchistan province.

"Due to this recent attack against the ICRC, we decided to completely reassess the balance between the humanitarian impact of our activities and the risks that our staff face," said Isyuk. Authorities recovered the mutilated body of the British aid worker on April 29, four months after suspected militants abducted him on his way home from work in the city of Quetta. A note with the body said Dale died because the Red Cross failed to pay ransom for his return. The ICRC suspended its work in Baluchistan immediately after the discovery of Dale's body. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

A Second University Touts Candidate Elizabeth Warren's Native American Heritage

May 10th 2012

Elizabeth Warren
Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren was listed as a minority professor by a second law school in a report detailing the school's progress in creating a diverse faculty. In addition to Harvard University, where Warren is on faculty, the University of Pennsylvania Law School also touted Warren as a minority, according to an April 2005 document. Warren taught at the Philadelphia school in the 1980s and 1990s.

The revelation that a second listed Warren as a minority raises further questions about her claim to Native American heritage and whether she used that claim to further her career, as has been claimed by her political opponent GOP Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.). Warren has said she was unaware that Harvard had named her as a minority when promoting its faculty's diversity, and said she never brought up her heritage when looking for jobs. Warren said she had listed her heritage in faculty directories more than 15 years ago in hopes of meeting others with similar backgrounds.

The question of whether Warren's claim to Native American heritage is legitimate has become a major focal point in her race against Brown. Warren grew up in Oklahoma, where many residents have Native American ancestry, but has been unable to independently substantiate her claim to the heritage. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Rubio Says Obama Admin is undermining his Vision of the DREAM Act

May 10th 2012

Marco Rubio
by: Gage Skidmore

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said the White House is trying to sabotage his version of the DREAM Act by “ordering” activists not to work with him so that President Obama can maintain his hold on the Latino vote in the 2012 election.

“One of the things that already been documented is that the White House has been — the articles that have been written, two or three by now, the White House has been calling in DREAM Act advocates and asking them, almost ordering them, not to work with me on this issue,” Rubio said Thursday on the Laura Ingraham radio show. “They have been counting on using this issue as a wedge issue in October to drive up turnout.”

Rubio is considered to be on Mitt Romney's short list of possible vice-presidential choices. Rubio’s proposal, expected to be finalized this week, is a scaled-back version of the Democrat-backed DREAM Act, which offers a pathway to citizenship to illegal immigrants who came to the United States when they were young and then go to college or serve in the military. Rubio’s proposal instead offers non-immigrant visas that would eventually allow them to apply for citizenship. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

House Votes to Replace Pentagon Cuts Mandated by Debt Deal

May 10th 2012

Osprey

The House voted Thursday to override steep cuts to the Pentagon’s budget mandated by last summer's debt deal and replace them with spending reductions to food stamps and other mandatory social programs. While doomed in the Senate and opposed by the White House, the legislation, which would reduce the deficit by $243 billion, is a Republican marker for post-election budget talks with the White House. Members approved the Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act in a party-line 218-199 vote. As expected, the bill was supported by nearly all Republicans — only 16 opposed it, and no Democrats supported it.

Republicans voting against the bill were Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Roscoe Bartlett (Md.), Charlie Bass (N.H.), John Duncan (Tenn.), Mike Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Chris Gibson (N.Y.), Louie Gohmert (Texas), Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.), Tim Johnson (Ill.), Walter Jones (N.C.), Raul Labrador (Idaho), Steve LaTourette (Ohio), Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), Todd Platts (Pa.), Ed Whitfield (Ky.) and Frank Wolf (Va.). GOP Rep. James Sensenbrenner (Wis.) voted present. Republicans cast the bill as a first step back toward controlling federal spending, after years of allowing spending and deficits to balloon. Read more ..


Broken Government

US Postal Service Trims Hours to Keep Rural Posts Open

May 9th 2012

Click to select Image

The cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service announced on May 9 that it will keep small post offices open with shorter hours as it tries to ensure rural access to mail services. Postal officials said the plan would balance the agency’s need to both serve customers and cut costs, and said the proposal would save about $500 million per year. “We think we ended up with a win-win here,” Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe told reporters.

Donahoe had hinted in recent weeks that the USPS was moving away from post office closures, which have been strongly opposed by some lawmakers on Capitol Hill. USPS said last year that it was looking at roughly 3,700 post offices as part of its consolidation plans, and postal officials on May 9 noted that nearly nine in 10 rural post offices lose money.

With mail volume declining, USPS currently loses roughly $25 million per day, and the agency has said it is looking to shave $22.5 billion from its annual costs by 2016. Rural access to postal services has been a key issue in Congress, where lawmakers are working on legislation to overhaul postal operations and put the service on a sounder fiscal path. Read more ..


Environmental Edge

Army Corps of Engineers Finally Moves to Save Great Lakes from Asian Carp

May 9th 2012

Asian carp

According to a news release from U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D) and Congressman Dave Camp (R), sponsors of legislation to speed up the creation of a plan to protect the Great Lakes from Asian carp, have applauded an announcement by the Army Corps of Engineers that efforts to block the invasive species have been accelerated. Subsequent to the introduction of the bill, Corps of Engineers has announced that it will complete a set of options for permanent barriers to stop Asian carp and other invasive species in 2013, years ahead of schedule. Last week, a power failure and equipment malfunction temporarily shut down the electric barrier at the Chicago Waterway that is the only physical barrier to the entry of the voracious Asian carp into the Great Lakes.

Senator Stabenow said, "I am pleased the Army Corps has agreed that efforts to stop Asian carp must be accelerated. There is still much work to do before permanent barriers are completed, but having action moved years ahead of schedule is a very positive development." Commercial and sport fishermen, environmentalists and others are concerned that the admission of the non-native Asian carp would virtually destroy the native fish population, which includes lake trout, sturgeon, walleye, perch, native carp, and other species. Introduced in the 1980s in Deep South fishfarms, Asian carp have since been naturalized in lakes and streams in the southern U.S. They are known to jump out of the water, especially when disturbed by the noise produced by boat motors. Injuries and deaths of boaters and fishermen have resulted. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

CIA Agents Thwarted al-Qaeda New Body Bombs

May 8th 2012

airport crowd

U.S. counterterrorism officials said CIA intelligence agents thwarted an attempt by al-Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen to destroy a U.S.-bound airliner one year after the killing of Osama bin Laden, according to a statement released on Monday. What surprised many counterterrorism experts was the sophistication of the so-called upgraded underwear bomb. The White House said that President Barack Obama was made aware in April of an al-Qaeda affiliate's foiled plot to blow up a U.S.-bound passenger airplane.

While no solid indications that the terrorist group al-Qaeda or its allies, such as Al-Shabbab, Boko Haram, and others, are plotting operations of revenge, counterterrorism experts have voiced their concerns and believe "it's better to be safe than sorry."  This thwarted terrorist plot revealed a modernized version of the "underwear bomb" that failed to detonate aboard a plane arriving at Detroit International Airport on Christmas Day 2009. This upgraded bomb was designed to be used in a passenger's underwear, but contained a more a refined detonation system, U.S. law enforcement bomb technicians said. "The 2009 IED [improvised explosive device] was amateurish compared to this upgraded device. It was also designed to pass through airport security screening equipment and metal detectors," said a veteran bomb tech. Read more ..


Israel Elections

Political Bombshell in Israel as Likud and Kadima Form New Government

May 8th 2012

Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu

At the eleventh hour, leading opposition party Kadima joined ruling party Likud to form a new unity government, a move that dispatches early elections and makes way for a universal conscription bill to be passed by the Knesset.

The surprise pairing came just hours before Knesset was set to dissolve itself and set new elections for September 4. According to reports, Likud party leader Binyamin Netanyahu and Kadima's new head, Shaul Mofaz, met late into the night, agreeing to a bill that will establish army or national service for Haredi Jews. Mofaz will assume the position of deputy prime minister and will be included in the security cabinet, the body tasked with making decisions regarding peace and war.

Coalition members Avigdor Lieberman, head of Yisrael Beitenu and Eli Yishai, head of the religious party Shas, endorsed the deal, according to Netanyahu.

"I didn't want to go to elections," Netanyahu said. "But having detected rifts I decided to go ahead." Mofaz told Kadima members that the unprecedented deal” would allow the government to produce equality in carrying the burden of military service.

“We did a great thing for the sake of the State of Israel,” he said. “I don’t want government portfolios, even for myself.”

Political insiders said both Netanyahu and Kadima benefited from the pact. For his part, Netanyahu will have a coalition comprised of 94 of 120 Knesset seats, the largest in the nation's history. Decisions on universal conscription and stopping Iran's nuclear program will now have the backing of a large legislative majority. For Mofaz, the decision may have been simpler. The new chairman of Kadima knew that polls showed his party was to lose a large number of seats in the next elections. By joining the coalition, Mofaz can build the party's base in time for the next scheduled elections of October 2013. Read more ..


Greece on Edge

Greek Vote Sends Euro, Shares Tumbling

May 7th 2012

Greek riots

The euro has slumped to a three-month low and shares on European markets have fallen after the parliamentary vote in Greece saw the country's two governing pro-austerity parties lose their majority. The New Democracy Party and Socialist PASOK party together took only 32 percent of the vote -- throwing the country into fresh political uncertainty.

Analysts say the result has raised concerns about the future of Greece's international financial bailout and the viability of the government's austerity measures. Greek stocks plunged 7.7 percent on May 7 after the results of the May 6 vote were announced, while the euro fell to its lowest level since January on world markets.

The presidential election in France, which saw Socialist Francois Hollande oust President Nicolas Sarkozy, has fueled further anxiety about the fate of austersity measures designed to end the eurozone's debt crisis. Hollande's antiausterity, pro-growth platform has many in the EU watching to see how he might push back against a German-led austerity drive. Read more ..


America and China

Biden Says US Ready to Give Visa to Chinese Activist

May 7th 2012

joe biden

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden says Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng’s future is in the United States, and that he expects China to abide by a deal that would allow the dissident to study in the United States, accompanied by his family. 

Vice President Biden says uncertainty and confusion surrounding the wishes, well-being, and ultimate destination of blind activist Chen Guangcheng could soon be at an end. “I think his future is in America.  His future is that he has an opportunity to go to NYU [New York University].  The Chinese have told us that if he files the papers to be able to go abroad, that will be granted.  We are prepared to give a visa right away.  He is going to be able to take his family.  We expect the Chinese to stick to that commitment," he said.  Biden spoke on the U.S. television program, NBC’s Meet the Press.

Chen escaped house arrest last month, spent several days in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, and then departed for a Chinese hospital.  Biden says the United States has worked to honor Chen’s wishes from the start. Read more ..


The Arab Winter in Egypt

Calm Returns to Cairo Following Deadly Clashes

May 6th 2012

Flames in Cairo

Calm returned to Cairo on Saturday after Egypt's military rulers imposed an overnight curfew following clashes Friday that left a soldier dead and about 300 people injured. On Friday, troops clashed with protesters demanding an immediate end to military rule, just three weeks before Egypt's landmark presidential election. Soldiers fired tear gas and water cannons at thousands of demonstrators who massed near the Defense Ministry in Cairo's Abbassiya district.  More clashes erupted in the city late Friday. Islamist protesters had been camping around the Defense Ministry for days. More than 300 people were arrested.

The violence took place two days after fighting in Cairo left at least 11 people dead and prompted the top two Islamist candidates for the presidency to suspend their campaigns. Egypt's presidential election is scheduled for May 23 and 24.  The military rulers have vowed the elections will be fair. The election will be the first since a popular uprising ousted longtime autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak more than a year ago. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

Afghan Army Soldier Kills NATO trooper

May 6th 2012

Afghanistan Fighters

The U.S.-led NATO coalition in Afghanistan reports that a man dressed in the uniform of the Afghan National Army killed at least one NATO soldier, having opened fire on May 6. The NATO troops immediately returned fire and killed the presumed Afghan soldier.

This is the latest in a series of deadly attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan by shooters dressed in Afghan army uniform. Elsewhere in the embattled Central Asian country, another NATO troop was killed in a bomb explosion in eastern Afghanistan on the same day. So far no details have been released.

On May 4, two Taliban commanders and three troops were killed in fighting with security forces. NATO says one of the men was a senior Taliban commander who planned and organized roadside bombings and other attacks against Afghan and coalition forces throughout Faryab province. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Soviet-Style Crackdown on Dissidents in Moscow

May 6th 2012

Uldatsov
Sergei Udaltsov

Moscow police have detained opposition leaders Sergei Udaltsov, Aleksei Navalny and Boris Nemtsov during a demonstration in Moscow on May 6. Police clashed with a small group of protesters led by Left Front leader Udaltsov and well-known anticorruption blogger Navalny, which broke off from a 20,000-strong sanctioned demonstration and tried to march on the Kremlin. Opposition leaders Ilya Yashin and Boris Nemtsov reported that police have used tear gas against the protesters.

There were other reports of police using batons against demonstrators who were apparently trying to break through the cordon around the protest. Police officials said that four police officers were injured during the clashes. Police cordons have been thrown up around Red Square and other areas leading to the Kremlin. Police used megaphones to order demonstrators at the sanctioned demonstration to leave the area and return to their homes.

Moscow police have detained opposition leaders Sergei Udaltsov, Aleksei Navalny and Boris Nemtsov during a demonstration in Moscow on May 6. Police clashed with a small group of protesters led by Left Front leader Udaltsov and well-known anticorruption blogger Navalny, which broke off from a 20,000-strong sanctioned demonstration and tried to march on the Kremlin. Opposition leaders Ilya Yashin and Boris Nemtsov reported that police have used tear gas against the protesters.

There were other reports of police using batons against demonstrators who were apparently trying to break through the cordon around the protest. Police officials said that four police officers were injured during the clashes. Police cordons have been thrown up around Red Square and other areas leading to the Kremlin. Police used megaphones to order demonstrators at the sanctioned demonstration to leave the area and return to their homes. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Iran's 'Butcher of the Press' Arrested

May 5th 2012

ali akbar heydarafarid
Ali Akbar Heydarifarid

Former Tehran deputy prosecutor Ali Akbar Heydarifard, who was suspended for ordering the transfer of political detainees to a detention center where they were allegedly brutally tortured, has been arrested.

The torture allegations, however, do not seem to be the reason why Heydarifard has ended up in Tehran's Evin prison. The head of the Tehran Province prison organization, Sohrab Soleimani, said Heydarifard was being held on allegations of "disrupting public order." Iranian media reported in mid-March that Heydarifard had fired a gun in the air at a gas station in Isfahan, apparently to warn other customers who were angry at him for not waiting in line. He was briefly detained by the police, who reportedly released him after confirming his identity. Some of the people at the gasoline station are said to have pursued the matter through Isfahan's Revolutionary Court. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Osama bin Laden Diaries Reveal Crumbling Terrorist Organization

May 4th 2012

Osama bin-Laden preaching

Before being killed last year, Osama bin Laden was advised to halt operations in Muslim countries and start taking the battle to the real enemy -- the Americans, according to newly released documents.

An analysis of 17 de-classified documents captured during the May 1, 2011 U.S. Navy SEAL raid on al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan raid. The documents were released to the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) on the campus of the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY, and are now being posted on the CTC web site. The analyzed documents consist of emails and drafts of letters dated between September 2006 and April 2011.  These internal al-Qaeda communiques were authored by terrorist leaders, especially Osama bin Laden, who was killed by U.S. special forces just days after writing his last letter. The documents revealed to analysts that bin Laden's public statements focused on the injustice of those he believed to be the “enemies” of Muslims, namely corrupt “apostate” Muslim rulers and their American “overseers.”
Read more ..

Broken Airlines

Hated Spirit Airlines Now Charges $100 for Carry-on Bags

May 4th 2012

spirit airlines

Spirit Airlines will begin charging $100 per bag for passengers who bring luggage for stowing in overhead bins. This is the first U.S. carrier to impose such fees for carry-on bags. Currently, the airline charges $45 when passengers show up at a gate with a carry-on bag. The rate hike is scheduled to go into effect on November 6, according to the airline’s website.

The change means that any passenger who comes to a boarding gate without having pre-paid for the privilege of stowing their carry-on will be charged at the new rate. Spirit offers a confusing menu of fees for baggage that are linked to the point during reservations when passengers ‘buy’ the option of taking a carry-on bag. Spirit offers to passengers "ultra low base fares" for airline tickets by paying fees only for "the extras they value," the website says. Read more ..


Mexico's Wars

Mexico's Narco-Terrorists Murder and Dismember Two Journalists

May 4th 2012

Murdered mexican journalists

The dismembered remains of two Mexican photojournalists were discovered in Vera Cruz in Eastern Mexico by federal police (Federales) on May 3, making the total of news people murdered in that nation in the last ten years 70 men and women, according to a U.S. law enforcement official assigned to liaison duty in that war-torn nation. The mutilated bodies of Guillermo Luna and Gabriel Huge were found in pieces inside plastic garbage bags and dumped in a canal in the Vera Cruz town of Boca del Rio, the law enforcement official -- who requires anonymity -- told the Law Enforcement Examiner.

Police officers and crime scene technicians also discovered another two corpses that were dumped in the same canal, but they haven't as yet been identified. The Calderon administration said in a statement that the killings bore the hallmarks of Mexico's drug cartels, and federal investigators are pursuing the case instead of local police.

The violence comes as the ultra-violent Los Zetas gang battles the Sinaloa Cartel over billion-dollar drug trafficking routes up the coast into the United States. Members of Los Zetas are believed to be former Mexican military and police personnel and control the largest territory in Mexico. Read more ..


The Afghanistan War

Karzai Says US Bowed To Many Afghan Demands In New Strategic Partnership Deal

May 3rd 2012

Obama and Flag

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said Thursday that Washington bowed to many of his demands when it agreed to the deal signed by President Obama and Karzai on Tuesday. In an address at his presidential palace, Karzai said that the United States met several preconditions, such as Afghan control of night raids and detention facilities, the Wall Street Journal reported. He also focused on the fact that the agreement prevents the United States from attacking other countries from Afghan soil. “Our fundamental conditions were that the U.S. forces must not have the permission to run prisons ... they must not be allowed to arrest Afghans, they must not be allowed to enter Afghan homes," Karzai said, according to the Journal. “These were our preconditions in order to enter into this strategic agreement.”

But already, U.S. officials have hinted that the deal might not be as strong as Karzai is making it out to be in his speech directed toward Afghans. U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker said that Tuesday’s strategic partnership agreement does not rule out the possibility of the U.S. military continuing drone strikes in Pakistan, because “there is nothing in this agreement that precludes the right of self-defense,” he said. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Black Hole Caught Red-Handed in Stellar Homicide

May 3rd 2012

black hole flare

Astronomers have gathered the most direct evidence yet of a supermassive black hole shredding a star that wandered too close. NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer, a space-based observatory, and the Pan-STARRS1 telescope on the summit of Haleakala in Hawaii were among the first to help identify the stellar remains. This is a single frame of computer simulation showing a star being shredded by the gravity of a massive black hole.

Some of the stellar debris falls into the black hole and some of it is ejected into space at high speeds. The areas in white are regions of highest density, with progressively redder colors corresponding to lower-density regions. The blue dot pinpoints the black hole's location. The elapsed time corresponds to the amount of time it takes for a sun-like star to be ripped apart by a black hole a million times more massive than the sun. Supermassive black holes, weighing millions to billions times more than the sun, lurk in the centers of most galaxies. These hefty monsters lie quietly until an unsuspecting victim, such as a star, wanders close enough to get ripped apart by their powerful gravitational clutches. Read more ..


Broken Government

GOP Lawmaker Says Secret Service 'Ducked A Bullet' In Scandal

May 2nd 2012

Rep Peter T. King
Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.),

The Secret Service has “ducked a bullet” in the Colombia prostitute scandal, according to a Republican committee chairman who warned of potential breaches of national security. Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, on Wednesday said no evidence has turned up suggesting national security was compromised when agents brought prostitutes back to their hotel rooms in Colombia last month. "It does not appear that any of the 12 women had any involvement other than prostitution," King told CNN. "They were not working for any narco-terrorist organization, and I think in a way the Secret Service has ducked a bullet."

King has said his main concern after the scandal broke was that the women involved had ties to foreign groups, but no evidence has emerged suggesting that's the case. U.S. officials have interviewed 10 of the 12 women involved in the incident, according to CNN. “It appears that no material was obtained by any of the prostitutes, nothing is missing, all the BlackBerrys are accounted for, there was no president's schedule available," King said Wednesday. He said now that the immediate concern has been alleviated, the investigation gives the agency "the opportunity to clear up what has happened, do all it can to make sure it never happens again or at least minimizes it to make it very, very difficult for it to ever happen again." Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Cleveland Bridge Terror Plot Foiled

May 2nd 2012

Cuyahoga Valley National Park Bridge

Five men have been arrested by federal authorities for allegedly plotting to blow up a bridge near the U.S. city of Cleveland, Ohio. Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Cleveland division, Stephen Anthony, says the five were taken into custody late Monday, after they attempted to remotely detonate devices they bought from undercover FBI agents. "The individuals explored the illegal purchase of explosives, as well as the concept of using precursor chemicals and Internet knowledge to make homemade explosives.  They ultimately negotiated with FBI undercover agents and purchased two inert, I say inert, improvised explosive devices, IEDs, which were presented as C-4-based remote-activated IEDs," Anthony said.

A criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Cleveland identifies three of the suspects as "self-proclaimed anarchists."  Authorities say the men had considered a series of evolving plots over several months. The complaint says the initial plot involved using smoke grenades to distract law enforcement so that the suspects could topple financial institution signs on top of buildings in downtown Cleveland.  Later, the plot reportedly grew to include remotely detonating C-4 explosives. Read more ..


Broken Government

Senators Urge No More Postal Closings

May 2nd 2012

The four original sponsors of Senate postal legislation are urging the U.S. Postal Service to extend a moratorium on closing facilities until Congress finishes its work on the issue. With the moratorium set to lapse in two weeks, Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) noted that the legislation that passed their chamber included a resolution calling on the Postal Service to push back any plans to close post offices or processing centers.“There is considerable concern in the Senate that this approach will unnecessarily degrade the infrastructure which is one of the Postal Service’s most important assets,” the four senators, senior members of the Homeland Security Committee, told Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe in a letter Monday.

“We believe an attempt to proceed with the planned closures — to ‘get in under the wire’ while legislation to the contrary is being considered — would be counterproductive and would violate the clear intent of the Senate.” Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

23 Killed in Syria Attacks as Pressure Mounts on UN Observers

May 1st 2012

Syria Protest

Syrian activists say violence has killed at least 23 people, as more U.N. observers began deploying to back a cease-fire plan that has failed to end more than a year of unrest.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says rebels killed 12 soldiers on Tuesday, in a battle in the northeastern province of Deir Ezzor. It says one civilian was killed when government troops responded with rockets and machine guns. The Observatory also says a mortar shell killed 10 people in a village in the northwestern province of Idlib.

Casualties could not be independently confirmed. The team of U.N. monitors in Syria has grown to 30 people, with more expected to arrive in the coming weeks. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon repeated his call Tuesday for all sides in Syria's 13-month conflict to stop the violence and cooperate with the U.N. observers to implement the April 12 cease-fire agreement. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Google Sued Over 'Jewish' Search Suggestions

May 1st 2012

In a strange twist, Internet giant Google is being sued by a French rights organization for alleged anti-Jewish discrimination over a technology developed in the Jewish state. SOS Racisme claims that Google's "auto-complete" technology is discriminatory because it automatically associates certain famous people with the word "Jewish" -- even though they might not be. The group, along with other French organizations, is suing Google for "overseeing the creation of what is probably the biggest Jewish file in history." By simply associating, for instance, Rupert Murdoch with the word Jewish" (Murdoch is not Jewish) the group says Google is violating a French law that prohibits compiling files on people based on their ethnicity. "Numerous users of the first search engine of France and the world are confronted daily with the association, unsolicited and almost systematically, [of] the word 'Jew' with the names of those most prominent in the world of politics, media or business," SOS Racisme and other organizations state in their lawsuit, according to a translation of an article about the case published by the French-language La Côte newspaper. Read more ..


Broken Borders

No Prosecution for U.S. Border Agent accused of Killing Mexican Teenager

April 30th 2012

US Border Patrol arrest

A U.S. border patrol agent and his family were relieved on April 27 when they were informed that the agent won't be prosecuted for shooting and killing a Mexican teenager on the banks of the Rio Grande on June 7, 2010, according to a press statement from the U.S. Attorney General's office.

Justice Department officials said in a news release that its "comprehensive and thorough investigation" determined there was "insufficient evidence to pursue federal criminal charges."

The Justice Department also concluded that no federal civil rights charges could be pursued in this matter. Under the applicable civil rights statutes, prosecutors must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a law enforcement officer willfully deprived an individual of a constitutional right, meaning with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids. This is the highest standard of intent imposed by law. Read more ..


Islam's War on Christians

Deadly Terrorist Bombings Strike Nigeria Twice within Two Days

April 30th 2012

Nigeria car bombing

Authorities in eastern Nigeria say a suicide bombing targeting a police official has killed at least five people. Officials said the April 30 explosion in Jalingo, the capital of the largely peaceful Taraba state, was triggered near the state ministry of finance and police headquarters. The police official was not harmed.

The attack comes a day after gunmen in northern Nigeria killed at least 15 people in an assault on a university theater used for church services. Security officials said the gunmen threw small explosives into the site at Bayero University in Kano on Sunday, then fired on worshippers as they ran outside.

A faculty member at the university, Dr. Nasir Fagge, says the killings happened at two locations at the school, and that security had been increased in the days leading up to the attack in light of other deadly incidents in the city. He also said three professors were among those killed. One of at least 22 people wounded in the April 29 attack described the assault as coming just before worship service began. Read more ..


Jordan on Edge

Jordanian Prime Minister Suddenly Resigns

April 30th 2012

Former Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh
Former Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh

Jordanian politics has just taken an unusual and unexpected turn as Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh tendered his resignation while in the middle of an official visit to Turkey. The Royal Palace swiftly announced his successor, former prime minister Fayez Tarawneh.

This surprise move capped a remarkably swift descent for Khasawneh and a U-turn on Jordan's recent efforts to deflect "Arab Spring"-type upheaval through managed reform. Last October, King Abdullah asked Khasawneh, a lawyer and jurist, to leave his position as a judge on the International Court of Justice and return home to lead Jordan's legislative, political, and electoral reform effort. Celebrated as a "Mr. Clean" in a political environment tainted by scandal and corruption, the onetime legal advisor to Jordan's peace delegation was widely viewed as having the king's full confidence to engage the broad range of domestic public opinion and civil society in a dialogue on reform. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Somali Pirate Convicted in U.S. for Abduction, Killing of Americans

April 29th 2012

Mohammad Saaili Shibin
Mohammad Saaili Shibin

A Somali pirate, who acted as the primary negotiator during kidnap-ransom negotiations, was convicted Friday by a federal jury in Norfolk, Virginia,  for his involvement in the abduction of Americans onboard a yacht, the S/V Quest. He and his fellow pirates took four U.S. citizens hostage and ultimately killed them before their release could be secured by U.S. special forces.

Mohammad Saaili Shibin, a/k/a “Khalif Ahmed Shibin,” a/k/a “Shibin,”  was found guilty of all counts of a superseding indictment which charged him with serving as the ransom negotiator for conspirators. Shibin was also found guilty of all counts relating to the attack on the Quest. A full list of the charges and their penalties are provided below:

1) two counts of piracy under the law of nations, which each carry a mandatory penalty of life in prison; 2) two counts of conspiracy to commit hostage taking, which each carry a penalty of up to life in prison; 3) two counts of hostage taking, which each carry a penalty of up to life in prison; 4) two counts of conspiracy to commit violence against maritime navigation, which each carry a penalty of up to 20 years in prison; 5) two counts of violence against maritime navigation, which each carry a mandatory penalty of up to 20 years in prison; 6) conspiracy to commit kidnapping, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison; 7) kidnapping, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison; 8) three counts of use, carry, and discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence, the first count of which carries a mandatory minimum 10 years and a maximum of life in prison, and the latter two counts of which carry mandatory consecutive life sentences. Read more ..


Broken Labor

Fatal Work Injuries Rose in 2010

April 29th 2012

EMS with injured worker.

The Department of Labor reported this week that 4,690 U.S. workers suffered fatal injuries in 2010, a 3 percent increase from 2009. The higher number in part reflects a string of high-profile disasters in 2010: An explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia that killed 29; BP’s Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11; and a blast at the Tesoro Corp.’s oil refinery in Washington State that killed seven. Even discounting the 47 deaths from those three events, the toll rose in 2010. In 2009, 4,551 workers died, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

The fatality rate rose slightly as well, from 3.5 fatal injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers to 3.6. The number of workers killed in fires or explosions jumped from 113 in 2009 to 191 in 2010. Work-related transportation deaths increased from 1,795 to 1,857, suicides from 263 to 270. The number of construction-related deaths fell from 834 to 774—a probable reflection of a weak housing market and a generally rotten economy in 2010. Read more ..


The Arab Winter in Egypt

Egyptian Presidential Hopeful Promises Islamic, Inclusive Future

April 28th 2012

Mohammed Morsi #2
Dr. Mohammed Morsi, new Muslim Brotherhood presidential canidate
(credit: E. Arnott, VOA)

Mohamed Morsi, the new Muslim Brotherhood candidate, is among the leading contenders to become the nation’s first post-revolution president.

Morsi wasn’t the first choice for president of the Islamist group, Muslim Brotherhood. But with its lead candidate Khairat al-Shater disqualified, Morsi has grasped his role as an accidental front-runner with gusto. Whether working a crowd, or a roomful of politicians, the head of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party plays to his audience with seasoned awareness.

To the students at Zagizig University, Morsi encourages questioning and activism. He says even after the election of a new president, even if he’s elected, he wants the revolution to continue. To supporters in his home village of Edwa, the U.S.-educated engineer stresses his humble, country roots. He connects with the crowd by pointing out “we weren’t born with a gold spoon in our mouths.” His father, he recalls, toiled and sweated, and would take him to school on the back of a donkey.

And wherever he speaks, Morsi makes clear Egypt will be transformed—politically, economically, and socially through the principles of Islam. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Veep Joe Biden Avers Obama Wields a 'Big Stick' with Foreign Countries

April 27th 2012

Barack Obama Israel speech

Vice President Biden said on April 26 that President Obama “has a big stick” on foreign policy in an offhand remark during a fiery speech attacking Mitt Romney that highlighted both Biden’s efficacy as a surrogate and his major liability: a propensity for going off script.

Seeking to maximize the gains Obama and Democrats have made with voters on national security issues, Biden presented a greatest-hits compilation of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, with al Qaeda’s former leader front and center.

“If you are looking for a bumper sticker to sum up how President Obama has handled what we inherited, it’s pretty simple: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive,” Biden said. But Biden, who at one point quipped sarcastically that he’s immune from slips of the tongue, also slipped in a joke about Obama that raised more than a few eyebrows. Read more ..


The North Korean Threat

Analysts: North Korea’s New Missiles “Bad Mock-ups“

April 27th 2012

NK Military Parade Apr 2012

Two German analysts say ballistic missiles unveiled in a North Korean military parade earlier this month were clumsy fakes.

In a paper titled, “A Dog And Pony Show,“ Markus Schiller and Robert Schmucker of Germany’s Schmucker Technologie wrote that the six intercontinental ballistic missiles carried on mobile launchers in the April 15 parade were all bad mock-ups.

The paper said the missiles appeared to be a mishmash of liquid-fuel and solid-fuel components that could never fly together. In addition, undulating casings on the missiles suggested the metal is too thin to withstand flight. The two analysts said each missile was slightly different from the others, even though all were supposedly the same make, and they did not even fit the launchers that carried them. Read more ..


The Edge of Justice

Rhode Island Cosa Nostra Boss Arrested on Extorsion and Racketeering Charges

April 26th 2012

Anthony L. DiNunzio

The alleged boss of New England's organized crime family of La Cosa Nostra (NELCN) was arrested on April 25 on racketeering and extortion charges in Providence, Rhode Island, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice obtained by the National Association of Chiefs of Police. Anthony L. DiNunzio, 53, of East Boston, Massachusetts, was ordered detained following an appearance in U.S. District Court in Providence. A third superseding indictment returned on April 24, 2012, and unsealed in the District of Rhode Island, alleges, among other things, that DiNunzio and other leaders, members and associates of the NELCN extorted protection payments from pornography businesses throughout Rhode Island.

“According to the indictment unsealed [April 25], as the [acting Capo] of the New England La Cosa Nostra for more than two years, Mr. DiNunzio used fear and intimidation to control the corrupt activities of his criminal enterprise,” said Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer. “Among other charged criminal conduct, he allegedly asked an LCN member to extort a businessman in the adult entertainment industry and told others he would use violence against insubordinates. These charges are another step in our unrelenting efforts to stamp out the Mafia,” Breuer stated during a press conference following the mob boss' arrest.

DiNunzio allegedly took over as leader of the Patriarca crime family in late 2009 or early 2010, shortly after the Rhode Island-based gangster, Luigi “Louie” Manocchio gave up the job. Manocchio, who is in his mid-80s, has already pleaded guilty to federal charges. Read more ..



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