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The 2012 Vote

Bloomberg Endorses Rangel in New York

May 30th 2012

Charley Rangel

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

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

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

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

The Edge of Justice

Liberia's Taylor Sentenced to 50 Years for War Crimes

May 30th 2012

Charles Taylor

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

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

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

The Edge of Justice

WikiLeaks' Founder Assange Loses Extradition Case in Britain

May 30th 2012

Julian Assange

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

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

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

The China Edge

China Beats US as World's Top Auto Market

May 30th 2012

Car Love

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

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

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

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

The Digital Edge

Iran Says It Can Destroy Data-Stealing Virus

May 29th 2012

Hacker's Hand

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

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

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

The Battle for Syria

China Condemns Civilian Deaths in Syria

May 29th 2012

Dead Syrians

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

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

Inside the Vatican

Papal Butler agrees to Testify in Widening Vatican Leak Scandal

May 29th 2012

Paolo Gabriele
Paolo Gabriele riding in Popemobile.

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

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

The Battle for Syria

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

May 29th 2012

Syria - bombardment of Hama

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

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

Kazakhstan on Edge

Toddler Tragedy Galvanizes Kazakh City

May 29th 2012

Khazahkstan Toddler

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

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

The Battle for Syria

Envoy Kofi Annan in Syria Amid More Violence

May 28th 2012

Kofi Annan

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

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

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

Transportation on Edge

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

May 28th 2012

Traffic Jam

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

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

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

The Battle for Syria

UN Security Council Blames Syria Massacre Partly on Government

May 28th 2012

Dead Syrians

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

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

The Race for LEDs

European LED Commercial Lighting Market Value To Increase Seven-Fold

May 28th 2012

LED bulb

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

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

The Edge of Terrorism

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

May 28th 2012

Click to select Image

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

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

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

Iran's Nukes

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

May 28th 2012

Leon Panetta Pensativo
Leon Panetta

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

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

The 2012 Vote

Obama Refines Economic Pitch by Focusing on Steady Jobs Growth

May 28th 2012

Obama pensive with flag

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

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

The 2012 Vote

Romney Uses Lessons from GOP Primary to Fight Back at Obama

May 27th 2012

Mitt Romney

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

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

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

Afghanistan on Edge

Report Says NATO Air Strike Kills Eight From Same Family

May 27th 2012

MQ-1 Predator Drone

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

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

Egypt on Edge

US Faces Dilemma as Muslim Brotherhood Leads in Egypt Vote

May 26th 2012

Muslim Brotherhood Marching

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

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

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

Ethiopia on Edge

VOA Reporter Detained in Ethiopia

May 26th 2012

Peter Heinlein

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

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

The Digital Edge

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

May 25th 2012

Smart phone

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

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

The 2012 Vote

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

May 25th 2012

union protest

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

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

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

Iran's Nukes

Iran Rush Increases Nuke Enrichment to 27%

May 25th 2012


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

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

The 2012 Vote

Viral Video calls on Catholics to Vote their Conscience in November

May 25th 2012

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

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

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

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

China on Edge

China Targets Immigrants in North Korea Border Region

May 25th 2012

China Security

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

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

The Edge of Terror

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

May 25th 2012

Hillary Clinton 2
Hilary Clinton

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

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

China on Edge

China Blames Philippines for More Ships in Disputed Sea

May 24th 2012

Chinese Aircraft Carrier

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

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

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

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

Russia on Edge

Russian Opposition Leaders Freed From Jail

May 24th 2012

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 ..

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