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The 2012 Race

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

May 20th 2012

Dmitry and Barack buddies

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

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

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


Wolrd Economy on Edge

Obama Declares 'Emerging Consensus' Among G8 on Economic Growth

May 20th 2012

Barack Obama with Flag

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

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

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

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

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


The Economy on Edge

Obama to Congress: Implement Wall St. Reforms for Growth

May 19th 2012

Obama and Flag

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

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

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


World Economy on Edge

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

May 19th 2012

2009 G8 Summit
2009 G8 Summit

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

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

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


Labor on Edge

Dems Wade into Major Airline Union Battle

May 19th 2012

american airlines

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

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

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

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


The Edge of Defense

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

May 19th 2012

Misselle Launch with Jets

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

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


Broken Borders

Arizona Democrat, Immigration Advocate Charged with Bribery, Fraud

May 18th 2012

One Million Dollars

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

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


The Koreas on Edge

Japan Launches South Korean Satellite Into Orbit

May 18th 2012

Click to select Image

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

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


The Digital Edge

Mobile Data Explosion Drives Massive Increase in Network Cost

May 18th 2012

Mobile devce users

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

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


Russia on Edge

Protesters Continue Moscow Sit-In Despite Arrests

May 18th 2012

Russian Protest

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

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

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


The Iranian Threat

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

May 17th 2012

Iranian Revolutionary Guard

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

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


The Edge of Terrorism

Democrats Refuse to Apologize to NYPD for Anti-Cop Amendment

May 17th 2012

Times Square bomb response

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

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

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


From the Heartland

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

May 17th 2012

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

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

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

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

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


The 2012 Vote

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

May 17th 2012

Click to select Image

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

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

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

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


Israel on Edge

Israeli Court Orders Three West Bank Settlements Demolished

May 16th 2012

Demolition of the Shepherd Hotel

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

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


The Edge of Terrorism

US Aids Yemen al-Qaida Strikes

May 16th 2012

Kabul Hotel attacked.jpg

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

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


The Battle for Syria

Roadside Blast Hits UN Convoy; 20 Killed at Syrian Funeral

May 15th 2012

arab league observers

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

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


Broken Banking

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

May 14th 2012

JP Morgan Chase

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

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

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

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

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

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


Germany on Edge

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

May 13th 2012

Angela Merkel

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

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


America and China

Congress Eerily Quiet over Chinese Take-Over of US Banks

May 13th 2012

Industrial and Commericial Bank of China

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

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

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

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

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


The Edge of Terrorism

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

May 13th 2012

Caesar Achellam
Caesar Achellam of Lord's Resistance Army

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

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

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


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 ..



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