Myanmar on Edge
|Scott Stearns||April 5th 2012|
The United States is easing some sanctions against Burma, following Sunday’s by-elections in which pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party won 40 of the 45 seats available.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says some senior Burmese officials and parliamentarians will now be allowed to visit the United States and that Washington will lift its ban on the export to Burma of U.S. financial services and investment to help accelerate modernization and reform. She says the Obama administration is preparing to nominate an ambassador to Rangoon along with a full U.S. Agency for International Development mission and a normal country program for the United Nations Development Program.
Clinton says Burma’s reform process has a long way to go and that the future is neither clear nor certain. But, she says, the United States is committed to meeting action with action. “The results of the April 1 parliamentary by-elections represents a dramatic demonstration of popular will that brings a new generation of reformers into government. This is an important step in the country’s transformation,” she said.
In recent months, Clinton says, that transformation has included an unprecedented release of political prisoners, new legislation broadening the rights of political and civic association, and moves toward greater dialogue between the government and ethnic minority groups. “We will continue to seek improvements in human rights, including the unconditional release of all remaining political prisoners and the lifting of conditions on all those who have been released. We will continue our support for the development of a vibrant civil society, which we think will greatly add to the reform of the economy and society,” she said. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Cameron Joseph||April 4th 2012|
The possibility of a loss in his home state of Pennsylvania might force Rick Santorum to drop out of the Republican primary sooner than he’d planned, say GOP strategists.
Santorum is notoriously strong-willed, and those close to him say that party elders will not be able to convince him to exit the race if he thinks he has a shot at the Republican nomination.
But one of Santorum’s close friends hinted that while the former Pennsylvania senator remains confident about winning his home state and using that to build May momentum, if that confidence falters, he might exit the race. Pennsylvania state Sen. Jake Corman (R), a longtime friend of Santorum and his family, said if it appeared Santorum wasn’t going to win the state, the former senator could drop his campaign.
“He’s a realist; he doesn’t have his head in the clouds,” Corman said. “As long as he sees a pathway to the nomination he’s going to stay in it, but he won’t stay in it to prove a point. If he gets to the point where he doesn’t think he’ll be the nominee, he’ll get out.” Santorum is running second in the delegate count to rival Mitt Romney, and the party establishment is increasing pressure on the former senator to exit the race and clear a path for the former Massachusetts governor. And while he led Romney by six points in a Quinnipiac poll of Pennsylvania voters out Tuesday, that was before Romney’s win in Wisconsin on Tuesday night. It’s also a decline for the former senator, who led Romney by double digits earlier this month. Read more ..
The Obama Edge
|Jonathan Easley and Amie Parnes ||April 3rd 2012|
President Obama on Monday said he is confident the Supreme Court will uphold his healthcare reform law and warned a ruling against it would be an “unprecedented” act of judicial activism. Speaking at a Rose Garden press conference alongside Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Obama weighed in for the first time on last week’s high court hearings, which left many Democrats fearful that the court is poised to strike down his signature domestic achievement.
“I’m confident the Supreme Court will uphold the law,” Obama said. “The reason is, because in accordance with precedent out there, it’s constitutional. “That’s not just my opinion, by the way,” Obama continued. “That’s the opinion of legal experts across the ideological spectrum, including two very conservative appellate court justices.” The president said it would be “unprecedented” for the court to strike down the individual mandate to have insurance because the law was passed by “a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”
Obama warned the high court against “a lack of judicial restraint,” in which “an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.” Read more ..
The Edge of Justice
|Terrence Sterling||April 2nd 2012|
Lawyers for Sholom Rubashkin today filed a petition for writ of certiorari for the United States Supreme Court. Rubashkin, who is serving a 27-year sentence for bank fraud, is seeking relief from the Supreme Court because the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to consider evidence that Rubashkin first discovered after the trial that made the trial fundamentally unfair. The newly discovered evidence showed that the trial judge had participated for seven months before the immigration raid on Rubashkin’s meat-packing plant in planning for the raid. She and the prosecutors failed to disclose these meetings to Rubashkin’s trial lawyers. Rubashkin is also seeking relief from the Supreme Court because the Eighth Circuit upheld his extraordinary 27-year sentence as “reasonable” even though the trial court did not consider whether that sentence would result in unwarranted disparities among similarly situated defendants, as required by federal sentencing law. Rubashkin is represented by Paul Clement of Bancroft PLLC and Nathan Lewin of Lewin & Lewin, LLP
“The Court of Appeals’ decision raised two issues of extraordinary importance to criminal defendants and to the proper functioning of the criminal justice system as a whole,” said Paul Clement. “Sholom Rubashkin was given an unusually harsh sentence for his actions. In my entire career, I cannot recall a similar instance of harsh punishment for a non-violent, first-time offender with a long record of charitable service to his community.” Read more ..
North Korea's Nukes
from VOA and Services
|North Korean Launch Site|
New satellite images
of a North Korean rocket site show evidence of increased preparation for a space launch that Washington sees as cover for a long-range missile test. The U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies
said Sunday that satellite photos taken last Wednesday show a mobile radar trailer, not previously present at the new Tongchang-ri site, and rows of what appear to be empty fuel and oxidizer tanks. The Institute said the photos also show what appears to be activity near the launcher assembly building, where news reports indicate the stages of the Unha-3 rocket are located. Pyongyang says the launch will put a functional satellite into orbit as part of the celebration of the 100th birthday of the late leader Kim Il Sung, the founder of the communist state and Kim Jong Un's grandfather.
The United States, Russia, South Korea and Japan all have condemned the planned launch. Even Pyongyang's long-time ally, China, has expressed rare disapproval, while U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was "deeply concerned." The Aspen Institute "think tank" in Berlin said Sunday that North Korean and American delegations had held informal talks in Germany. Charles King Mallory, executive director of the Institute, confirmed the meeting but did not comment in detail on the contents of the so-called "track two" talks or who participated in them. Read more ..
Myanmar on Edge
|Patrick Reed||April 1st 2012|
From VOA and Services
|Aung San Suu Kyi (credit: Htoo Tay Zar)|
Voters in Burma cast ballots Sunday in parliamentary elections seen as a crucial test of the country’s democratic reform progress. Candidates vied for 45 seats in the 664-seat parliament in the first by-elections since the new, nominally civilian government took office in March of last year. For the first time, the government has invited a small number of foreign observers and journalists to witness the elections.
Main opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who heads the National League for Democracy (NLD), ran for the first time since 1990, when her party won a landslide victory in general elections. At that time, military leaders refused to relinquish power and kept her in some form of detention for most of the next 20 years.
The NLD alleged Sunday that some ballot papers had been covered in wax, which could be rubbed off later to change the votes. The opposition also complained of voter intimidation.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who is widely expected to win, has said she does not expect Burma’s election to be fair, but that it is still significant. She was released from house arrest shortly after the November 2010 elections—won by military-backed candidates and marred by widespread complaints of cheating—and got actively engaged in the political process. The NLD boycotted that election after she was not permitted to run. Read more ..
Syria on Edge
From VOA News and Services
U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan says the Syrian government must immediately implement a cease-fire and stop its attacks on opposition groups, as fresh clashes broke out across the country on Friday. Annan's spokesperson, Ahmad Fawzi, told reporters in Geneva that the “deadline is now” for President Bashar al-Assad to implement the six-point peace plan drawn up by the former U.N. chief. He did not specify what action, if any, would be taken if al-Assad did not comply.
Arab leaders at a Baghdad summit on Thursday endorsed the Syria peace plan and called for its immediate implementation. Al-Assad agreed to the peace plan on last week, but government forces have not shown restraint. Chatham House Middle East analyst Nadim Shehadi says al-Assad may have agreed to the peace plan as a stalling tactic. “It's something that the regime can use to buy time and the regime can always blame the violence on others and the non-implementation on others and can always buy time by slowly implementing or seeming to implement but not really implementing.”
Rights groups say at least 11 people were killed on Friday in clashes between demonstrators and security forces. The groups say the violence erupted as anti-government protests took place in several cities. Read more ..
Mideast on Edge
|Diego DiGhero||March 31st 2012|
Fierce clashes have erupted between military forces and suspected al-Qaida-linked militants in southern Yemen, leaving at least 30 people dead.
Yemeni officials say the fighting broke out early on March 31 when militants attacked an army post in the town of Mallah, in Lahij province. The area is near Abyan province, an al-Qaida stronghold. The Ansar al-Sharia militant group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Earlier this month, the group claimed responsibility for the death of an American teacher who was killed in southern city of Taiz. The Yemeni government has been trying to recover from anti-government protests that resulted in the resignation of long-time leader Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh's deputy, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, took over as president in February. He vowed to fight al-Qaida and stabilize the country. Read more ..
Pakistan and the US
|Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar (credit: Wajid Hussain/VOA)|
Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar says that the ongoing parliamentary review of her country’s “complex” ties with the United States may be painstakingly slow, but it will lay a lasting foundation for the future. Her remarks came as the parliament adjourned its joint session for a week to let lawmakers hammer out differences over a set of recommendations to reset Islamabad’s relations with Washington and its Western allies.
The long-awaited parliamentary debate to review Pakistan’s relationship with the United States began early this week. But the meeting failed to see a substantive discussion on the draft recommendations because the opposition demanded the removal of some controversial provisions.
Lawmaker Ayaz Amir represents the main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, which is headed by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. “Parliament has been almost paralyzed or stalled for over a week. The recommendations have been tabled but a meaningful debate has not even begun. If anything is having an influence it is what they [lawmakers] perceived to be public opinion, and that is creating a problem,” Amir said. Read more ..
Healthcare on Edge
|Alexander Bolton||March 30th 2012|
Democrats are fuming over Justice Antonin Scalia’s conduct during this week’s Supreme Court deliberations on President Obama’s healthcare law.
Scalia appeared hostile to the law while several of the high court’s liberal justices seemed to cheerlead for its defense. But it was Scalia’s attitude that rubbed some Democrats the wrong way.
Scalia mocked the so-called “Cornhusker Kickback” without seeming to know that provision was stripped out of the law two years ago. The justice also joked the task of having to review the complex bill violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. “You really want us to go through these 2,700 pages?” he quipped. “Is this not totally unrealistic? That we are going to go through this enormous bill item by item and decide each one.”
The comments did not sit well with Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), a member of the Gang of 14, which in 2005 established guidelines for considering judicial nominees. “I am concerned that Justice Scalia’s comments call into question his impartiality and instead suggest judicial activism,” Nelson said. Nelson was taken aback by Scalia’s suggestion that reading the law was too much to expect of justices ruling on its constitutionality. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Diego DiGhero||March 29th 2012|
Arab leaders and envoys discussed a response to the Syrian crisis at a Baghdad summit - the first to be held by the Arab League in the Iraqi capital since Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. A rocket exploded near the fortified Green Zone, in which the behemoth U.S. Embassy is located and where the summit was being held, but caused no casualties.
Arab League members called on the Syrian government and opposition to implement the terms of a peace plan drafted by international envoy Kofi Annan, a former head of the United Nations. The plan urges both sides to start a cease-fire and a dialogue, but does not call for dictator Bashr al-Assad to step down as part of a political transition.
Arab leaders previously had urged the Syrian president to hand power to a deputy to manage the transition, but now they appear to have backed away from that demand. Read more ..
Edge on Russia
|Thekla Hritz||March 29th 2012|
A beautiful set of twins from a village in Russia's Vladimir Oblast has become a national sensation for all the wrong reasons. Appearing recently on a television game show late last year, Ksenia and Yevgenia Karatygina had the chance to win 500 rubles ($17) by answering the question: "What was the Holocaust?"
After some hesitation, Yevgenia answered, "We think that the Holocaust is wallpaper paste," she said. A video of the exchange has since gone viral on YouTube, attracting hundreds of thousands of viewers.
The blonde twins, who study at Moscow's Kosygin Technical University, explained that history and geography were never that interesting to them in school. Yevgenia Kartygina said she was more interested in poetry.
"To be honest, such subjects in school were pretty dull," Yevgenia said. "Not because the teacher was bad -- he knew what he was talking about. But I didn't want to devote my life to that -- I wasn't planning to study at some institute connected with history. So during those lessons, I was doing my own thing. I was writing poems. Now we are writing music -- we are into music." As a result, however, neither sister could say what Auschwitz was nor had any idea that more than 6 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis during World War II. Read more ..
Healthcare on Edge
The nine Supreme Court justices were divided Wednesday over whether to strike down all of President Obama’s healthcare law if they find that its individual mandate is unconstitutional. The court’s conservative members, including possible swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy, leaned toward invalidating the whole law, while the liberal justices said the court should leave it to Congress to determine how much of the law depends on the mandate.
Read more ..
Chief Justice John Roberts, another possible swing vote, pressed the attorneys on both sides of the issue about equally.
Arguments about “severability” come a day after the court engaged in two hours of intense debate over whether the insurance mandate violates the Constitution. Five justices on Tuesday appeared skeptical that the mandate meets constitutional muster, meaning the debate over whether the rest of the law must also be tossed could come into play.
The Hill's Supreme Court coverage:
♦ AUDIO, TRANSCRIPT: Day 3 hearings on 'severability'
♦ AUDIO, TRANSCRIPT: Day 3 hearings on Medicaid
♦ Scarborough: Court loss would be 'big win' politically for Dems
♦ White House has no contingency plans if health law is tossed
♦ Scalia: 'Cornhusker Kickback' was bribery
♦ Lawmakers back to talking points as court leaves them in dark
♦ Pelosi: Dems ready to accept Supreme Court verdict
Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler said the court would have to strike two other provisions along with the mandate: the requirement that insurers cover anyone who applies and the ban on charging higher prices to customers with pre-existing conditions.
The Battle for Syria
From VOA News and Services
International peace envoy Kofi Annan says Syria has accepted his plan to end violence in the country.
A spokesman for Mr. Annan said Tuesday Syria’s response came in a letter to the U.N.-Arab League envoy.
Mr. Annan met with Chinese officials Tuesday in Beijing, including Premier Wen Jiabao, as China pledged to support his mediation efforts.
The plan calls on Syrian government forces and rebels to agree on a cease-fire and engage in dialogue. The blueprint, endorsed by the U.N. Security Council, does not include a Western and Arab demand for President Bashar al-Assad to resign—a requirement that Russia and China oppose.
U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said Tuesday there is a basic structure in place to discuss with Russia and China what they can do to support Mr. Annan.
“I think we felt like we made some progress with regard to Syria in that, despite the differences that we’ve had—and they continue with regard to Syria—there is the framework for cooperation through the Kofi Annan initiative which, again, at the very least, provides a framework for stopping the violence, initiating greater humanitarian access to the people of Syria, and initiating a transition in that country. Again, we believe very strongly that that transition has to involve Assad leaving power.” Read more ..
The World on Edge
|Patrick Reed||March 27th 2012|
From RFE/RL and Services
|Presidents Lee Myung-Bak of S. Korean, Barack Obama of the U.S.|
World leaders gathered for a nuclear security summit in Seoul, South Korea, have pledged tough action to combat the threat of nuclear terrorism but have agreed no new concrete measures.
A statement at the close of the gathering on March 27 said it was the “fundamental responsibility” of all states to safeguard nuclear materials and keep them out of the hands of terrorists.
It added that “nuclear terrorism continues to be one of the most challenging threats to international security” and said countering that threat requires “strong national measures.” However, the statement provided no specific details on how governments intend to combat the threat.
U.S. President Barack Obama said that threats remain due to “bad actors” actively seeking unsecured nuclear materials. “Of course, what is also undeniable is that the threat remains. There are still too many bad actors in search of these dangerous materials and these dangerous materials are still vulnerable in too many places,” Obama told the summit. Read more ..
America and Israel
The American parents of a boy born in Jerusalem, Israel can litigate their insistence that their son's US passport list Israel as his birthplace. So says a US Supreme Court ruling just issued. Since the founding of Israel in 1948, successive American governments have declined to recognize any country as having sovereignty over Jerusalem, which is home to the holiest sites in Judaism and Christianity and the third holiest site in Islam. The State Department, applying long-standing US policy, insisted that nine-year-old Menachem Zivotofsky's birth certificate, and thus his passport, show Jerusalem—with no country specified—as the place of birth. Parents Naomi and Ari Zivotofsky, filed a lawsuit in 2003 challenging this in federal court in Washington, DC, basing their argument on a 2002 American law, passed just before Menachem was born.
Constitutional lawyers Nathan Lewin and Alyza Lewin fought for the right to argue the case. Nathan Lewin ultimately prevailed at the high court.
A feature of the contentious lawsuit was the usuaal spectacle of website scrubbing by the the State Department under instructions from the Obama Administration and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. In the run-up to the court's ruling, pictures with captions reading "Jerusalem, Israel" were changed to delete the word "Israel." One of them was of a Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial ceremony. Moreover, others citizens who had received passports stamped "Israel" were told to turn them in to correct a bureaucratic error.
Fundamental dynamics of Congressional intent and presidential policy are at stake. In the 35-page ruling, the Supreme Court declared, "They [the petitioners] argue that these powers include the power to specify the content of a passport (or consular birth report). And when such a specification takes the form of statutory law, they say, the Constitution requires the President (through the Secretary of State) to execute that statute." Read more ..
Edge of Terrorism
|Juda Engelmayer||March 26th 2012|
Cutting Edge News Contributor
An Egyptian Al-Ahram
weekly newspaper claimed that Iran plotted to carry out a terror attack on an Israeli ship as it passed through Egypt’s Suez Canal. The report suggested that Iran hired two Egyptians Suleiman Razek Abdul-Razek and Salameh Ahmed Salameh, offering them 50 million Egyptian pounds ($8.3 million US). Egyptian security forces discovered the plot and arrested the two men on Saturday.
The plot was discovered before enacted, as the two would-be terrorist attempted to hire a third party, believed to be a man named Mohamed Zakri, to carry out the bombing. but are now denying any involvement in the matter whatsoever. In a similar manner to the way Iran had recruited Manssor Arbabsiar to carry out terrorist plots against United States, this report would indicate that the Iranian efforts to spread its campaign of fear is still very much in effect. Read more ..
Edge of Healthcare
President Obama’s signature domestic achievement — and, with it, a big part of his political legacy — is now in the hands of the Supreme Court. The nine justices on March 26 will begin hearing three consecutive days of oral arguments about whether the healthcare law is unconstitutional. The landmark legal challenge threatens to overturn an historic legislative victory, raising the stakes once again in a debate that will help define Obama’s presidency.
The six-hour oral argument is the longest the court has heard in 45 years. And this is the first time in more than 75 years that the court is in a position to strike down a sitting president’s agenda while he runs for reelection. “It’s just perfect, in terms of this being a first-term president’s signature legislation, and that it could be invalidated during a presidential election year,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond.
That last instance came in 1935 when, in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first term, the court considered the constitutionality of his National Recovery Act and struck it down.
Legal experts agree the healthcare case is already in the same league as the court’s most famous decisions, including rulings on abortion and civil rights. Some argue it’s more important than Bush v. Gore, the case that decided the 2000 presidential election, because of its sweeping implications for the role of government. “It has the potential to fundamentally alter our concept of limited government,” said Robert Alt, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Read more ..
Senegal on Edge
From VOA and Services
|Macky Sall, president-elect of Senegal|
Opposition candidate Macky Sall says a new era can begin in Senegal after his victory in Sunday’s runoff presidential election.
Unofficial results showed voters backed Mr. Sall over President Abdoulaye Wade, who was running for a controversial third term.
Mr. Sall told reporters the election is a victory for all of Senegal.
“I also salute those who chose the other candidate. I will be the president of all Senegalese people.” He said he will represent all of the Senegalese people. His supporters rallied in the capital, Dakar, to celebrate his victory. Mr. Wade said in a statement he called Mr. Sall to congratulate him. He also thanked his own supporters and urged them to look toward upcoming parliamentary elections. Official provisional results are still days away, but observers praised the vote. Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo led the African Union’s observer mission and stated that the election was transparent and peaceful. “The election this time because we had less number of contestants to deal with was smoother, was more orderly.” Read more ..
The Edge of Health
|Jonas Bergquis||March 25th 2012|
An important step towards developing a rapid, inexpensive diagnostic method for autism has been take by Uppsala University, among other universities. Through advanced mass spectrometry the researchers managed to capture promising biomarkers from a tiny blood sample. The study has just been published in the prestigious journal Nature Translational Psychiatry.
There are no acknowledged biomarkers for autism today. Researchers at Berzelii Centre and the Science for Life Laboratory in Uppsala who, in collaboration with colleagues at Linnaeus University in Sweden and the Faculty of Medicine in Tehran, Iran, have discovered some promising biomarkers.
Many diseases are caused by protein alterations inside and outside the body’s cells. By studying protein patterns in tissue and body fluids, these alterations can be mapped to provide important information about underlying causes of disease. Sometimes protein patterns can also be used as biomarkers to enable diagnosis or as a prognosticating tool to monitor the development of a disease. In the current study disruptions of the nervous system were in focus when the scientists studied protein patterns in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
From VOA and Services
Activists say Syrian forces resumed heavy shelling of the already battered city of Homs on March 24, as international envoy Kofi Annan arrived in Russia to discuss efforts to mediate an end to the crisis in Syria.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least three people were killed in the Khaldiyeh district of Homs and nearby town of Qusair following shelling that began early Saturday. Homs has seen some of the heaviest fighting in Syria’s year-long uprising.
Clashes were also reported in Idlib province bordering Turkey, where the rights group says at least one person was killed.
Saturday’s violence came as joint U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan arrived in Moscow in an effort to convince Russia to support international calls for a cease-fire and open political dialogue in Syria. Russia and China have repeatedly blocked Security Council action against Syria—saying such action interferes in its internal affairs—since the deadly crackdowns on protests erupted. However, the two nations did support a Security Council resolution in recent days endorsing Annan’s six-point plan for peace, and Russia has also called on the Syrians to give humanitarian aid workers a chance to help beleaguered civilians. Read more ..
America on Edge
|Jeremy Herb||March 23rd 2012|
For Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), military hazing hits too close to home. Chu’s nephew, Marine Lance Cpl. Harry Lew, committed suicide in Afghanistan last year after he was beaten and hazed while serving there. Now Chu has become an outspoken critic of the military's hazing policies, accusing the services of brushing off the issue.
Last month she and other Democrats called for a congressional hearing on military hazing, which the Armed Services Committee held on Thursday. Chu and two other Democrats sat in on the hearing to question military officials.
“It’s a difficult matter to talk about in such a public setting, but I feel like I have to,” Chu said.
Chu shared the details of her nephew’s hazing with the military officials at the hearing, saying Lew, 21, was beaten and sand was poured on his face after he fell asleep while on guard. “Finally, 22 minutes after they stopped, at 3:43 a.m., Harry climbed into a foxhole and killed himself with his own gun,” Chu said. “And what punishment was given? Virtually nothing,” she said. “In Harry's case three Marines were charged, one Marine was given just one month in confinement, two were found not guilty by a jury of their peers, fellow Marines.” Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Martin Barillas||March 23rd 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Contributor
The European Union has decided to impose new sanctions on the inner circle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as fresh clashes broke out across the country.
European foreign ministers meeting in Brussels say they will impose a travel ban and asset freeze against several members of the president's administration and family, including his British-born wife, Asma al-Assad.
Mrs. Assad gained recent attention after emails obtained by Britain's Guardian newspaper allegedly revealed that she went on large shopping sprees while Syria descended into violence. It is not clear if the ban would be able to prevent her from traveling to Britain, where she is thought to still hold citizenship.
Before the meeting, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the sanctions will help add pressure on the Syrian government, which he said continues its "murdering" behavior.
"It is important that the European Union today adds to that pressure on the regime with sanctions that I hope will cover not only members of the regime, but people associated closely with the regime. It is important that we tighten the diplomatic and economic strangehold on them," said Hague. Read more ..
The Edge of Terror
|Saul Roth ||March 22nd 2012|
World Jewish Daily
French police stormed the apartment of Toulouse killer Mohammed Merah the moring of Thursday March 22, killing the self-described jihadist and ending a 32-hour siege.
The Times of Israel reports that three French police officers were wounded in the encounter, during which Merah came out with “guns blazing.”
Police used a camera to survey the apartment and when the camera entered the bathroom, the gunman came out, guns blazing, Interior Minister Claude Gueant told reporters.
A firefight ensued and Merah jumped out the first-floor window and was “found dead,” he said. Heavy gunfire was heard outside for several minutes after police entered the apartment. Some 300 bullets were exchanged in the firefight.
Merah, who confessed to killing three children and a rabbi outside a Jewish school in Toulouse Monday, reportedly said he wanted “to die weapons in hand,” according to Gueant earlier Thursday. Read more ..
Mali on Edge
Toumani Toure—just weeks before the election that would have marked an end to his mandate. The president’s location is unknown. Frustration had long been brewing in the military in what had been one of the region’s few stable democracies.
Residents said that sporadic gunfire continued in Bamako Thursday, just hours after renegade soldiers—calling themselves the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State (CNRDR)—seized control of the state.
Appearing on state TV early Thursday, March 22, the CNRDR spokesman, Amadou Konare, says the armed forces decided to put an end to the “incompetent regime” of President Amadou Toumani Toure. He says the constitution is suspended until further notice and all government institutions have been dissolved. He says an inclusive government will be created after consultation with the nation’s representatives.
Stirrings of the coup began Wednesday morning with a mutiny by soldiers at a military camp near the capital and then spread to a military base in Gao, in the northeast. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Cameron Joseph||March 22nd 2012|
|Republican Caucus, 2011|
Rank-and-file House Republicans are furious that party leadership took sides in a primary battle that led to the ouster of a longtime lawmaker.
And at least one member said there was a possibility of mutiny. “Some members are angry,” said the House Republican, who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak candidly. “If leaders get involved … I think they risk a revolt.”
The anger in the conference intensified after Rep. Don Manzullo (R-Ill.), a 10-term lawmaker, lost Tuesday in a GOP primary challenge from freshman Rep. Adam Kinzinger. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) endorsed Kinzinger—an unusual move, as party leaders typically don’t get involved in these types of contests. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) did not endorse the freshman lawmaker and his team vehemently denied any involvement in the race, but two Republican lawmakers close to Boehner said he'd privately made his preference clear. Everybody was involved, said one member of leadership when asked which GOP leaders had backed Kinzinger. Read more ..
Battle for Syria
|Martin Barillas||March 21st 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
While the Syrian opposition forces have been guilty of violence, abuse, torture - as stated in a report released by Human Rights Watch - in Homs there is "an ongoing ethnic cleansing of Christians", carried out by members of the "Brigade Faruq", which has been linked to Al Qaeda. This is according to sources in the Syrian Orthodox Church, which represents 60 percent of Christians in Syria.
Militant armed Islamists - says the sources - have managed to expel 90 percent of Christians from Homs and confiscated their homes by force. According to the sources within the Syrian Orthodox Church, the militants went door to door in the neighborhoods of Hamidiya and Bustan al-Diwan, forcing Christians to flee, without giving them the chance to take their belongings. The "Faruq Brigade" is run by armed elements of Al-Qaeda and various Wahhabi groups and includes mercenaries from Libya and Iraq. Read more ..
Edge of Terrorism
|Martin Barillas||March 21st 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
The gunman suspected of killing seven people in the name of Al-Qaeda, including three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school, is expected to give himself up to police on March 21 in the French city of Toulouse, thus ending an hours-long siege in the southwestern French city.
Gas service and other utilities have been cut off at the apartment building where the suspect is currently holed up. Minutes before 12 noon local time, residents were evacuated from the building where the gunman is now holding off more than 300 police officers. Anti-terrorism teams are on hand, some members of which have been seen wearing bullet-proof gear and executioner-style black hoods to disguise their faces. President Nicolas Sarkozy has applauded French police for corralling the gunman who, on March 19 committed the most recent of his series of murders.
The alleged murderer has been identified as Mohamed Murah, a 24-year-old Muslim man of Algerian origin. A French citizen, he is believed to have been recently in Pakistan and Afghanistan, ostensibly for training. The gunman claims to be armed with a Kalashnikov automatic weapon, as well as an Israeli-made UZI automatic. Read more ..
|Molly K. Hooper ||March 20th 2012|
A bipartisan bill on insider trading that had been steamrolling through Congress has ground to a halt.
The Senate and House last month overwhelmingly approved different versions of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle predicted some version of the bill would reach President Obama’s desk swiftly.
But what had been a legislative locomotive is now attracting something quite common in an election year: finger-pointing.
Democrats in the House and a senior Senate Republican want provisions on political intelligence added to the bill. House Republican leaders, who scrapped that part of the legislation, say it’s up to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to make a decision of whether to go to conference or pass the House-passed version. Reid, meanwhile, isn’t saying much.
On Monday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) called for a conference committee to iron out the differences with the House bill.
“Taking up the House-passed bill without the opportunity for the Senate to reassert its position with respect to these [political intelligence] provisions would be wrong. These are two of the most important and substantive provisions in the bill,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Read more ..
The Defense Edge
|Edwin Black||March 20th 2012|
Last Friday, March 16, President Barack Obama may have quietly placed the United States on a war preparedness footing, perhaps in anticipation of an outbreak of war between Israel, the West, and Iran. A newly-propounded Executive Order, titled "National Defense Resources Preparedness," renews and updates the president's power to take control of all civil energy supplies, including oil and natural gas, control and restrict all civil transportation, which is almost 97 percent dependent upon oil; and even provides the option to re-enable a draft in order to achieve both the military and non-military demands of the country, according to a simple reading of the text. The Executive Order was published on the White House website.
The timing of the Order -- with little fanfare -- could not be explained. Opinions among the very first bloggers on the purpose of the unexpected Executive Order run the gamut from the confused to the absurd. None focus on the obvious sudden need for such a pronouncement: oil and its potential for imminent interruption. If Iran was struck by Israel or the West, or if Iran thought it might be struck, the Tehran regime has promised it would block the Strait of Hormuz, which would obstruct some 40 percent of the world's seaborne oil, some twenty percent of the global supply, and about 20 percent of America's daily needs. Moreover, Tehran has promised military retaliation against any nation it feels has harmed it. The United States is at the top of the list. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Kane Farabaugh||March 20th 2012|
Republican presidential candidates are campaigning in the midwest state of Illinois ahead of the March 20th primary election. Republicans have been holding a series of contests to choose a nominee to face President Barack Obama, a Democrat, in the November presidential election. While the biggest city in Illinois - Chicago - accounts for a large bloc of voters, people in the rural and more conservative parts of the state could play a major role in determining who wins the Republican primary. The economy and government spending are the biggest issues on the minds of voters as they head to the polls. In his small shop on one of the main streets in downtown Pontiac, Illinois, Jon Sear is hard at work fixing computers. He says he runs his business by following a basic principle. “You can’t have [a] deficit. You take in what you get, you spend what you have, other than that you don’t spend it. It’s common sense,” Sear said.
Sear says that common sense is lacking in the state government of Illinois, where the estimated budget shortfall is over $11 billion. As Republican presidential candidates campaign throughout the state, Illinois budget woes, and federal government spending are on the minds of many voters like Sear and his wife Amy. “You worry because you don’t understand how spending more money will make things better when that seems like the total opposite. You have to pay your bills as citizens, so you want the government to do the same thing I guess,” Sear said. Polling shows former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is ahead of former U.S. senator Rick Santorum in Illinois. While Romney might easily win the support of Chicago’s large group of moderate Republican voters, Santorum is positioned to do well in places outside the city, like Pontiac, Illinois, population 12,000. Read more ..
Pakistan on Edge
Pakistan's parliament will consider the future of its relations with the United States, Tuesday, nearly five months after bilateral ties reached a low point when NATO forces mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border. The long-awaited session of both houses of parliament will debate the recommendations of a special commission tasked with laying out the new terms of engagement with the U.S. and NATO. The recommendations, which have not been made public, are expected to deal with the conditions for re-opening NATO supply routes through Pakistan to Afghanistan and the full resumption of counter-terrorism cooperation with the U.S. Many observers expect the lawmakers to approve the recommendations after several days of debate.
The November border attack brought U.S.-Pakistan relations to an ebb, with ties already strained by the covert U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last year and a number of American drone strikes targeting militants in Pakistan's northwest. Pakistan responded to the NATO attack by shutting down the two main overland routes the coalition uses to send nonlethal supplies to Afghanistan. It also ordered American personnel out of Shamsi air base and drew back its cooperation in the U.S. war on terror. Read more ..
Weather on Edge
Infrared and microwave satellite imagery from NASA have been providing forecasters at the National Weather Service valuable data on weather system that has potential to bring severe weather to the south central U.S. over the next several days. A large upper-level storm system is approaching central Oklahoma and moving east, into eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas, bringing the threat of heavy rain, gusty winds, and tornadoes. Severe thunderstorm warnings were posted early on March 19 in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas. Oklahoma also has a flash flood warning centered on Oklahoma City. Texas had a tornado warning near Midland earlier in the day.
The National Weather Service issued warnings today, March 19, 2012 for eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas which stated "Dangerous/potentially life-threatening flooding is expected." Forecasters at the National Weather Service expect 4 to 8 inch rainfall totals through Wednesday, March 21, and possibly moderate and major river flooding. Edward Olsen of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. creates imagery using data from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument that flies onboard NASA's Aqua satellite. Olsen created imagery from a satellite overpass during the morning hours today, March 19. He said, "The infrared and microwave images show the early phase of the convection blow-up." Read more ..
Edge of Terrorism
|Martin Barillas||March 19th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
Three schoolchildren and their teacher were killed by a lone gunman in the city of Toulouse, in southwestern France on March 19. The gunman opened fire outside a Jewish high school, killing at least four people. The shooting took place outside the Ozar-Hatorah secondary school in a residential area near a synagogue. Police said the gunman opened fire on a group of parents and children outside the school before entering the playground where he continued to shoot people at close range to continue the mayhem.
The killings occurred at approximately 8:10 a.m. local time. Police say that the alleged gunman, who escaped on a motorscooter, used a 9 mm pistol, the same type of weapon used in two attacks on soldiers in the same region in the past 10 days, as well as an 11.43 mm weapon.
A paratrooper, not in uniform, was killed in Toulouse just over a week ago and two more in Montauban, 28 miles north of Toulouse, on March 15. A third soldier, also shot at close range in Montauban, is recovering in hospital. All of the soldiers were of either North African or Caribbean origin. A spokesman for the Jewish community of the Pyrenees region said that he could not confirm whether the attack was inspired by anti-Semitism. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney has won his party's primary in Puerto Rico, strengthening his bid to face President Barack Obama in the November general election. Election officials say that with more than three-quarters of the precincts reporting, Romney had won 83 percent of Sunday's vote. His top rival, Rick Santorum, was a distant second at 8 percent, while Newt Gingrich had about 2 percent. The win gives Romney the 20 delegates at stake in Puerto Rico, moving him closer to the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination. Romney celebrated the victory during a campaign stop Sunday in the state of Illinois. ''Thank you to the people of Puerto Rico, thank you to Governor Fortuno and Luce, his wife. Thank you to Zori and all the other people in Puerto Rico who helped us have this extraordinary victory and, by the way, 20 delegates, all the delegates that were in that contest are ours. So that's good news.'' Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Martin Barillas||March 18th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
|Syrian President Bashr al-Assad|
A bomb exploded in Syria's second-largest city of Aleppo on March 18, one day after a double car bombing in the capital, Damascus, killed 27 people and wounded more than 100. Syria's SANA state news agency says that the explosion in Aleppo happened between two residential buildings. It says the attack was the work of "terrorists" whom the Syrian government blames for a year-long opposition uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the explosion killed three people and wounded about 25, and was the result of a car bomb near a security building. Details of the incident could not be independently confirmed.
The semi-official news channel al-Ikhbariya said security forces had been tipped off about the bomb and had been moving residents out of the area when it went off. It said the car had been filled with 200 kilograms of explosives. Photo at the SANA website showed buildings blasted open, while aid workers were seen standing near piles of shattered masonry and bomb craters. Syria TV showed at least one street corner splattered in blood. In the March 17 attacks in Damascus, two car bombs exploded minutes apart near a police security building and an intelligence center. Crowds of Syrians gathered Sunday at the blast site for a prayer vigil. The Syrian government and opposition groups blamed each other for the bombings. Read more ..
The Edge of Terror
A major U.S. newspaper reports Osama bin Laden ordered al-Qaida to assassinate U.S. President Barack Obama and General David Petraeus, who was then the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reported Friday documents taken from bin Laden's compound describe the scheme. Bin Laden wrote that killing Obama would ensure Vice President Joe Biden would come to power, someone bin Laden said was "totally unprepared" for the post. Bin Laden suggested Pakistani terrorist Ilyas Kashmiri carry out the attack against the U.S. president. Kashmiri was killed in a U.S. drone strike last June.
U.S. officials and analysts say there is no evidence al-Qaida was anywhere near ready to mount the proposed attacks. U.S. special commandos killed bin Laden in a covert raid on his house in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad last May 2. The assault team also confiscated a wealth of material, including video clips and personal correspondence of the al-Qaida leader. One CIA official called it "the largest trove of information ever captured from a senior terrorist leader," and said the material offered "important insights" into al-Qaida’s operations. Ignatius said the bin Laden documents will soon be available publicly. Read more ..
Europe on Edge
Former Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk, convicted in Germany last year of helping kill some 28,000 prisoners, died Saturday at the age of 91. Police in the southern German state of Bavaria say the ailing Demjanjuk died in a nursing home in the town of Bad Feilnbach. He had been sentenced last May to five years in prison, but was freed pending an appeal. The Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk denied any role in the Holocaust and claimed that he was a victim of the Nazis himself. He told the court he was drafted into the Soviet army in 1941, held as a German prisoner of war and recruited as a prison camp guard.
After World War II Demjanjuk became a U.S. citizen and spent decades working as a mechanic before he was extradited to face trial in Germany in 2009. His conviction set a legal precedent in Germany, marking the first time someone was convicted solely on the grounds of serving as a camp guard, with no evidence of being involved in a specific crime. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Margaret Besheer and Pamel Dockins||March 17th 2012|
The U.N. and Arab League's chief peace envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, called on Security Council members Friday to end their stalemate and decide what to do to pressure Syria into ending its deadly crackdown on dissent. In a briefing from Geneva, the former U.N. secretary-general said he is sending a team to Damascus next week to discuss a plan to deploy international monitors. Diplomats say Annan discussed his plans in a video briefing to the Council on Friday, less than a week after his own meetings in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. After the briefing, Annan told reporters Syria's political turmoil needs to be handled carefully to avoid any "miscalculations" that could lead to a "major escalation" that could impact the entire region. “I think it is a conflict in a region of the world that has seen many, many traumatic events," he said. "I think we need to handle the situation in Syria very, very carefully." Asked if the government and opposition would agree to speak with each other, Annan said the activists he met, although angry and frustrated over the government crackdown, are eager to get talks going and resolve the issue politically and peacefully. Western diplomats say they hope Annan's mediation will accelerate efforts to pass a U.N. resolution condemning Assad's bloody crackdown on dissent. Russia and China have twice vetoed previous resolutions condemning Syria.
Syrian state media released a statement on Friday ahead of the closed Security Council meeting, saying the Damascus government has pledged its cooperation with Annan in the hope of finding a "political solution" to the crisis. The Foreign Ministry statement again blamed unspecified "terrorists" and foreign interference for much of the deadly violence in Syria. Annan met with Assad last Saturday and Sunday. He outlined proposals to end the fighting, provide humanitarian aid and begin political dialogue. Rebel fighters have been in retreat throughout Syria and a movement of opposition activists has been fragmented with dissent. But Western governments have been reluctant to arm the Syrian opposition, for fear of further inflaming the situation. Read more ..
Afghanistan on Edge
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is accusing the United States of failing to cooperate in the probe of a massacre of 16 Afghan villagers, allegedly by a U.S. soldier. President Karzai met with tribal elders and family members of those killed in Sunday's shooting spree in Kandahar province. He said Friday that the delegation he sent to investigate the killings did not receive the cooperation it expected from American officials. Mr. Karzai lashed out, saying civilian casualties have been going on “for too long … and this is by all means the end of the rope here.” He said “this behavior can no longer be tolerated.” The Afghan leader also questioned U.S. military claims that only one shooter was involved in the incident. Villagers say that more one U.S. soldier was involved in the attack in the Panjwai district, in which children were among those killed.
On Thursday, President Karzai met with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in Kabul and demanded that NATO forces pull back from Afghan villages and relocate to their bases in the wake of the shooting spree. The civilian lawyer for the U.S. soldier accused of carrying out the deadly rampage says his client was likely suffering from stress after witnessing one of his fellow soldiers sustain a grave injury. Attorney John Henry Browne told reporters Friday the 38-year-old staff sergeant saw one of his comrades get his leg blown off a day before Sunday's massacre in Kandahar. Browne says his client was also unhappy about being assigned a fourth tour of duty in a war zone. The soldier, a married father of two, had served three tours in Iraq, where he suffered a head injury and lost part of his foot. The lawyer says the highly-decorated soldier was told he would not be deployed to Afghanistan, but that changed “literally overnight.” Read more ..
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