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The Afghanistan War

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

May 3rd 2012

Obama and Flag

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

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

The Edge of Space

Black Hole Caught Red-Handed in Stellar Homicide

May 3rd 2012

black hole flare

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

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

Broken Government

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

May 2nd 2012

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

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

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

The Edge of Terrorism

Cleveland Bridge Terror Plot Foiled

May 2nd 2012

Cuyahoga Valley National Park Bridge

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

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

Broken Government

Senators Urge No More Postal Closings

May 2nd 2012

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

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

The Battle for Syria

23 Killed in Syria Attacks as Pressure Mounts on UN Observers

May 1st 2012

Syria Protest

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

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

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

The Digital Edge

Google Sued Over 'Jewish' Search Suggestions

May 1st 2012

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

Broken Borders

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

April 30th 2012

US Border Patrol arrest

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

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

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

Islam's War on Christians

Deadly Terrorist Bombings Strike Nigeria Twice within Two Days

April 30th 2012

Nigeria car bombing

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

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

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

Jordan on Edge

Jordanian Prime Minister Suddenly Resigns

April 30th 2012

Former Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh
Former Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh

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

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

The Edge of Terrorism

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

April 29th 2012

Mohammad Saaili Shibin
Mohammad Saaili Shibin

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

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

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

Broken Labor

Fatal Work Injuries Rose in 2010

April 29th 2012

EMS with injured worker.

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

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

The Arab Winter in Egypt

Egyptian Presidential Hopeful Promises Islamic, Inclusive Future

April 28th 2012

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

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

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

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

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

The 2012 Vote

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

April 27th 2012

Barack Obama Israel speech

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

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

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

The North Korean Threat

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

April 27th 2012

NK Military Parade Apr 2012

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

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

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

The Edge of Justice

Rhode Island Cosa Nostra Boss Arrested on Extorsion and Racketeering Charges

April 26th 2012

Anthony L. DiNunzio

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

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

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

Korean Peninsula on Edge

North Korea Boasts of Ability to Destroy US Military in “Single Blow”

April 25th 2012

Kim Jong-Un

North Korea’s army marked its 80th anniversary Wednesday with a vow to retaliate against what its chief of staff terms the traitors in the South. The remarks are the latest in a series of harsh threats directed at Seoul in recent weeks. North Korea is boasting of “powerful, modern weapons” that can defeat in a single blow the United States, which it accuses of plotting a war against it.

Chief of general staff, Ri Yong Ho, gave no further details about the weaponry in his speech to mark North Korea’s Army Day. His address, from Pyongyang’s House of Culture, was broadcast later in the day on North Korean television.

Vice Marshal Ri says the blood of North Korea’s military and civilians is boiling in anger with a desire for revenge against South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak. He reiterates a threat of “sacred war,” transmitted earlier in the week, to crush the bases of provocation in the South.

North Korea’s new, young leader Kim Jong Un was in the audience for Ri’s remarks. But Kim—who holds the rank of a four-star general—did not address the gathering.

North Korea’s failed rocket launches

North Korea, on April 13, launched a multi-stage missile which exploded about two minutes into its flight over the Yellow Sea. Pyongyang claimed it was trying to launch a peaceful satellite into space. The international community condemned the launch as a violation of U.N. Security Council sanctions forbidding North Korea from utilizing ballistic missile technology. The failure only intensified fears that North Korea is preparing a third claimed nuclear test.

Pyongyang has made no announcement it is planning such a test. But satellite images from the beginning of this month showed fresh digging at the underground site where North Korea claims to have conducted two previous nuclear detonations. Those tests followed failed long-range rocket launches in 2006 and 2009. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Protest by Catholic Activists May Hamper Obama's Reelection Bid

April 25th 2012

US Conf of Catholic Bishops

President Obama has seen his standing among Catholic voters, a crucial segment of the electorate, slip in recent weeks, and a looming confrontation with Catholic activists could make it worse. Democrats want voters this year to focus on what they have branded a war on women, but the flip side of the debate—the so-called war on religion—is not going away anytime soon.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called for two weeks of public protest in June and July against what it sees as growing government encroachment on religious freedom. The protests are expected to include priests and nuns and thousands of Catholic parishioners. Some activists expect civil disobedience, which could lead to powerful images of priests and nuns being led away in hand restraints.

“This is the most dynamic situation I’ve ever seen since I’ve been involved in Catholics and politics,” said Deal Hudson, president of Catholic Advocate, who also headed Catholic outreach for the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign in 2000 and 2004. “I think civil disobedience is almost inevitable. I think that kind of protest is on the way.” Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Brain Surgery For Epilepsy Underutilized

April 24th 2012


Ten years ago, a landmark clinical trial in Canada demonstrated the unequivocal effectiveness of brain surgeries for treating uncontrolled epilepsy, but since then the procedure has not been widely adopted—in fact, it is dramatically underutilized according to a new study from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). The study, showed that the number of Americans having the surgery has not changed in the decade since release of the effectiveness study, though surgical treatment is now uniformly encouraged by neurology and neurosurgery professional societies. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 2 million Americans have epilepsy. Hundreds of thousands of these men, women and children suffer from uncontrolled seizures, but nationally only a few hundred are treated surgically each year with UCSF performing about 50 of the operations. Among people who do have the operation, the study found, there are significant disparities by race and insurance status. Read more ..

France and Turkey on Edge

French Court Overturns French Genocide Denial Law

April 24th 2012

Pro-Genocide Denial Law Protest
Demonstration in favor of Armenian Genocide-denial legislation

France’s Constitutional Council has ruled that a law concerning the mass killings of Armenians a century ago violates the country’s constitution. The law, passed in December, made it a crime to deny that the killings of some 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 constituted genocide. Punishment under the legislation was set at up to one year in prison and a fine of €45,000 (about US$60,000).

But the French high court ruled that the law amounts to an “unconstitutional infringement of the exercise of freedom of expression and communication.” The court said: “It is legitimate for the Parliament to institute indictments on abuse of the exercise of freedom of expression and communication that violate public order and the rights of others. However, the infringement of the exercise of this freedom—which is a prerequisite for democracy and a guarantee of respect for other rights and freedoms—must be necessary, appropriate and proportionate to the aim pursued.”

Turkey promptly welcomed the ruling. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the French court’s decision “does not indulge political concerns” and that it “averted a potentially serious crisis” in Turkish-French ties. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Afghan President Blocks Visit by Outspoken U.S. Congressman

April 23rd 2012

Dana Rohrbacher (R) Calif
Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-Calif)

U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher's office has confirmed that Afghan President Hamid Karzai forced him to cancel a visit to Kabul, saying he was not welcome in the country. A statement from Rohrabacher’s office said he was to be a late addition to a U.S. delegation that met on April 22 with the ethnic Uzbek former Northern Alliance commander Abdul Rashid Dostum and other Afghan opposition leaders. Rohrabacher, a Republican from California and 23-year veteran of Congress, is an outspoken critic of Karzai. The lawmaker’s office said Karzai threatened to block entrance to the entire U.S. delegation if Rohrabacher was aboard the military plane that was transporting the group from Dubai to Kabul on April 20.

The statement said Karzai's demand was forwarded by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who "personally petitioned Dana not to continue on with the delegation." Rohrabacher stayed behind in Dubai. Earlier media reports said Rohrabacher had been refused an Afghan visa. Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai stated that on April 23 that the Foreign Ministry can grant or deny a visa to any foreign national, but he did not comment specifically on Rohrabacher's case. Rohrabacher, who chairs the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation, has previously called for investigations into alleged Afghan government corruption. He also angered Kabul in January when he led a small delegation of mainly Republican U.S. lawmakers to Berlin for meetings with Afghan opposition politicians. Read more ..

Islam's War Against Christians

Muslim Mob Destroys Christian Church in Khartoum as Sudan Bombards breakaway South Sudan

April 23rd 2012

South Sudan soldier

A Muslim mob destroyed a Catholic church complex in Khartoum, the capital of the Arab Muslim-dominated country of Sudan on the night of April 21. The church was torched and utterly destroyed by a mob of several hundred Muslims in Khartoum’s Al-Jiraif neighborhood, which had served southerners primarily. Firefigthers were unable to quell the flames, according to bystanders. The Al-Sahafah newspaper reported that Ethiopian refugees living in Khartoum also used the church complex. S

South Sudan, which is inhabited mainly by Christians and animists, broke away from mostly Sunni-Muslim Sudan in 2011 after decades of fratricidal warfare. After a short period of relative calm, fears are growing that open warfare will commence between the two countries. Over the April 21-22 weekend, Sudanese military aircraft flew sorties over the border region dividing the two countries. The Heglig oil fields, which are contestedby the two, received heavy bombardment, and oil wells in the area receieved significant damage. The two countries have differences over the sharing of natural resources (including petroleum), the demarcation of borders, and citizenship. Read more ..

Edge of Geopolitics

Russia and China to Commence Joint Naval Exercises

April 22nd 2012

Chinese cruiser Harbin
Chinese destroyer Harbin, framed by two US seamen.  (DoD)

China and Russia are preparing to launch joint naval exercises on April 22 in the Yellow Sea between the east coast of mainland China and the Korean peninsula. Chinese state media report that 16 Chinese surface vessels and two submarines, as well as four Russian warships, are taking part in the six days of drills scheduled from April 22 through 27.

The Chinese and Russian vessels gathered at the eastern Chinese port city of Qingdao, the home of China’s northern fleet, on the previous day. The exercises include maritime air defense, anti-submarine tactics, search-and-rescue and the simulated rescue of hijacked ships, and anti-terrorism drills. Formerly Cold War rivals for leadership of the communist world, China and Russia have conducted four bilateral and multilateral military exercises since 2005.

The two countries are also participants in six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program that also include the two Koreas, Japan and the U.S. Four Russian warships have docked at a Chinese naval base near Qingdao. They are taking a break from guarding vessels in pirate-infested waters near Somalia for joint military drills. Read more ..

Election Edge

France Veers Left as Francois Hollande Takes Lead in First Round Election

April 22nd 2012

Francois Hollande
Francois Hollande

Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande emerged the frontrunner in the first round of presidential voting in France, with initial results giving him 29.3 percent of the vote compared to 26 percent for conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy. The two men face a runoff vote on May 6.

There were no major surprises in the first round of presidential elections in France. Polls have consistently placed French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his Socialist challenger, Francois Hollande, as the top vote-getters.

In a speech after the initial results were announced, Hollande said his win reflected the failed policy of France's conservative president.

Mr. Hollande said he was now a candidate of union, who wanted to assemble voters supporting a hodgepodge of leftist parties during the first round. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Israel Ready to Attack This Critical Year--Israel's Army Chief of Staff

April 22nd 2012

Israeli Jet Diving

If Israel is forced to strike Iran's nuclear facilities, the military will be ready, said the army's chief of staff Sunday. "In principle, we are ready to act," Chief of Staff Benny Gantz told Ynet in a special interview ahead of Israel’s upcoming Independence Day. This is a critical year, added Gantz, and Israel is determined to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. However, Gantz said he believes Israel does not face an existential threat at this time. Gantz also hinted that the IDF has been operating far beyond Israel's borders. "I don’t think you will find a point in time where something isn’t happening somewhere in the world," he said. "The level of risk has increased as well. This is not something invented by Benny Gantz. I’m not taking the credit here. I’m simply accelerating all those special operations."

Gantz warned that a regional war will certainly mean rocket strikes on Israel's territory but said that the Jewish state is capable of dealing with any eventuality. "I can’t promise no missiles will be landing here. They will be falling; many of them. It won’t be a simple war, neither on the frontlines nor ion the home front,” he said. “However, I don’t advice anyone to test us on this front." Read more ..

Sudan on Edge

Dispute Over Oil Fields Continues to Fuel Sudan's Volatility

April 22nd 2012

Sudanese militia

The border region between the two Sudans remains volatile after the south's withdrawal from the flashpoint town of Heglig, an oil-producing area claimed by both countries along their shared border.

There are reports that Sudan's armed forces continued air raids inside South Sudan on April 22, despite the south's withdrawal from Heglig on April 20.

The showdown over Heglig and its lucrative oil fields had raised fears the two countries could be on the verge of a full-scale war, less than ten months after South Sudan formally split from the north.

Residents in South Sudan's town of Bentiu told VOA News they live in fear because of continued air attacks by Sudan. Meanwhile, convoys of the south's Sudan Peoples Liberation Army were seen traveling toward the northern border late on April 21. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Democrats Jab Romney With Dream Act

April 22nd 2012

Ask Mitt

House Democrats highlighted the Dream Act this week largely in hopes it will haunt Mitt Romney on the campaign trail. Leaders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus say Romney's opposition to the proposal – which would forge a pathway to citizenship for high achievers brought to the U.S. illegally as kids – exposes a candidate out of touch with Latinos, a fast-growing group that's sure to figure prominently in this year's elections.

The issue is proving a tough one for Romney, who tacked far to the right on immigration in the heat of the GOP primary and is now searching for ways to soften his position. The dilemma has left the former Massachusetts governor straddling efforts to cater to Latino voters – seen as vital in a number of swing states – without alienating the conservative hard-liners of his base who consider anything shy of deportation to be amnesty.
Appearing at a press event at the Capitol Thursday, Democrats seemed well aware of Romney's quandary and its potential influence on November's elections – and they came out swinging. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Nuke Agency Chief Declares Allegations He Targets Women Are 'Categorically Untrue'

April 21st 2012

Gregory Jaczko
Gregory Jaczko

The head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission strongly denied allegations that he verbally abused female employees of the agency.

“There’s been a little bit of talk recently about my treatment of women,” NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said at a Friday press conference. "And I want to begin by saying that any of these allegations that I specifically target women are categorically untrue. And beyond that I don’t really have anything else to say about that issue.” Jaczko made similar comments during a series of congressional hearings in recent months. But Republicans revived the allegations this week, drawing Jaczko into the political battle over which party is friendlier to female voters.

Friday’s press conference, a rarity for the nuclear power official, came amid a partisan fight over renominating Republican NRC Commissioner Kristine Svinicki to a second term at the agency. Jaczko declined to weigh in on Svinicki’s nomination. “I will be comfortable working with any member of the commission that makes it through the confirmation process,” he said. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Obama Faces Tough Choices In Syria

April 21st 2012

Bombing in Syria Mar 2012
Syrian Bombing

As the international peace plan in Syria faltered this week amid continued violence, the Obama administration faces difficult choices as it plots a path forward there.

The administration does not want to get into a military conflict in Syria or spark a larger civil war, but Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has shown little intention of abiding by the peace plan put forward by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.

Administration officials called for tougher action in Syria this week, including hints at the use of force if Assad does not stop and steeper sanctions to further isolate Assad. But the White House says it still is opposed to any military action or arming the Syrian opposition as it weighs its options. Defense hawks are clamoring for military action in Syria, and others in the Senate are also suggesting the United States must consider establishing safe havens and arming the opposition. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Violence Shatters Fragile Syrian Cease-Fire

April 20th 2012

Syria burning

Syrian activists report government forces are pounding a rebel-held section of the central city of Homs, the latest violence to grip a nation already losing its hold on an ever shakier cease-fire. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Syrian forces are bombarding the Khaldiyeh neighborhood in Homs with mortar rounds, reporting explosions every five minutes.  The group also says gunfire is echoing through the streets of Qusair, near the border with Lebanon and that government reinforcements are on their way to help. Friday's violence is the latest in a series of clashes that have erupted since the United Nations-brokered truce went into effect last week.  And in Geneva Friday, a spokesman for international envoy Kofi Annan warned the situation was becoming more dire. Ahmad Fawzi called the cease-fire "very fragile," describing the situation as "not good." Fawzi also expressed hope that the remaining members of a U.N. team of monitors would soon be in place.  Meanwhile, concerns that diplomatic efforts and more peacekeepers will fall short are growing. Read more ..

The Battle for Bahrain

Formula 1 Racers get the Jitters in the Face of Violence in Bahrain

April 19th 2012

F 1 racer bahrain

Zaineb Al-Assam, who studies the Mideast for Exclusive Analysis Ltd, provided an analysis of the risk of violence for Bahrain. She said, "Protests are likely in Bani Jamra, Juffair, Karzakan, al-Ma'amir, entailing roadblocks and petrol and pipe bombs targeting security forces. In response, security forces are likely to use tear gas, stun grenades and shotguns to disperse protesters, although this is likely to incite further unrest.

Protesters have additionally planned to block the main road leading to the Bahrain International Circuit on April 20 and have threatened attacks on US and UK assets. In both instances, security forces are likely to prevent these actions from succeeding. Overall, despite threats made by the protestors, security precautions at embassies, hotels and the F1 racing circuit mitigate violent risks to these assets. Read more ..

The Koreas on Edge

South Korea Says New Missile Can Hit Any Target in North

April 19th 2012

North Korean Missile

South Korea is deploying a new cruise missile capable of hitting targets anywhere in North Korea. South Korea, simultaneous to releasing a video showing its new cruise missile destroying a target, is vowing to “firmly and thoroughly retaliate” if North Korea conducts further provocations. South Korean army Major General Shin Won-sik, briefing domestic defense reporters at the ministry, took a tough posture in view of North Korea's recent activities. The general says the new missile has a range of more than 1,000 kilometers and can immediately strike anywhere in North Korea.

The deployment announcement comes less than a week after North Korea tried to launch what Seoul and Washington characterize as a Taepodong-2 long-range missile. Pyongyang says its failed launch was a peaceful attempt to place an earth observation satellite into orbit. General Shin did not name the newly deployed missile. Analysts say it is the surface-to-surface Hyunmu 3C (also referred to as the Chollyong), reputed to be able to strike a target with two meters accuracy while carrying a 450-kilogram warhead. The general also announced the South Korean military has deployed a new tactical ballistic missile with a range of 300 kilometers. Read more ..

Eugenics on Edge

Dutch Parliament Reviews Alleged Castrations Ordered by Catholic Church Officials

April 19th 2012

Catholic altar servers Netherlands wiki

The Roman Catholic church actively encouraged the castration of homosexual boys and men in the 1950s and 1960s, according to scholars who testified this week before the Dutch parliament. Medical historian Mart van Lieburg told parliament that a Dutch bishop ordered surgeons to perform castrations. Professor Van Lieburg was speaking at a hearing called to clarify reports of castrations in Roman Catholic psychiatric care. He declined to name the bishop or the surgeons who had made the allegations. Another historian, Marnix Koolhaas, told parliament that several pastors sent boys to a doctor with orders to have them castrated.

Further research needed

Dutch Christian Democrat parliamentarian Madeleine van Toorenburg is now calling for new scholarly research into castrations. She told Dutch broadcaster NOS she wants to know whether they were performed on minors, or on anyone without consent. She stopped short of demanding a parliamentary inquiry.

Afghanistan on Edge

Russia is Concerned About U.S. Pull-Out from Afghanistan

April 19th 2012

I wanna go home

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed concerns on April 19 over U.S. plans to keep its military in Afghanistan after the pullout of allied in 2014. Even so, Lavrov said Moscow is concerned about the drug and terrorism situation in Afghanistan after the pullout. “We … do not understand such [U.S.] plans to maintain a presence …, we have questions and we would like to get answers,” Lavrov told a news conference following the foreign ministerial meeting of the Russia-NATO Council in Brussels.

Lavrov noted that the international contingent stayed in Afghanistan under a UN Security Council mandate. “So long as the Afghan side is unable to provide security in the country, any artificial deadlines for troops’ withdrawal do not seem quite correct,” he said. “But when the UN Security Council mandate expires, there will be no reason for a foreign presence in Afghanistan and the region.”

The minister also expressed concerns about the persisting threat of terrorism and drug trafficking from Afghanistan. Russia is criticizing NATO's plans to withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Read more ..

The War on Terror

Talibani Flex their Muscles and Poison Hapless Schoolgirls in Afghanistan

April 18th 2012

afghan school girl poisoned

Officials in Afghanistan's northeastern province of Takhar believe the Taliban was responsible for the suspected poisoning this week of more than 140 schoolgirls and their female teachers.

The incident on April 17 has rekindled concerns about the safety of girls trying to receive an education in Afghanistan, with foreign forces preparing to leave the country by the end of 2014.

Human-rights advocates say the international community must ensure that access to education for girls in Afghanistan is not sacrificed as security is handed over to Afghan forces or as a result of any political settlement between Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government and insurgents. Hafizullah Safi, the head of Takhar province's public health department, says investigators "strongly suspect" a water-supply tank at the Rostaq district's school for girls was poisoned by Taliban militants. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Assad's Army Continues Attacks in Homs Despite Brokered Cease-Fire

April 18th 2012

Syria burning

Government forces continue to attack rebel-held neighborhoods in the flashpoint Syrian city of Homs, despite a near week-old cease-fire brokered by the international community. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is based in the UK, said troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad on April 18 resumed heavy shelling in the central city that has been battered by artillery for weeks.

The Observatory, an opposition group that aggregates casualty reports from activists inside Syria, said pro-Assad troops killed at least nine civilians on April 17 as attacks appeared to be expanding to other areas.

The Syrian government insists it has the right to attack what it calls "terrorists." The attacks come as a U.N. mission is attempting to monitor cease-fire conditions. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Obama to Launch ‘Crackdown’ on Manipulation, Rigging of Oil Markets

April 17th 2012

Oil Prices

President Obama will offer a plan Tuesday to boost oversight of oil markets and “crack down” on potential manipulation, the White House said.

Obama is slated to deliver a Rose Garden statement in the late morning, the latest in a slew of recent energy-related speeches and remarks as the White House seeks to limit political damage from high gasoline prices.

Gasoline prices have risen sharply this year but recently leveled off and eased slightly. The average nationwide cost for regular gasoline is $3.90 per gallon, according to AAA. Obama will push Congress to boost penalties for market manipulation, toughen federal supervision and allow regulators to increase the collateral that traders in futures markets must post, according to an administration official. The president will also seek to boost funding for enforcement. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Romney Camp Signals Shift on Illegal Immigration

April 17th 2012

Ed Gillespie
Ed Gillespie

Mitt Romney’s hiring of Republican strategist Ed Gillespie is being seen as a sign the campaign will heavily court Hispanic voters — perhaps at the expense of immigration hard-liners in the party.

Gillespie, a former head of the Republican National Committee, has long advocated an aggressive outreach to the Hispanic community. He helped found the Republican State Leadership Committee, a group that recruits and trains GOP candidates for office and has emphasized finding female and minority candidates. He also heads up Resurgent Republic, an organization focused on messaging to independents, including Hispanic swing voters.

When asked for an interview, Gillespie directed reporter to Romney’s presidential campaign, which said he’d be a senior adviser that will help them with messaging, overall strategy and the August convention in Tampa, Fla. They declined to give any further details on his role. Gillespie has been seen as having a more centrist approach on illegal immigration, even when many in the party wanted to take a hard-line stance on the issue, driving away Hispanic voters in the process. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Michelle Obama Comes out Fighting for Barack

April 17th 2012

michelle obama

Michelle Obama has become a more comfortable and willing surrogate for her husband this election cycle, using appearances on television programs to target voters who might not normally be engaged in the political process.

Leveraging her popularity on behalf of President Obama will be important in November, especially with Ann Romney having shown herself to be a powerful campaigner able to make headlines for her husband, Mitt Romney.

The first lady is everywhere lately, revealing old prom photos to talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres, trading complimentary tweets with pop star Beyonce and sack-racing through the halls of the White House with comedian Jimmy Fallon.

And while her efforts are ostensibly in support of her initiatives to reduce childhood obesity and help unemployed military veterans, there’s little doubt the first lady is using the series of unconventional appearances to pave inroads to independent voters. It is a huge shift for Obama, who, four years ago, was visibly reluctant to engage in the rough-and-tumble world of presidential politics. But leveraging the first lady’s popularity is essential for the president’s efforts in November, especially with women representing a key swing demographic. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

DoD Admits that Terrorist Attacks in Afghanistan Came as an Intelligence Failure

April 16th 2012

Taliban soldiers

Pentagon spokesperson contend that the  militant Haqqani network, based in Pakistan, is likely behind the coordinated attacks carried out throughout neighboring Afghanistan.

Nearly 18 hours of fighting in the capital and parts of three provinces ended early Apri 16, when Afghan troops backed by NATO helicopters attacked a building in Kabul where the last militants were hiding. Witnesses said they watched rocket-propelled grenades crash into the building repeatedly before dawn.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks, but both Afghanistan's Interior Minister Besmillah Mohammadi and the Pentagon blamed the al-Qaida-linked Haqqani network, which is said to operate out of sanctuaries in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region. In Washington, Pentagon spokesman George Little told a press conference that the assault was not unexpected because this is the start of the Taliban's spring offensive. He said the Pentagon will look into possible intelligence gaps. Read more ..

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