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Edge on Iran

KFC is not "Chicken" about Iranian claims

February 27th 2012

Iranian Women

The U.S. fast food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) has denied reports  it has opened a branch in Iran. In a statement issued following an inquiry by the Persian Service of the BBC, KFC says that it will take legal action against individuals or companies that take advantage of the brand in Iran. The statement also says that that the company has no plans to open a restaurant in Iran.

Last week, Iranian news websites reported that the first Iranian franchise of KFC had been opened in Karaj and more outlets were soon to be opened in Tehran and other major cities. The state-operated Fars news agency, which broke the story, later removed the news item claiming, "The first branch of KFC opened in Iran with the goal of creating 20, 000 jobs." Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

ICRC Negotiating Medical Evacuations From Syria's Homs

February 26th 2012

Syria protests Apr 2011

The international Red Cross tried in vain Saturday to get into the besieged Syrian city of Homs, to evacuate wounded ( from the Baba Amro district). Red Cross officials say they hope to resume negotiations with Syrian authorities and opposition groups in Homs on Sunday, but that Saturday's talks produced no results. The International Committee of the Red Cross says it is in negotiations with Syrian authorities and the opposition at both the local and central level to organize a second medical evacuation. The Red Cross evacuated seven sick or wounded people from the besieged Baba Amro district of Homs on Friday. The agency confirms two wounded French journalists were not among the group transferred. The Red Cross also relocated 20 women and children to a safer area.

ICRC Spokeswoman, Carla Haddad-Mardini says Red Cross delegates are ready to resume the life-saving operations in an instant. “We need to be prepared and our teams on the spot are ready to enter anytime. But, an evacuation operation does take time because you need to organize things on the spot. But , the convoys are ready. Everything is ready. It is just we need to clear this with all sides before entering because the security conditions are difficult on the spot,” she said. Haddad-Mardini says the Red Cross needs to have approval from all sides concerned before it can begin transferring the wounded to the nearest hospital. She says negotiations to this effect are ongoing and everyone is hoping the operation will be renewed. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Clinton Lashes Out at Syria, Russia, China

February 25th 2012

Hillary

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lashed out at Russia and China over their Syria policy Friday, at the conclusion of a meeting in Tunis designed to increase pressure on the Syrian regime and its supporters to allow democratic change. Secretary Clinton said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will have even more blood on his hands if he does not stop the violence and allow humanitarian aid to reach civilian areas his troops have been shelling for weeks. But she reserved some of her harshest words for Assad's main international supporters, Russia and China, who vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have condemned him. “They are setting themselves against the aspirations not only of the Syrian people, but of the entire Arab Spring, the Arab awakening. It's quite distressing to see two permanent members of the Security Council using their veto when people are being murdered," said Clinton. "It is just despicable. And I ask, 'Whose side are they on?' They are clearly not on the side of the Syrian people.”

Clinton said the Russian, Chinese and Syrian positions are contrary to history and are not sustainable. She also said several times that there are signs that the network of domestic support around Assad is cracking, and she called on members of his security services, in particular, to break with the regime. “Their continuing to kill their brothers and sisters is a stain on their honor. Their refusal to continue this slaughter will make them heroes in the eyes of not only Syrians, but people of conscience everywhere,” said Clinton. The secretary spoke after a long afternoon of meetings at the conference of the 70 countries and organizations that call themselves the Friends of the Syrian People. The meeting agreed to intensify efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to besieged Syrian towns, but only if the Syrian government provides safe passage. The meeting did not discuss sending foreign troops, and there was no agreement on a request for arms from the main Syrian opposition group at the meeting, the Syrian National Council. Read more ..


North Korea on Edge

North Korea Threatens ‘Sacred War’

February 25th 2012

Kim Jong-Un

North Korea has threatened to launch a “sacred war” if South Korea and the United States go ahead with planned annual military exercises. The North's National Defense Commission called the maneuvers “an outright challenge to the peace and security of the Korean peninsula and an explicit act of destruction.” The statement also hinted at possible nuclear retaliation, saying nuclear weapons are not the monopoly of the U.S. and that Pyongyang has “war means more powerful than the U.S. nukes.”

The two allies plan to jointly hold military drills called “Key Resolve” from February 27 to March 9, and “Foal Eagle” from March 1 to April 30. Each exercise will mobilize thousands of U.S. and South Korean troops to practice tactics that would be used to protect the South from invasion. South Korea and the U.S. regularly hold military exercises to bolster their readiness against a possible North Korean invasion. Still, the North routinely denounces military drills in the South as rehearsals for invasion. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Web Browser Companies Agree to 'No-Track' Button

February 24th 2012

Shadowy Computer User

A coalition of Internet companies, including U.S.-based Google, has agreed to support a "do-not-track" button being installed in Web browsers to help protect the privacy of computer users around the world. For more than a year, the Internet browser companies had resisted embedding the button. But slowly, various browsing companies have adopted the "do-not-track" feature, including Mozilla with its Firefox browser, Microsoft with Internet Explorer and Apple with its Mountain Lion operating system. On Thursday, Google, the world's most popular search engine, said it, too, would join a broad coalition of 400 technology, advertising and media companies to support the anti-tracking effort. Google's announcement came hours before President Barack Obama called on Congress to pass legislation defining a "privacy bill of rights" for Internet users.

Obama said the privacy standards are necessary because he said "consumer trust is essential for the continued growth of the digital economy." The U.S.-based Internet industry, fueled annually by nearly $40 billion in online advertising, has been caught in several privacy disputes as advanced technology has been created that can track users' viewing habits. Most disputes have involved claims that the browser companies have deceptively collected information about which Internet sites people have visited and then used it to customize advertising sent to users or for other commercial purposes. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Anti-Super PAC Governor Gives to Super PAC

February 23rd 2012

Patrick Deval
Deval Patrick

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has called the Supreme Court decision that created super PACs “wrong” and in need of fixing, but that didn't stop him from sending money to one of these new groups. On Jan. 25, just days after the two-year anniversary of the controversial Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, Patrick donated $500 to the Democratic Governors Association's super PAC, “DGA Action,” records show. The Citizens United ruling held that corporations and unions can spend their treasury funds on political advertisements expressly advocating for or against federal candidates. Super PACs can accept unlimited contributions and spend the money on ads - so long as they act independently of candidates and their campaigns.

Last year, several Massachusetts lawmakers introduced a resolution that says the Citizens United ruling “presents a serious and direct threat to our democracy” and calls on Congress to “pass and send to the states for ratification a constitutional amendment to restore the First Amendment and fair elections to the people.” When Patrick was recently asked by the media whether he would support the resolution, he replied, “Well, if you’re asking me do I think the Citizens United decision was wrong and needs to be fixed, the answer to that is, yes.” Alex Goldstein, executive director of Patrick’s state political committee and federal political action committee, explained that Patrick continues to be concerned about the influence of money in politics, especially “the role of unidentified corporate money.” Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Dem Leader Pelosi Blames Wall Street for Spike in Gas Prices

February 23rd 2012

Nancy Pelois
Nancy Pelosi

Oil speculators, not a lack of domestic drilling, are to blame for the nation's rising gas prices, the top House Democrat argued Wednesday. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said unscrupulous Wall Street investors have artificially inflated prices at the pump, which are climbing toward $4 per gallon. The California Democrat called on Congress to take "strong action" to rein in the allegedly excessive speculation, and accused Republicans of protecting Wall Street profits at the expense of consumers. "Wall Street profiteering, not oil shortages, is the cause of the price spike," Pelosi said in a statement. "Unfortunately, Republicans have chosen to protect the interests of Wall Street speculators and oil companies instead of the interests of working Americans by obstructing the agencies with the responsibility of enforcing consumer protection laws."

The comments — arriving a day before President Obama is scheduled to address the issue of rising gas prices in Miami — represent just the latest shot in the perennial debate over the cause of price fluctuations in the oil and gasoline markets. Regular gasoline prices are averaging $3.58 per gallon and have risen almost 20 cents in the last month, according to AAA. While many Republicans push more domestic drilling, Pelosi and other Democrats have long argued that speculative Wall Street trading in energy markets has pushed oil and gasoline prices far above what supply-and-demand fundamentals should dictate. The 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law included a suite of provisions to expand federal oversight of the trading, including new “position limits” for traders that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) finalized late last year.

But Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Pelosi, said Republicans have blocked the funding needed for adequate CFTC oversight, noting that the current-year funding of $205 million is not enough to meet the agency’s increased responsibilities. President Obama’s recent fiscal year 2013 budget plan seeks $308 million for the agency. "While the Republicans have introduced, but not been able to enact, bills that would overturn or delay Dodd-Frank, strangling oversight is their new method to protect Wall Street speculators,” Hammill said in an email. Republican leaders have rejected that argument, saying the Democrats' resistance to wholesale energy exploration is driving up the price of fuel. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syria Shelling Kills Two Western Journalists

February 22nd 2012

Marie Colvin
Marie Colvin - Sunday Times Journalist

Shelling in the besieged Syrian city of Homs has killed two Western journalists, while rights activists and Damascus ally Russia are supporting calls for humanitarian assistance. Marie Colvin, an American working for Britain's Sunday Times newspaper, and French photographer Remi Ochlik died Wednesday in shelling that activists say killed at least 13 other people and wounded several more journalists. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe expressed condolences to the journalists' families, calling the deaths "murder." He said the situation in Syria is worsening, and that he hopes an international meeting later this week will be a step towards a peaceful resolution of the crisis. "It's another demonstration of the degradation of the situation in Syria and of a repression that is more and more intolerable. I hope that Friday at the 'Friends of Syria' meeting in Tunis, we will be able to move towards a peaceful solution of the situation," Juppe stated.

Friends of Syria contact group - made up of Western and Arab nations openly seeking Assad's downfall - is planning to use Friday's meeting in Tunisia to increase pressure on the Syrian government to halt the bloodshed. Russia and China back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's reform program, which the Syrian opposition has soundly rejected. Russia's Foreign Ministry voiced its support Wednesday for a plan to implement a daily two-hour cease-fire in Syria in order to allow for urgently needed humanitarian aid. The International Committee of the Red Cross proposed the cease-fire Tuesday, calling on Syria to immediately put it into place.  ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger said that in Homs and elsewhere, entire families have been isolated for days, unable to secure food, water or medical care. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Pro-Romney super PAC Adds $6.6 Million to Coffers

February 22nd 2012

Mitt Romney expansive
Mitt Romney

The super PAC that has played a pivotal role in keeping Mitt Romney's presidential campaign going raised an impressive $6.6 million in January, bumping its total haul to $36.8 million since its founding last year. Restore our Future" has raised six- and seven-figure donations from a relatively small number of wealthy donors, including a large contingent of hedge fund managers and executives from private equity companies such as Bain Capital, Romney's former employer. There were no seven-figure donations in January, but 25 people gave $100,000 or more, according to a Federal Election Commission disclosure filing released Monday. Three wealthy donors gave $500,000 in January: Joseph Craft, president and CEO of Alliance Coal; Bruce Kovner of Caxton Alternative Management LP; And David Lisonbee, CEO of 4Life Research LLC.

Caxton is a multibilion-dollar hedge fund founded by Kovner; 4Life Research is a Sandy, Utah-based company that sells immune system support and anti-aging supplements among other products. Among other top donors in January, renowned hoteliers J.W. and Richard Marriott, who are long-time supporters of Romney. Combined, the two gave  $500,000 to go with $500,000 they gave in 2011, bringing their total contributions to the super PAC to $1 million. Retired hedge fund manager Julian Robertson of Tiger Management LLC gave $250,000 to go with the $1 million he gave last year, making him the PAC's top donor. Read more ..


Europe on Edge

Longtime Anti-Communist Activist To Become Germany's Next President

February 22nd 2012

Joachim Gauck

The nomination of 72-year-old former East German anticommunist activist Joachim Gauck to be the next president of Germany came as a surprise -- not least to Gauck himself. "I cannot give you a keynote address now in the confusion of my feelings. That is impossible. I'm just off the plane and was in a taxi when the chancellor got a hold of me. I'm not even showered," Gauck said. "It doesn't matter that you see that I am overwhelmed and a little bit confused." But the consensus is that the longtime human rights activist -- who has been called Germany's Nelson Mandela for his role in bringing down the communist regime in East Germany and exposing the activities of the former East Germany secret police, the Stasi -- brings a much-needed moral authority to an office that has been tarnished by the resignation last week of Christian Wulff under a cloud of corruption allegations.
 
The popular Gauck is an elder statesman in Germany who is not affiliated with any political party and is untouched by political scandals. He was given an additional boost by the fact that the governing coalition headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel came together and endorsed him as a unity candidate. The German parliament must vote on the nomination before March 18, but Gauck already has the support of all represented parties except for Die Linke, the successor party to the former East German Communists.
Born in 1940 in the northern city of Rostok, Gauck grew up in East Germany (GDR) and was 11 years old when his father was arrested by the communist authorities on vague charges of ties with the West and sent to a Siberian labor camp. Gauck was later denied the opportunity to study journalism because he refused to join communist youth organizations. Instead, he became a Lutheran pastor and, as his Stasi file noted, "an incorrigible anticommunist." He was a leader among the Christian pastors who demonstrated relentlessly and hastened the end of the communist regime. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Alien Waterworld First of Its Kind Ever Observed

February 22nd 2012

GJ1214B

GJ1214b is a super-Earth orbiting a red dwarf star 40 light-years from Earth. New observations from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope show that it is a waterworld enshrouded by a thick, steamy atmosphere. Astronomers have discovered a new type of ocean-covered alien planet that is the only one of its kind ever found inside or outside our solar system.  Researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in the northeastern state of Massachusetts describe the planet, called GJ-1214b, as a waterworld surrounded by a thick, steamy atmosphere.  They say the exoplanet is nearly three times the diameter of the Earth, and weighs nearly seven times as much. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

US Crew Vigilant as Carrier Sails Through Strait of Hormuz

February 22nd 2012

Stennis B

The American aircraft carrier, U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, has just finished a mission in the Persian Gulf and sailed through the Strait of Hormuz, not far from the Iranian coast. The transit took place amid rising tension over Iran's nuclear program, and Tehran's threats to close the strait’s vital shippinganes. Ready and vigilant, the battle group steams through the waterway where a fifth of the world’s oil passes. Tehran has threatened to block the strait, and warned U.S. ships not to come. For Navy pilot Mitch Cole, one of the crew aboard the carrier, the day begins like any other. “It is not much different than it would be at home. I wake up in the morning, take a shower. Take care of personal things, grab some breakfast," he explains. "And usually at the end of the day we just like to relax like we would at home. We hang out with our friends. Maybe watch a movie or two, play some video games. It's not too much different than at home.”

U.S. commanders say this is not a show of force, but a routine transit - in plain sight of Iran and the occasional Iranian patrol boat that comes within view. Iran's military hardware is largely aging and no match for the United States, but commanders say even the Lincoln is not bullet proof, so its crew stays ready.  Armed U.S. helicopters keep watch throughout the transit Read more ..


After the Holocaust

IBM’s Incriminating Holocaust-era Documents to be Published in Author’s New Edition

February 21st 2012

IBM and the Holocaust Expanded Edition

Bestselling author Edwin Black has announced that a provocative, new edition of IBM and the Holocaust will be released in the coming days, on the anniversary of the book's original publication in 2001. Buy it here.

The new “Expanded Edition” will include some 32 pages of never-before-published internal IBM correspondence, State and Justice Department memos as well as concentration camp documents that will graphically chronicle exactly what IBM did and what they knew during the twelve-year Hitler regime. IBM has never denied any of the information in the book, and for years has claimed that it has no information about its Hitler-era activities involving the Third Reich.

The new Expanded Edition was necessitated after 1.2 million copies of IBM and the Holocaust sold worldwide and the book became completely out of print at the end of 2011.

The new edition is scheduled to be released on February 26, 2012, 3 PM during a special Live Global Streaming Event to be held at Yeshiva University’s Furst Hall in New York City. The event is sponsored by the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, co-sponsored by Yeshiva University’s Office of Pre-Law Advisement, Jacob Hecht Pre-Law Society, Beren and Wilf campuses, in partnership with StandWithUs, and in association with NAHOS--National Association of Jewish Child Holocaust Survivors, Generations of the Shoah International, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, the State of California Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights and Tolerance, The Auto Channel, History Network News, Spero Forum, the Jewish Virtual Library, together with other groups. Read more ..


Europe on Edge

Eurozone Ministers Approve Greek Bailout Deal

February 21st 2012

Greek and Euro flags

Eurozone finance ministers have approved a fresh $171-billion (130 billion euros) bailout for Greece, after more than 13 hours of tense negotiations in Brussels. The bailout will reduce Greece's government debt from around 160 percent of the country's gross domestic product to just over 120 percent by 2020 - the maximum level considered sustainable by the International Monetary Fund. The deal was reached early Tuesday after private holders of Greek debt agreed to take on a bigger-than-expected 53.5-percent face value loss on their bonds. They had previously offered a 50-percent writedown. Around $130 billion (100 billion euros) will now be written off as part of the debt exchange.

The euro made substantial gains Tuesday on news of the deal, which should help Greece avoid a catastrophic debt default when its government bonds come due next month. Eurozone chief Jean-Claude Juncker says the bailout will preserve the financial stability of both Greece and the eurozone. But he warned Athens must meet a series of conditions to secure the full amount of the emergency loan, which is Greece's second in as many years. Juncker said, "The eurogroup is fully aware of the significant efforts already made by the Greek citizens, but also underlines that further major and joint efforts by all parts of the Greek society are needed to return the economy to a sustainable growth path." Read more ..


Biophysics on Edge

Russian Scientists Bring 30,000 Year Old Plant Back To Life

February 21st 2012

Silene Stenophylla

Russian scientists have successfully regenerated a flower, the seeds of which were hidden away by squirrels 30,000 years ago. The move, reminiscent of scenes from the movie “Jurassic Park,” is already creating speculation that the resurrection of prehistoric animals could now be a possibility. Japanese scientists are scouring the area for ancient mammoth remains in a bid to make this a reality. Scientists involved in the project say that the plant looks not unlike its modern counterpart, which can be found growing on the banks of the Kolyma River in northeast Siberia. The site is popular with scientists searching for mammoth bones.

The plant, Silene Stenophylla, of the campion family, was grown by The Institute of Cell Biophysics, who claim that this is the oldest plant to have been revived, smashing the previous record held by date palm seeds that were 2,000 years old. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

White House, Republicans Tiptoe Towards Corporate Tax Overhaul

February 21st 2012

Obama perplexed

Corporate tax reform is creeping back into the picture, although experts predict the election will chase the issue off the agenda this year. Congressional Republicans and the White House are flirting with plans to overhaul the corporate tax system. But any perceived progress is expected to stall out despite a push from business groups to lower the 35 percent corporate tax rate, the highest among industrialized nations. Within the next few weeks — possibly by the end of February — the Obama administration is expected to unveil a "broad framework" on corporate tax reform and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said this week he "wants to bring down the rate to an average of our major competitors." While there is clearly a bipartisan desire to move forward on corporate reform, tax experts aren't expecting a major overhaul to happen this year although lawmakers and the administration are laying the groundwork with these early conversations. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

House GOP Hopes ‘Solyndra economy’ Becomes Obama's Political Epitaph

February 21st 2012

Barack Solyndra Obama

One year after it began, House Republicans are not letting up in their investigation of the $535 million loan guarantee to the failed solar firm Solyndra. Though the probe has not uncovered evidence of cronyism at the White House, the GOP sees an election-year advantage in pummeling President Obama on Solyndra, and hopes to turn it into a symbol of what they say is a failed administration. House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans marked the Solyndra investigation’s one-year anniversary on Friday with a new catch-phrase they hope will follow the president on the campaign trail: “the Solyndra economy.” They argue that the Solyndra loan guarantee is emblematic of the president’s heavy-handed approach to job creation. Republicans say they are the champions of the “Keystone economy,” named for the Alberta-to-Texas oil pipeline that the GOP strongly supports. “Solyndra and Keystone represent what’s at stake this November,” Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-N.Y.) said Friday during a press conference on Solyndra. “Two very different visions — I think Solyndra and Keystone typify them.” Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Red Cross Negotiating Humanitarian Cease-Fire in Syria

February 21st 2012

Syria protests Apr 2011

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it is trying to broker a humanitarian cease-fire in Syria, as government tanks and troops mass around the opposition stronghold of Homs after bombarding the city for more than two weeks. ICRC chief spokeswoman Carla Haddad said Monday the Geneva-based agency has been in talks with Syrian authorities and rebels about ways of stopping hostilities to allow the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian aid to affected areas. The ICRC is the only international agency with aid workers in Syria and has been cooperating with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. Syrian rights activists said President Bashar al-Assad's government deployed tanks and other reinforcements around Homs on Monday ahead of a possible ground assault. They said the latest government shelling killed at least nine people in the central city, a major hub of an 11-month uprising against Mr. Assad's autocratic rule. Syrian state news agency SANA said 12 security personnel were buried after being killed in fighting with rebels.

None of the casualty figures could be independently verified because Syria restricts the operations of foreign media. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday nations opposed to Assad's deadly crackdown on the uprising will demonstrate his increasing isolation at a Friends of Syria meeting in Tunisia later this week. Speaking on a visit to Mexico, she said the meeting will focus on what she called the "brave" Syrian people's need for "support and solidarity." Read more ..


Syria on Edge

Chinese Newspaper: West Stirring Syria Unrest

February 20th 2012

Syrian Protesters

A Chinese newspaper says Western support for Syrian opposition forces could trigger a civil war in the violence-stricken nation. The state-run People's Daily said in a commentary Monday that foreign military intervention will be needed if civil war erupts in Syria. The newspaper also said a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would have endorsed an Arab League plan for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down would have led to more violence in Syria. China and Russia vetoed the Western- and Arab-backed resolution earlier this month. Another state-run Chinese newspaper, the Global Times, reported Monday that China favors Arab League efforts to solve the Syrian crisis. The paper also said China is urging Syria's government and opposition to halt violence and begin “inclusive” political dialogue.

Human rights activists say more than 6,000 people have died in nearly a year of upheaval in Syria, where opposition activists have been rallying against President Assad. On Sunday, Syrian security forces deployed in a tense Damascus neighborhood, blocking opposition activists from staging a second day of mass protests, as the government continued a nationwide crackdown on protest hubs.  Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Gallup Poll Shows Santorum with 8-Point Lead over Romney

February 20th 2012

Santorum

Gallup's daily tracking poll shows Rick Santorum continuing to gain momentum among national Republican voters, with the former senator now holding an 8 percentage point lead over Mitt Romney. Santorum earned the support of 36 percent of voters, up one percent from Saturday.

Romney fell by one percent to 28 percent. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) held steady at 13 percent and 11 percent respectively.
Mitt Romney did make up some ground in a hypothetical one-on-one matchup with President Obama, however; Gallup shows the pair now tied at 48 percent each. In the last iteration of the poll, Obama broke 50 percent for the first time, while Romney still earned the support of 48 percent of voters.

The president, meanwhile, looks well-poised if Newt Gingrich can muscle his way back into the Republican race. Obama would be the choice of 53 percent of voters in a hypothetical matchup with the former speaker, while Gingrich would only earn support from 41 percent of voters. That's a drop of seven percentage points for Gingrich, and a gain of three percent for the president. Gallup did not release a trial heat figure for a hypothetical Santorum-Obama matchup. Santorum has surged to the front of the GOP field after a trio of surprise wins in Colorado, Missouri, and Minnesota. In a positive sign for the former Pennsylvania senator, a string of controversial remarks - including comments from a major fundraiser joking about birth control, a remark that was interpreted as a challenge of President Obama's Christian values, and remarks decrying women being permitted to serve on the front lines of combat - seem to have done little to dent his popularity among the Republican electorate. Read more ..


South Korea on Edge

South Korea Ignores Threat from Pyongyang to Retaliate for Artillery Drill

February 20th 2012

South Korean Marines

South Korea went ahead with an artillery drill Monday near a disputed maritime border despite an unusually explicit threat by North Korea to retaliate by shelling inhabited islands in the Yellow Sea. Officials in Seoul say the morning exercise was routine and included the firing of self-propelled howitzers and mortars. Attack helicopters also joined the exercise on the western frontier islands. A spokesman for South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff says no shots were fired towards the Northern Limit Line, which is the disputed maritime border. North Korea, the previous day, warned inhabitants of the five islands to evacuate to avoid its possible retaliatory shelling. And in a message, carried by state radio and the official news agency just hours before the South Korean exercise commenced, Pyongyang termed the drill “a clear declaration of war” against the North.

The North Korean announcer says if South Korea fires recklessly, then it “will not escape punishment thousands-fold more severe than the shelling of Yeonpyeong island.” North Korea, on November 23, 2010, in response to a South Korean military exercise, bombarded the island, killing four people. South Korean officials say residents of the five front-line islands were advised to take shelter in safe zones before its forces began the shelling exercise. The officials also say no reaction has been observed from the North's military, and there are no signs of any extraordinary troop movements. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Iran Halts Oil Sales To France, Britain

February 19th 2012

iran bank notes

The Iranian Oil Ministry says Iran has stopped selling oil to British and French companies. Spokesman Ali Reza Nikzad Rahbar said in a statement on the ministry's website on February 19 that "oil sales to British and French companies have ceased," adding that Iran will sell its oil to "other customers." Iran has been threatening for weeks to stop exporting oil to Europe after the European Union said it would stop importing crude from Iran. The European Union last month imposed tough sanctions against Iran over Tehran's nuclear program which the West fears is aimed at building bombs. Iran denies this. The sanctions include a freeze on the country's central bank assets and a ban on oil imports set to begin on July 1. The 27-nation EU accounts for about 20 percent of Iran's oil exports.  

There was no immediate reaction to Iran's decision from British or French officials on February 19. But the French AFP news agency said the decision was not expected to have a big impact. It says France last year bought only 3 percent of its oil -- 58,000 barrels a day -- from the Islamic republic, and Britain was believed to be no longer importing Iranian oil. However, other EU nations, including Italy, Spain, and Greece are bigger consumers of Iranian oil. Although those nations were not affected by Iran's announcement, they are included in the EU decision to stop buying Iranian oil as of July 1.
Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Arizona Republican Denies Threatening to Deport Gay Ex-Lover

February 19th 2012

Paul Babeu

Paul Babeu, an Arizona county sheriff and Republican congressional candidate, denied allegations from an ex-lover who said Babeu had threatened to deport him if he would not promise to keep their homosexual relationship secret. Babeu called the charges "blatantly false" but openly discussed his sexuality in a press conference Saturday held after a local paper reported the allegations. An outspoken critic of the Obama administration's Fast and Furious program and a surrogate for the Romney campaign, Babeu said he never threatened his former lover with deportation. But he acknowledged that there had been a relationship, and the fallout from it required his lawyer to intervene.

The Pinal County sheriff said the man with whom he had a relationship maintained the campaign's website and social media presence as a volunteer, but after their relationship deteriorated he began posting insulting messages on the website. It was at that point Babeu's lawyer contacted the man - who was not named by the sheriff - and demanded he stop posting to the campaign's website. But Babeu insisted he never threatened anyone with deportation - noting the man was not an illegal immigrant - and turned over the cease and desist letter his attorney sent. That letter makes no mention of deportation, although does insinuate that continued use of the sheriff's website could lead to "devastating consequences … personally and financially." "This idea of deportation was never and issue, I don't have the power to deport … there was no law enforcement action here," Babeu said. Read more ..


Iranian Warships Enter Mediterranean

February 19th 2012

Iranian warship

Iranian warships have passed through Egypt's Suez Canal and entered the Mediterranean Sea, in a move likely to be watched closely by Israel. Iran's navy commander Habibollah Sayyari was quoted by Iran's official news agency, IRNA, as saying that the mission was a show of might and a "message of peace." He did not specify how many Navy ships were involved or where they are headed, but news agencies quote Iranian and Egyptian sources as saying they could be going to Syria. Sayyari said the passage through the Suez Canal was only the second made by Iranian ships since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Two Iranian warships passed through the strategic waterway last February and docked in Syria, in a move Israel called a "provocation". Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russia Said To Block U.S. Drug Plan Amid Wariness Over Central Asian Influence

February 18th 2012

Kremlin

Russia has reportedly blocked a U.S. plan designed to help stem the flow of drugs from Afghanistan through Central Asia in a sign of Moscow's continued wariness about Washington's intentions in a region often thought of as "Russia's backyard." A delegation of U.S. officials led by Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and William Brownfield, the assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, presented the plan at a February 16 meeting in Vienna of the Paris Pact countries, which works to counter trafficking in Afghan opiates.

Washington's proposed Central Asia Counternarcotics Initiative (CACI) would create task forces in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan which would coordinate with similar entities in Afghanistan and Russia. Each task force would be comprised of some 25 people from their country's drug control agency who would be mentored by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The groups would share information, improve coordination on joint and cross-border operations, and build cases against traffickers. Afghanistan is the world’s primary source of opium, which fuels the heroin trade and funds extremist groups. The region's problem with drug addiction is enormous. Brownfield visited Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Russia last spring to preview the initiative and this week, Washington was hoping to gain official backing for the plan in Vienna.

​​ Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Adelson Expected to Give Another $10 Million to Pro-Gingrich Super PAC

February 18th 2012

Sheldon Adelson (Jun 2010)

Another $10 million donation is expected to arrive within days from casino owner Sheldon Adelson to the outside group that’s provided life support to Newt Gingrich’s beleaguered presidential campaign, say fundraisers with ties to the multibillionaire. The $10 million infusion from Adelson would bring total donations from Adelson and family to the pro-Gingrich super PAC “Winning Our Future” to a stunning $21 million, far more than any super PAC donor has given to date. The funds are expected to arrive in the next week to 10 days and help fuel a multimillion-dollar television advertising blast prior to super Tuesday, March 6, when 10 states conduct GOP primaries. One fundraiser, who has spoken with Adelson in the last week, told iWatch News that the wealthy supporter of Jewish causes indicated to him that he is still committed to keeping Gingrich in the race.

It is unclear whether the pro-Gingrich PAC’s ads will attack frontrunners former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum or burnish Gingrich’s conservative image and record — or both. Rick Tyler, a senior advisor to the super PAC, declined to comment about any further donations coming from Adelson. Tyler told iWatch News that he was “optimistic” that the super PAC would be able to run an advertising campaign prior to super Tuesday, but “to be effective, we would need a significant infusion of cash.” Ron Reese, a spokesman for Adelson declined to comment, but noted that speculation and rumors have been rampant about additional funding. Close associates of Adelson in Las Vegas remain tight lipped about any plans to send millions more to Winning Our Future. Adelson owns the Las Vegas Sands and is worth an estimated $21.5 billion. He is currently in Israel attending his son’s bar mitzvah. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Islamist Suicide Bomber Intercepted in Sting at the Capitol

February 18th 2012

US Capital Day

The FBI and Capitol Police arrested a man Friday that they say intended to detonate a suicide bomb at the U.S. Capitol. All across the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, police kept watch, wary after officials said they had foiled a plot - a plot that would have struck at the heart of the U.S. government. Police say 29-year-old Moroccan Amine El Khalifi - brought to a federal courthouse under heavy security - planned to shoot up the Capitol and then blow himself up. The news took many of the tourists walking around the Capitol by surprise. "Everything looked great, I mean, a perfect day for tourists and everything, so pretty scary," said New Zealand Tourist Hank Wang.

The arrest is the result of what authorities describe as an extensive investigation, during which El Khalifi lived illegally in nearby Virginia. Officials say El Khalifi wanted to join a terrorist group and thought he was working with al-Qaida. What he did not know, officials say, was that his suicide vest, filled with explosives, had come from undercover officers and could not go off. The arrest came on a day when lawmakers were in session and tourists flocked to the Capitol. But officials say no one was ever in any danger. Read more ..


Syria on Edge

Award-Winning New York Times Reporter Dies in Syria

February 17th 2012

Anthony Shadid

Anthony Shadid, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning international correspondent for The New York Times, has died while on assignment in Syria. The newspaper says the 43-year-old Shadid suffered a severe asthma attack Thursday while preparing to leave Syria, where he spent the past week covering opposition forces battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. A Times photographer traveling with Shadid took the reporter's body back to Turkey. Shadid, an American of Lebanese descent who was fluid in Arabic, spent his two-decade career reporting on the Middle East for the Associated Press, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post, as well as the Times. He won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in 2004 while working for The Washington Post, and in 2010 with the Times, both for his coverage of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. Shadid's Middle East assignments often put him in danger. He was shot in the shoulder in 2002 while covering the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and arrested in Libya last year along with two other Times correspondents by forces loyal to late dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Obama Cashes in on West Coast Swing

February 17th 2012

Obama and Flag

President Obama started, ended and filled his day Thursday with fundraising stops in California. It’s the first day of the year that the president’s public schedule included nothing but back-to-back campaign events, and it came as part of a three-day trip expected to add $3 million to the Obama  reelection coffers. The Northern California fundraisers came on the heels of a strong fundraising push in Los Angeles, where the president collected checks from the glitterati. At one fundraiser on Thursday evening, Obama discussed how his administration has helped put the economy on more stable-footing."America is moving on the right track," he said, adding that the economy is still "healing." He acknowledged concerns from some that the campaign is "not as new...not as trendy as it was in 2008 but that  "change remains possible," with persistence and hard work. "We're gonna have to feel as determined...as we were in 2008," he told a crowd of 70 supporters.

As his GOP opponents keep beating up on one another in the Republican primary, Obama has entered a new phase of his reelection bid — and he’s cashing in on it. On the heels of his decision to embrace the Democratic super-PAC Priorities USA, it’s clear Obama and his campaign are trying to get as far ahead of his future opponent as possible with an aggressive fundraising drive. “The shift is clear,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. “Now is the time for fundraising and stump speeches. As Republicans fight among themselves and the economy starts to show some signs of revival, President Obama wants to take advantage of the moment to start making his case and to build a campaign war chest that will be hard for the GOP to replicate in the fall.” Read more ..


Edge of Latin America

U.S. Congress Warns Venezuela over Ties with Iran

February 16th 2012

Venezuela Topics - Chavez and Ahmadinejad
Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chavez & Iranian Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

U.S. senators are warning Latin American nations against deepening financial and military ties with Iran, pledging heightened U.S. vigilance of Iranian activities in the Western Hemisphere. The Senate's Foreign Relations Subcommittee took a close look on February 16 at Tehran’s dealings with Latin America. Iran’s increasingly isolated regime retains friends in Latin America, most notably Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

U.S. Democratic Senator Robert Menendez had a stern message for the region. “Unfortunately, there are some countries in this hemisphere that, for political or financial gain, have courted Iranian overtures.  They proceed at their own risk: the risk of sanctions from the United States, and the risk of abetting a terrorist state,” he said.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio echoed that message. “The leaders of these [Latin American] countries are playing with fire,” Rubio said. Read more ..


Economy on Edge

Deal Reached to Extend Payroll Tax Cut

February 16th 2012

Politics - Dave Camp
Dave Camp

House and Senate negotiators early Thursday finalized a deal to extend the payroll tax cut, emergency unemployment benefits and the Medicare reimbursement rate for doctors. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the leaders of the committee charged with dealing with the payroll tax cut, told reporters after midnight that a few "minor" details remain to be worked out, but a majority of conferees have endorsed the package. "With all drafting, there are obviously technical issues that come up but we're confident that this can be concluded," said Camp, also the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. The announcement of the pact came after the momentum toward a deal had appeared to derail late Wednesday evening, with an impasse emerging over a provision that would have included cuts to federal pensions. But in the end, a compromise was reached that would mandate that new federal employees be forced to contribute more to their pension funds than workers already on the federal payroll. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) helped negotiate the final agreement.

Camp and Baucus had hoped to have a deal wrapped up Wednesday night, after top lawmakers had said for the last 24 hours that payroll tax negotiators were exceedingly close to a deal. But the top panelists couldn't wrangle the support of a majority of conferees until after midnight Thursday. Because the bill was not posted online before Thursday, the House is technically not supposed to vote on the measure before Saturday. But Camp demurred when asked if the delay would prevent a Friday House vote. "I don't schedule the floor," he said, "so I'm gonna let our leaders determine that." Baucus and Camp both declined to weigh in on the details of the plan Thursday morning. Read more ..


Finance on Edge

State AG Drops Investigation into Two Tribes Accused of Shielding Online Payday Lender Scott Tucker

February 16th 2012

Finance - scott tucker
Scott Tucker

Two Indian tribes making payday loans over the Internet, even in states that ban or restrict payday lending, won a court victory Tuesday when a Denver judge blocked the Colorado Attorney General from investigating them further. The ruling is among a series of recent court decisions posing legal obstacles for states trying to enforce payday-lending laws. Courts have ruled that state regulations don’t apply to businesses owned by tribes. In recent years, a number of tribes have flouted state laws by making loans over the Internet with interest rates as high as 800 percent. For eight years the Colorado Attorney General has been in court trying to stop businesses affiliated with the Miami tribe of Oklahoma and the Santee Sioux tribe of Nebraska from making loans online. Attorney General John Suthers argued that their claims of tribal ownership are a sham cooked up by Kansas City businessman Scott Tucker, who is better known as an endurance race-car driver.

Tucker started the business in 1998 and approached the tribes only after it came under investigation in Kansas and New York, the court found. However, the tribes say that their ownership is legitimate. And despite the businesses’ beginnings, District Court Judge Morris Hoffman said not only did the state fail to prove tribal ownership was a sham but added that to him it is clear that the business arrangements today seem not to be shams. “We’re very disappointed with the court’s order,” said Mike Saccone, a spokesman for the Colorado Attorney General. Attorneys for Tucker and the tribes did not comment on the ruling. The ruling doesn’t necessarily end the investigation. While the state cannot subpoena the tribes or tribal entities, Judge Hoffman said authorities can still subpoena Tucker and his non-Indian business associates to determine if they still own and control the payday-lending business. “If Tucker’s grand scheme was to insulate himself from state scrutiny by associating with these tribes, it was not a very good scheme because he and all his non-tribal officer associates remain subject to investigation,” Hoffman wrote. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Fuel Rods Installed In Disputed Iranian Reactor

February 15th 2012

Iran - ahmadinejad_iran-nuclear.jpg

Iran says it has begun loading its first domestically made nuclear fuel rods into a research reactor in northern Tehran. The installation ceremony was led by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. State television, which broadcast the ceremony live, said the president loaded rods uranium-enriched to 20 percent into the reactor. Ahmadinejad called the move “a sign of Iranian scientists' achievements." Meanwhile, in a speech broadcast on state television, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization, Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, said Iran has activated the first cascade of a new, faster generation of centrifuges. Davani said the centrifuges will increase Iran's capacity to enrich uranium by three times.

The Fars news agency reported that the new centrifuges, said to be domestically produced, were installed at the Natanz nuclear site. Iran says it is enriching uranium for civilian purposes, including cancer treatment. The moves come amid growing tensions over what the West sees as attempts by the Islamic republic to develop nuclear weapons. The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said it believes the Tehran research reactor is among the Iranian facilities being used to pursue a nuclear weapons program. Read more ..


The Edge of Science

‘Invisibility’ Cloak Could Protect Buildings From Earthquakes

February 14th 2012

Architecture - skyscraper

University of Manchester mathematicians have developed the theory for a Harry Potter style ’cloaking’ device which could protect buildings from earthquakes.

Dr. William Parnell’s team in the University’s School of Mathematics have been working on the theory of invisibility cloaks which, until recently, have been merely the subject of science fiction.

In recent times, however, scientists have been getting close to achieving ‘cloaking’ in a variety of contexts. The work from the team at Manchester focuses on the theory of cloaking devices which could eventually help to protect buildings and structures from vibrations and natural disasters such as earthquakes. Read more ..


Chin and the U.S.

China’s Xi Arrives Today for High-Level Policy Meetings

February 13th 2012

China Topics - xi jinping
Chinese VP Xi Jinping

The expected future leader of China lands in Washington on Monday for a week of high-profile meetings with top Obama administration officials and U.S. business leaders to discuss trade, human rights, and security issues.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who is expected to take over leadership of China in March 2013, will meet with President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and will head over to the Pentagon to meet with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, all on Tuesday.

The 58-year-old Xi heads up to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to meet with congressional leaders before leaving for Iowa, a state he visited as a government official on a trip in 1985, for meetings on agricultural policy.

In the final stop of the trip, Xi travels to Los Angeles for at two-day visit to meet with city and state officials, including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Gov. Jerry Brown (D). Biden will head out to meet back up with Xi for final meetings before he returns to China. Xi may even try to fit in a Los Angeles Lakers game—the Lakers in particular and basketball in general are popular in China. Read more ..


Greece on Edge

Greece Passes Austerity Measures for EU Bailout

February 12th 2012

Money - Euro Symbol

Parliament in Greece has passed fresh austerity measures needed to secure a further bailout. Such measures include slashing one in five civil service jobs and cutting the minimum wage by more than a fifth. In exchange, Greece will get a second bailout worth 130 billlion euro to pay off its creditors and avoid a default next month. Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos had urged lawmakers to pass the measures "to save the country." "We have to save the country, the citizens will not forgive us if we do not."

The ruling Socialists and their coalition party, the right-wing New Democracy, had a majority in the 300-seat parliament to secure passage, despite some defections from both. The vote came as rioters set fire to several buildings in Athens in a show of public anger over the measures. Read more ..


Iran's Ukes

Iranian President Ahmadinejad's Ominous Announcement of Nuclear 'Achievements'

February 11th 2012

Iran - Ahmadinejad at Iranian nuclear plant
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced today that Iran will soon unveil new nuclear achievements.

Mr. Ahmadinejad spoke at Tehran's famous Azadi (Freedom) square during a rally marking the 33rd anniversary of the country's Islamic Revolution.

"God willing, in the coming days, the world will see Iran showcasing some very big nuclear achievements," he said.

The Iranian president gave no other details about the nuclear work.

The West insists Iran's nuclear program is designed to create nuclear weapon. Iran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Dozens of Syrians Dead and Wounded After Bomb Blasts

February 10th 2012

Syrian Issues - Day of Rage in Syria Urged

Syrian state television says twin explosions at security compounds in northern Syria Friday killed at least 28 people and wounded 235 others as a government crackdown on opposition protests spiked nationwide.

The blasts targeted a military intelligence building and a security force base in Syria's northern city of Aleppo, which had been relatively quiet since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime erupted in March.

Syrian state television says twin explosions at security compounds in northern Syria Friday killed at least 28 people and wounded 235 others as a government crackdown on opposition protests spiked nationwide.

The blasts targeted a military intelligence building and a security force base in Syria's northern city of Aleppo, which had been relatively quiet since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime erupted in March. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Cooking Oils Make Better Pesticides

February 8th 2012

Science - samuel gan-mor
Samuel Gan-Mor of the Volcani Institute (credit: Israel21C)

Thin-skinned vegetables such as tomatoes and zucchini are susceptible to insect infestation and fungi, and even new organic pesticides are not completely safe, says Israeli agriculture scientist Samuel Gan-Mor.

He’s got a new approach that could revolutionize the way bugs are kept from crops: a mixture of edible, off-the-shelf canola oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil and even the slightly more expensive olive oil.

Seeds, the starting point of all oils, have developed complex evolutionary tricks to avoid being preyed upon. Unknown active ingredients in these oils, probably paired with the ability to block the breathing pathways of invertebrates and hamper their mobility, may explain why the oil solution developed by Gan-Mor and his colleagues works. Read more ..


Tibet on Edge

Tibetan Exile Administration Reports More Protest Self-Immolations

February 8th 2012

Tibet - Tibetan nun self-immolating

The India-based administration of Tibetan exiles is citing “unconfirmed reports” that more Tibetans in areas under Chinese control have self-immolated in protest against Beijing’s policies. The apparent immolations are the latest sign of spreading unrest.

Tibetan Exile Administration Cabinet Minister and spokeswoman Dicki Chhoyang says the reported immolations took place on Friday, in Serthar, a Tibetan area of China’s Sichuan province. “Unconfirmed reports state that three Tibetans were involved, two of them aged in the 60s and 30s respectively,” she noted. “All three have sustained injuries, but their exact condition and whereabouts remain unknown.” Read more ..



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