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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 ..


Lebanon on Edge

Hariri Murder Suspects to be Tried In Absentia

February 6th 2012

Lebanon Topics - Hariri and Nasrallah
Former PM  Saad Hariri; Hassan Nasrallah

The UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), based in the Netherlands, will try four Hezbollah suspects in absentia for the 2005 murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, hopefully in 2012. The tribunal came to this conclusion as a last resort after Beirut was unable to locate and arrest the suspects—Salim Ayyash, Mustafa Badreddine, Hussein Anaissi, and Assad Sabra.

Hezbollah has not commented on the issue, but its leader Hassan Nasrallah had previouslydismissed the indictments, calling the STL a tool of U.S. and Israeli policy to hurt the terrorist group. Nevermind that the tribunal was formed by Lebanon’s request under former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Rafik Hariri’s son. It is the first international court with the authority to prosecute terrorist acts.

The UN investigation into Hariri’s murder has become a divisive issue inside Lebanon, with Hezbollah pressuring Lebanese authorities against cooperating—pressure which eventually led to the collapse of Saad Hariri’s government last year. In November, Hezbollah and its allies in the Lebanese cabinet were expected to block Beirut’s funding of the court in a vote. But that meeting was postponed and current Prime Minister Nijab Mikati, in a surprising move, transferred the funds to the UN anyway, angering Hezbollah. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Obama says He is Still Learning on the Job

February 6th 2012

Presidential - Barack Obama

During an interview that aired February 6y on NBC's "Today" show, President Obama said that he gets "better as time goes on" at his job and that he believes the grassroots movement that propelled him to victory in 2008 will help him win a second term. "What's frustrated people is that I've not been able to implement every aspect of what I said in 2008. Well, it turns out our Founders designed a system that makes it more difficult to bring about change than I would like sometimes. But what we have been able to do is move in the right direction," Obama said.  "And you know what? One of the things about being president is you get better as time goes on," he added.

The president defended his record, arguing that he has been successful despite his confrontations with Congress. "We've been able to get a lot done. Not as fast as we want; sometimes it's messy; the process is frustrating," Obama said. The president was asked to comment on Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, but he sidestepped any direct discussion of his presumptive general-election opponent. Nevertheless, Obama made subtle mention of Romney's effective tax rate. Obama has suggested raising taxes on those who make their money through investments rather than simple income. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Google and Facebook Knuckle Under and Remove Offensive Content from Indian websites

February 6th 2012

Computer Topics - Shadowy Computer User

Google and Facebook removed allegedly offensive content from some of their Indian websites on February 6, following a court ruling seen as a test for online censorship in the world's largest democracy. The two online giants are among 21 Internet companies that are responding to an Indian court decision ordering them to block material deemed offensive to Hindus, Muslims and Christians.

At the heart of the dispute is a law passed in India last year that makes companies responsible for user content posted on their websites and requires them to remove such content within 36 hours in case of a complaint.
 
The judge hearing the case against the companies warned that unless they cooperated in protecting religious sensibilities, they could face a government crackdown on online expression “like in China.” Read more ..


BDS--The Economic Jihad

Boycott Israel Movement at University of Pennsylvania Disinvites Jewish Media from Conference

February 5th 2012

Israel Topics - BDS_Israel

A Boycott Divest Sanction (BDS) effort organized by students at the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania actively disinvited a reporter of the local newspaper, the Exponent, from attending their forum. Last week, the Jewish Exponent published an article reporting that organizers of the National BDS Conference had barred the paper from covering the weekend conference, but the organizer denied the claim.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that Matt Berkman, a BDS conference organizer and graduate student at Penn, argued that a writer for the Exponent had published biased articles against the BDS effort to “bring an end to Israel’s system of oppression, segregation and dispossession,” through calls for boycotts and divestment of Israel and Israeli products. Due to the alleged biased reporting, the Penn BDS group disinvited the reporter. They did say that another Jewish Exponent reporter, whose coverage he felt had been fairer, may be able to attend. Read more ..


Environment on Edge

EPA to Warn Residents of South Texas Against Eating Cancer-Causing Contaminated Fish

February 5th 2012

Energy / Environment - Donna Reservoir fish texas

In the latest chapter of a long-running border environmental mystery, U.S. federal and state officials plan a visit to south Texas this coming week. Representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS) are expected to be in the area around South Alamo, Texas, from February 6 to 12. The purpose of their trip is to inform residents about the risk of eating contaminated fish from the Donna Reservoir and Canal.

Located in Hidalgo County just north of the Rio Grande, the Donna Reservoir and Canal is an EPA Superfund site. Historically used to supply drinking and irrigation water to the surrounding region, the 400-acre reservoir and connecting canal system were put on a federal priority list for action in 2007. The listing came after excessive levels of chemical PCBs were detected in fish beginning nearly two decades ago. Sampling by the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife has documented the presence of PCBs in the tissue of fish from the Donna site. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Saudi Arabia blocks Ayatollah Khameini's Website

February 5th 2012

Iran - Assaholah Ali Khameini

Iranian news websites report that Saudi Arabia has blocked the official website of Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which is available in a dozen languages, including Arabic. "Shafaf" says Khamenei's website was blocked by Saudi officials ahead of his sermons for Friday Prayers on February 3, parts of which the Iranian leader delivered in Arabic.
 
The hard-line "Shafaf" website posted a screenshot of the page it claims Saudi users get when they try to access Khamenei's website. The website claims Saudi officials decided to block Khamenei's official website because of what it described as Iran's influence on the "Islamic awakening." Iranian officials have been using the term as part of their efforts to put their own stamp on the Arab Spring uprisings, which they claim have been inspired by Iran's own 1979 revolution. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Arab and Muslim Outrage over Security Council Veto by China and Russia on Syria

February 5th 2012

Syrian Issues - Syria Protest

Arab countries and Muslim organizations are reacting angrily to a veto by Russia and China of a UN Security Council draft resolution based on an Arab League plan to end the violence in Syria. Western governments also issued highly critical remarks about Moscow's veto, suggesting Russia is more interested in protecting a naval base it leases from Syria and lucrative weapons contracts with President Bashar al-Assad's government than preventing the killing of thousands of people.

Russia has repeatedly referred to the draft UN resolution as being written by Western powers. In fact, it was drafted by Arab League countries and submitted to the Security Council by Morocco -- with Western backing -- after Arab League monitors witnessed Syrian Army snipers killing unarmed antiregime protesters. The Arab League's plan called for Assad to step down and be replaced by his deputy until elections can be held. Russia said it put too much blame on Assad's regime for the deaths in Syria. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

Obama Administration's Back Door to Israel: Made Possible Via a Red Phone?

February 4th 2012

Obama Admin Topics - Obama and Ross

When Dennis Ross resigned his position as a senior White House advisor on the Middle East a few months ago, he ended twenty years of involvement in the peace process, garnering praise from Israelis and barely concealed hatred from the Palestinians. Many felt that his exit indicated the unofficial abandonment of the peace process by the Obama administration.

Now, however, it appears that Dennis Ross is back, or rather, he never left.

According to an article published Monday in Haaretz, the White House is maintaining a decidedly unusual relationship with Ross. Reporter Barak Ravid, who specializes in breaking behind-the-scenes stories from anonymous sources reports that the administration has installed a direct, secured telephone line to Ross's office. Read more ..


Inside Europe

International Court of Justice Favors Germany over Italy in Dispute over War Crimes

February 4th 2012

UN Topics - International Court The Hague
President Hisashi Owada of the International Court reads out sentence.

The United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled on February 3 that Italy has violated its obligation to respect Germany"s immunity under international law by allowing civil claims seeking reparations for Nazi war crimes to be brought against it in Italian courts.

Germany filed the case in December 2008 after a court in Italy ordered Berlin to compensate an Italian civilian sent to a German labour camp in 1944. Germany had claimed that the ruling failed to respect the jurisdictional immunity that it has a right to under international law.

Germany had also claimed that it had already paid reparations under international treaties with Italy and argued that as a sovereign State it has immunity in Italian courts. At the same time, it fully acknowledged the untold suffering inflicted on Italians during the war. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Trump's Endorsment of Romney is Deemed Unremarkable

February 3rd 2012

Politics - mitt romney
Mitt Romney

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) said the expected endorsement of Republican front-runner Mitt Romney by reality show host Donald Trump was "a non-news event" and mocked both for making millions "firing people" during an interview on the morning of February 2." It really wouldn't be surprising if Donald Trump supports Mitt Romney, because they both like firing people and they've both made millions doing it," Wasserman Schultz said on MSNBC. "Donald Trump is such a cartoon character, an endorsement no matter who he chooses is like Bugs Bunny making an endorsement."

A source close to Romney's campaign told The Hill on February 2 that Trump would endorse the former Massachusetts governor at the casino he owns in Las Vegas. The confirmation capped a dizzying day with early reports from The New York Times and The Associated Press, stating Newt Gingrich's campaign expected the endorsement to come their way and other reports suggesting Trump would back Romney. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Boehner and House Act on White House Promises to Small Business

February 3rd 2012

Politics - Capitol Senate
The United States Senate

An exasperated Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on February 2 tried to drive a wedge between President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate, pointing out that a series of jobs bills the president endorsed have already passed the House. Boehner used his weekly press conference to respond to the  "Startup America" initiative the president announced this week, in which the White House said Obama was sending to Congress legislative proposals to help small businesses and new companies. House Republicans noted with glee that they have already passed four of the bills Obama is “sending up.”

“Well guess what, Mr. President? We’ve done our work,” Boehner told reporters, employing a mocking tone that he's used repeatedly in recent weeks when discussing the president’s agenda. “Call [Majority Leader] Harry Reid [D-Nev.] and see if the Senate’s ever going to do anything over there.”
Boehner held up each of the House-passed bills, which aim to make it easier for small businesses to access capital and attract new investors. Two bills would extend tax write-offs for small businesses and expedite the visa system for foreign workers.
Read more ..


Edge of Iran

Iran Celebrates 33rd Anniversary of Islamic Revolution with 24/7 TV Channel in Spanish

February 1st 2012

Iran - Hispan TV

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran officially launched a Spanish-language satellite TV channel, saying it would deal a blow to "dominance seekers" – remarks that were apparently directed at the United States and Europe. Iran's broadcasting company said Hispan TV, the first Spanish-language channel airing from the Middle East, will offer news, documentaries, and Iranian films 24 hours a day.

The launch is the Islamic Revolution's latest attempt to reach audiences throughout Latin America and Spain. This follows Ahmadinejad's tour of the region in January, which included stops in Cuba and visits to Venezuela, Nicaragua and Ecuador. Iran has signed economic and security agreements, for example, with Venezuela. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Romney Appears Confident of Primary Win in Florida

January 31st 2012

Politics - Mitt Romney expansive

After days of often bitter campaigning, Republican voters in the southeastern U.S. state of Florida are choosing their favorite candidate to run for president. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney expressed confidence before voting started. The Florida Republican primary election on Tuesday, Jan. 31, comes just over a week after he was soundly defeated in the South Carolina primary.

Strong debate performances and heavy advertising that attacked Romney's top rival - former House speaker Newt Gingrich - helped Romney surge in the polls. Recent opinion polls show Romney has a double-digit lead over Gingrich in Florida. Romney's campaign has taken on a confident tone. Romney told the media that he still has plenty of work cut out for him, especially in convincing conservative Republicans and Tea Party people that he is their man. Gingrich' had contended that Romney is actually a "Massachusetts moderate" who has not supported Republican basics, Romney contends that as governor he cut state spending. 

Regarding to a hot-button issue for conservatives, Romney said he is a convert as to abortion. "I was in a state where being a social conservative was not easy," he said, recounting how he changed his views on abortion as he considered a bill on embryonic stem cell research. "When people go out and say things about my record that aren't accurate, why, that would create an impression that I have to work hard to correct."
Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Assad's Opponents Escalate Resistance and Bomb a Gas Pipeline

January 30th 2012

Egypt - Egyptian pipeline blast

Syrian officials are blaming what they call a "terrorist group" for blowing up a gas pipeline during the early morning hours on January 30, as activists report clashes elsewhere in the country. Syria's state news agency said the blast occurred near Telkalakh, close to the Lebanese border.  There have been several pipeline attacks since a popular uprising began last March against Syrian President Assad al-Bashar, but it is not clear who is responsible for them.  Some Syrian cities have faced energy shortages after the attacks.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement to the French news agency that clashes killed six members of the country's armed forces and four civilians in Hirak, in the southern province of Daraa. A day earlier, the British-based activist group reported 72 people killed across the country, including 41 civilians, mostly in the Damascus suburbs and the central cities of Homs and Hama. The reports could not be independently confirmed because Syria bars foreign journalists from operating freely in the country.

Syria's government defended the capital from rebel fighters on January 29, with security forces deployed across the city and around 2,000 troops backed by tanks and armored vehicles launching an assault to retake suburban areas. Sustained fighting rocked at least four districts around Damascus, the country's largest city and seat of President Assad's power. The offensive pushed into predominantly Sunni Muslim areas of the capital's eastern outskirts that have slipped from government control over the past two weeks. The Damascus suburbs have seen large demonstrations demanding the removal of Assad, a member of the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that has dominated the mostly Sunni Muslim country for the last five decades. Read more ..


Internet on Edge

SOPA and PIPA Spur Lobbying Spike

January 27th 2012

Congressional issues - SOPA PIPA Wiki Image

Companies that lobbied on the two bills spent at least $104.6 million in the fourth quarter of 2011, more than double the $49.3 million they laid out in the previous quarter, according to research by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Likewise, the number of clients represented by lobbyists who worked on the issues of intellectual property enforcement and online piracy -- the ones central to the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House (H.R.3261) and its Senate companion, the Protect Intellectual Property Act (S.968) -- increased by more than 100 percent, to 154, the Center found. The third-quarter figure was 72.

And, in remarkable harmony, the number of lobbyists hired by companies and other groups that lobbied on the bills also just more than doubled, from 462 to 956.

It's impossible to say how much of the money spent on lobbying was directly connected to SOPA and PIPA, since the reporting forms don't require that level of detail. Read more ..


Inside Central Asia

Kyrgyz Convicts Sew Their Mouths Shut in Protest against Inhuman Conditions

January 26th 2012

Asia Topics - kyrgyz prisoner

Almost seven thousand prisoners in Kyrgyzstan upped the ante in their hunger strike against prison authorities in the Central Asian republic. To protest what they consider excessive force used by prison guards to put down a riot at a prison facility, 1,319 of the 6,680 prisoners involved in the hunger strike have sewn their mouth shut. According to spokesperson Eleonora Sabatarova of the prison system, 600 prisoners have been transferred to medical facilities within the prison system as a result of malnutrition. Prisoners have sewn their mouths shut in order to prevent forced nutrition.

The hunger strike began on January 17, a day after Kyrgyz security forces shut down rioting at a prison in Bishkek. One prisoner died as a result, while hundreds were injured. Public Defender Tursunbek Akun said on January 24 in a press conference that prisoners have issued a series of demands that must be met so that they will remove the stitches from their mouths and return to eating. Said Akun, “The are complaining about the aggression and the loss of their rights.”  Akun added “Prison authorities claim that the convicts threw boiling water on them on January 16 during an inspection, and the prisoners say the riot police beat them for no reason” according to a local news source. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Russia Slammed At UN For Supplying Arms To Syria

January 25th 2012

Syrian Issues - Syrian Protesters

British, French, and American representatives to the UN have slammed Russia for supplying arms to Syria. During a January 24 Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East and Palestine, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice called on all countries to cease selling arms to Damascus. She spoke without specifically targeting Russia, although she has recently expressed concern about Moscow selling bullets to the volatile country, where more than 5,000 people have been killed during the 10 months of pro-democracy protests. "We are concerned by recent reports of shipments of arms and munitions to the Syrian government," she said. "We call on supplier countries to voluntarily halt arms transfers to the regime, and we encourage all nations to join the widening effort to stop the flow of weapons to the Assad regime." Rice also called on the international community to stand together to end the bloodshed in Syria, and for President Bashar al-Assad to step down. She added that it was long past time for the Security Council to pass a strong resolution on Syria. Read more ..


Somalia on Edge

US Special Forces Rescue Hostages in Somalia

January 25th 2012

Somalia Topics - Somali Militants

A U.S. military operation has freed two aid workers – an American woman and a Danish man – who were kidnapped by gunmen three months ago in central Somalia. In a statement Wednesday, President Barack Obama praised U.S. special operations forces who hours earlier freed Jessica Buchanan and Poul Hagen Thisted during a daring pre-dawn raid. Buchanan and Thisted worked for the Danish Demining Group, a unit of the Danish Refugee Council that helps clear landmines and other explosives in conflict zones in Africa and the Middle East. They were kidnapped in October in the central Somali city of Galkayo. The aid group said Wednesday that both were freed unharmed and are at a safe location.

Officials in Somalia say several U.S. helicopters carried out the raid under cover of darkness. They say there was a gunbattle and at least nine militants were killed. Just before his State of the Union address in Washington late Tuesday, President Obama could be heard by television microphones congratulating Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, apparently for the success of the rescue operation. Officials say armed criminals, or pirates, appear to be responsible for the kidnapping. Somali pirates have increasingly carried out land-based kidnappings as foreign governments have increased security on the seas. Read more ..


Broken Banking

Feds Investigating Alleged Fraud at GE’s Former Mortgage Unit

January 24th 2012

Corporate Logos - General Electric

Federal authorities are investigating possible fraud at General Electric Co.’s former subprime mortgage arm amid increased public pressure to hold Wall Street accountable for its role in the financial crisis.

The FBI and the U.S. Justice Department are looking into potentially criminal business practices at Burbank, Calif.-based WMC Mortgage Corp. during the home-loan boom, according to four people with knowledge of the investigation. They declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the investigation.

The government is asking whether WMC used falsified paperwork, overstated borrowers’ income and other tactics to push through questionable loans, two of the people said. They said the probe appears to be focusing on whether senior managers condoned improper practices that enabled fraudulent loans to be sold to investors.

“It’s mostly about: Did they knowingly sell mortgages into the secondary market that they knew were fraudulent?” said one person with direct knowledge of the investigation.

A spokesman for the FBI declined to comment, and the Justice Department did not return telephone calls.  Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour Dampens Political Firestorm with Republican Cash

January 24th 2012

Politics - Haley Barbour
Haley Barbour

Last month, about two dozen deep-pocketed Republicans gathered in New York City to hear a money pitch from then-Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. A prodigious GOP fund-raiser, Barbour was already in high gear on his next political mission — raising tens of millions of dollars for two powerful groups to help the GOP take control of the White House and Congress. Billionaire financier Ken Langone, a founder of Home Depot who co-hosted the event, said “the response was very good.” He declined to offer details.

Well before leaving the governor’s mansion last week, Barbour, the former super lobbyist and Republican Party leader, started traveling around the country, hitting up donors for six- and seven-figure checks for American Crossroads, and its affiliate, Crossroads GPS. Those groups, created by GOP strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, are aiming to raise $300 million this election — up from the $71 million they raised in 2010. And now they have arguably the most successful fundraiser in recent decades helping them out. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Megaupload Founder At Center Of Internet Copyright Infringement Case

January 24th 2012

Computer Topics - Shadowy Computer User

Kim Dotcom, the founder of one of the world's largest file-sharing websites, is accused by U.S. authorities of being a money launderer who built up a fortune through Internet piracy. The German-Finnish computer programmer and businessman is the creator of the Megaupload empire -- a file-sharing service that includes Megavideo and 17 other domain names.

Dotcom denies the charges. The case against the enigmatic 38-year-old is so complicated that a New Zealand judge on January 23 said he needs up to two days to determine whether Dotcom should be eligible for bail. When Dotcom was arrested in New Zealand on January 20, police who raided his country estate at the request of the U.S. FBI had to cut him out of a safe room where he was barricaded. Dotcom's lawyer said he sealed himself in the room because he was frightened and panicked. Police found he had 45 different credit cards under various names as well as three different passports. Dotcom reportedly also goes by the names Kim Schmitz, Kimble, and Kim Tim Jim Vestor.  Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

GOP debate: Romney Says He'll Only Release Two Years of Tax Returns

January 24th 2012

Politics - Mitt Romney expansive
Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney said that he will only release two years of his tax returns. He also said there will be "no surprises" in the returns that he will release on Tuesday. The former Massachusetts governor said he disagreed with his father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney (R), who released 12 years of returns while running for president. "I agree with my dad on a lot of things but we also disagree," Romney said at Monday night's GOP debate. "Going out with 12 years of returns is not something I'm going to do. I'm putting out two years, which is more than anyone else on this stage. I think it'll satisfy the interest of the American people... I think that's the right number."

The issue has dogged Romney for weeks and hurt him in South Carolina. In two straight debates he dodged and gave vague answers on the matter, leading to boos at the last debate. After losing Saturday's South Carolina primary, Romney said he'd release his 2010 returns and a 2011 estimate on Tuesday in an effort to put the issue to rest. But the issue came up again Monday night. Romney tried to pivot the conversation to his economic plan, saying: "The real question is not my taxes but the taxes of the American people." Read more ..


Edge on Terrorism

Deadly Terrorist Bombs Rock Shi'ite Neighborhood in Baghdad

January 24th 2012

Iraq - Baghdad bomb

Four car bombs exploded in mainly Shi'ite areas of Baghdad on January 22, killing at least 13 people and wounding more than 70 others. Local authorities say the first blast in Baghdad's Sadr City struck day laborers waiting for work.  The bombing killed at least eight people there, and wounded more than 20 others. Another explosion in the same district killed at least two people and wounded at least a dozen more.

Two bombs exploded later in northern Baghdad, killing three people in the city's Shula and Hurriya districts.

One of the men who had been waiting for work in Sadr City when the first bomb exploded said it was "like a black storm."  "I felt myself thrown on the ground," Ahmed Ali told to the Reuters news agency. "I fainted for a while then I woke up and hurried to one of the cars to take me to the hospital."

Some reports from Iraq say that a car bomb was detonated near a bakery, while others say that it targeted people waiting to buy heating fuel. A roadside bomb also exploded on the deadly Muthanna airport road in central Baghdad, wounding at least six people. Read more ..



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