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The Battle for Syria

Second Deadly Bombing Racks Syria in Two Days

March 18th 2012

Bombing Hits Syria March 18 2012
Syrian President Bashr al-Assad

A bomb exploded in Syria's second-largest city of Aleppo on March 18, one day after a double car bombing in the capital, Damascus, killed 27 people and wounded more than 100. Syria's SANA state news agency says that the explosion in Aleppo happened between two residential buildings. It says the attack was the work of "terrorists" whom the Syrian government blames for a year-long opposition uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the explosion killed three people and wounded about 25, and was the result of a car bomb near a security building. Details of the incident could not be independently confirmed.

The semi-official news channel al-Ikhbariya said security forces had been tipped off about the bomb and had been moving residents out of the area when it went off. It said the car had been filled with 200 kilograms of explosives. Photo at the SANA website showed buildings blasted open, while aid workers were seen standing near piles of shattered masonry and bomb craters. Syria TV showed at least one street corner splattered in blood. In the March 17 attacks in Damascus, two car bombs exploded minutes apart near a police security building and an intelligence center. Crowds of Syrians gathered Sunday at the blast site for a prayer vigil. The Syrian government and opposition groups blamed each other for the bombings. Read more ..

The Edge of Terror

Report Says Bin Laden Was Plotting Obama's Assassination

March 18th 2012

Osama bin-Laden preaching

A major U.S. newspaper reports Osama bin Laden ordered al-Qaida to assassinate U.S. President Barack Obama and General David Petraeus, who was then the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reported Friday documents taken from bin Laden's compound describe the scheme. Bin Laden wrote that killing Obama would ensure Vice President Joe Biden would come to power, someone bin Laden said was "totally unprepared" for the post. Bin Laden suggested Pakistani terrorist Ilyas Kashmiri carry out the attack against the U.S. president. Kashmiri was killed in a U.S. drone strike last June.

U.S. officials and analysts say there is no evidence al-Qaida was anywhere near ready to mount the proposed attacks. U.S. special commandos killed bin Laden in a covert raid on his house in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad last May 2. The assault team also confiscated a wealth of material, including video clips and personal correspondence of the al-Qaida leader. One CIA official called it "the largest trove of information ever captured from a senior terrorist leader," and said the material offered "important insights" into al-Qaida’s operations. Ignatius said the bin Laden documents will soon be available publicly. Read more ..

Europe on Edge

Convicted Nazi Death Camp Guard John Demjanjuk Dead at 91

March 18th 2012

Holocaust survivor

Former Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk, convicted in Germany last year of helping kill some 28,000 prisoners, died Saturday at the age of 91. Police in the southern German state of Bavaria say the ailing Demjanjuk died in a nursing home in the town of Bad Feilnbach. He had been sentenced last May to five years in prison, but was freed pending an appeal. The Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk denied any role in the Holocaust and claimed that he was a victim of the Nazis himself. He told the court he was drafted into the Soviet army in 1941, held as a German prisoner of war and recruited as a prison camp guard.

After World War II Demjanjuk became a U.S. citizen and spent decades working as a mechanic before he was extradited to face trial in Germany in 2009. His conviction set a legal precedent in Germany, marking the first time someone was convicted solely on the grounds of serving as a camp guard, with no evidence of being involved in a specific crime. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Annan Asks for UN Action on Syria

March 17th 2012

Kofi Annan

The U.N. and Arab League's chief peace envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, called on Security Council members Friday to end their stalemate and decide what to do to pressure Syria into ending its deadly crackdown on dissent. In a briefing from Geneva, the former U.N. secretary-general said he is sending a team to Damascus next week to discuss a plan to deploy international monitors. Diplomats say Annan discussed his plans in a video briefing to the Council on Friday, less than a week after his own meetings in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. After the briefing, Annan told reporters Syria's political turmoil needs to be handled carefully to avoid any "miscalculations" that could lead to a "major escalation" that could impact the entire region. “I think it is a conflict in a region of the world that has seen many, many traumatic events," he said. "I think we need to handle the situation in Syria very, very carefully." Asked if the government and opposition would agree to speak with each other, Annan said the activists he met, although angry and frustrated over the government crackdown, are eager to get talks going and resolve the issue politically and peacefully. Western diplomats say they hope Annan's mediation will accelerate efforts to pass a U.N. resolution condemning Assad's bloody crackdown on dissent. Russia and China have twice vetoed previous resolutions condemning Syria.

Syrian state media released a statement on Friday ahead of the closed Security Council meeting, saying the Damascus government has pledged its cooperation with Annan in the hope of finding a "political solution" to the crisis. The Foreign Ministry statement again blamed unspecified "terrorists" and foreign interference for much of the deadly violence in Syria. Annan met with Assad last Saturday and Sunday. He outlined proposals to end the fighting, provide humanitarian aid and begin political dialogue. Rebel fighters have been in retreat throughout Syria and a movement of opposition activists has been fragmented with dissent. But Western governments have been reluctant to arm the Syrian opposition, for fear of further inflaming the situation. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Afghan President Slams US on Probe into Massacare

March 16th 2012

Hamid Karzai

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is accusing the United States of failing to cooperate in the probe of a massacre of 16 Afghan villagers, allegedly by a U.S. soldier. President Karzai met with tribal elders and family members of those killed in Sunday's shooting spree in Kandahar province. He said Friday that the delegation he sent to investigate the killings did not receive the cooperation it expected from American officials. Mr. Karzai lashed out, saying civilian casualties have been going on “for too long … and this is by all means the end of the rope here.” He said “this behavior can no longer be tolerated.” The Afghan leader also questioned U.S. military claims that only one shooter was involved in the incident. Villagers say that more one U.S. soldier was involved in the attack in the Panjwai district, in which children were among those killed.

On Thursday, President Karzai met with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in Kabul and demanded that NATO forces pull back from Afghan villages and relocate to their bases in the wake of the shooting spree. The civilian lawyer for the U.S. soldier accused of carrying out the deadly rampage says his client was likely suffering from stress after witnessing one of his fellow soldiers sustain a grave injury. Attorney John Henry Browne told reporters Friday the 38-year-old staff sergeant saw one of his comrades get his leg blown off a day before Sunday's massacre in Kandahar. Browne says his client was also unhappy about being assigned a fourth tour of duty in a war zone. The soldier, a married father of two, had served three tours in Iraq, where he suffered a head injury and lost part of his foot. The lawyer says the highly-decorated soldier was told he would not be deployed to Afghanistan, but that changed “literally overnight.” Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Obama Says Diplomatic Window for Iran Nuclear Program Shrinking

March 16th 2012

Obama serious

U.S. President Barack Obama says Iran's window to find a diplomatic solution to international concerns over its nuclear program is shrinking. Our correspondent reports on why Iran is moving back toward talks with the international community and closer cooperation with U.N. nuclear inspectors. President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron say they will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Mr. Obama says Tehran has a stark choice. "Tehran must understand that it cannot escape or evade the choice before it: meet your international obligations or face the consequences," said President Obama. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and it is not giving up any of its right in moving to return to talks with permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany - a group known as the P5+1. President Obama says it is an opportunity that Tehran needs to seize seriously. "I think they should understand that because the international community has applied so many sanctions, because we have employed so many of the options that are available to us to persuade Iran to take a different course, that the window for solving this issue diplomatically is shrinking," said Obama. Read more ..

North Korea on Edge

North Korea Plans April 'Space' Launch

March 16th 2012

Kim Il Sung
Kim Il Sung

In what is likely to be widely considered a violation of its recent agreement to halt ballistic-missile tests, North Korea has made a surprise announcement that it intends to conduct a satellite launch next month. The North Korean announcement first came during Friday's noon radio newscast from Pyongyang. It quotes an unnamed spokesman of the country's Outer Space Technology Committee saying an earth observatory satellite will be launched between April 12 and 16. The announcer says the event is to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korea's founder and late president, Kim Il Sung. Most significantly, the announcement specifies the payload will be carried into orbit on the Unha-3, the latest version of what is believed to be a three-stage long-range ballistic missile the intelligence community contends is designed to eventually carry North Korean nuclear weapons.

Earlier attempts with variants of the missile in 2006 and 2009 failed to reach orbit, although North Korea claims two successes. The 2009 launch led to a U.N. Security Council condemnation and toughening of sanctions on the impoverished and isolated country. North Korea agreed last month to suspend uranium enrichment and allow the return of U.N. weapons inspectors in exchange for desperately-needed food aid. In a joint announcement after talks with the United States, Pyongyang also promised a moratorium on its nuclear development and long-range missile tests.

North Korea says next month's launch is in accordance with international regulations governing the launch of satellites for “peaceful scientific purposes.” Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at South Korea's Dongguk University, says the United States and others are likely to dispute that contention. Kim says Pyongyang is looking to play a card to give it a good hand for future negotiations with Washington without resorting to a military act that would be overly provocative. The launch is to take place at a new facility in North Pyongan province. Read more ..

Washington on Edge

Justice Backs New Category of Secret Gov't Files

March 15th 2012

US Capital Day

In the middle of Sunshine Week, when news organizations and advocacy groups promote government transparency, the Obama administration urged Congress on March 13 to keep secret a whole new category of information even under the Freedom of Information Act. A few miles away, the White House organized a conference call with two senior administration officials to preview an announcement by President Barack Obama about an important China trade issue but told reporters that no one could be quoted by name. The officials were U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and the deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs, Michael Froman. Obama has promised that his administration will be the most transparent in American history. But events on Tuesday, while unrelated, illustrate that old habits die hard.

On Capitol Hill, the director of the Justice Department's office of information policy, Melanie Ann Pustay, told senators they need to protect against public disclosures of material about cybersecurity, critical U.S. computer networks, industrial plants, pipelines and more. Businesses have sought such a new exemption under the law for at least 10 years. Pustay told the Senate Judiciary Committee that a Supreme Court ruling in March 2011 narrowed an exemption under the records law and left federal agencies unable to protect secrets about cybersecurity and critical infrastructures, even though the Justice Department since then has recommended at least three other ways under current law to justify withholding such information. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Obama Hosts Cameron at Lavish White House Dinner

March 15th 2012


U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron reaffirmed the “special relationship” between their countries with a glittering state dinner Wednesday night at the White House. More than 300 guests looked on as the two leaders praised their personal and diplomatic relationship in a separate toasts. Mr. Obama, quoting the late Winston Churchill, spoke of the “great purpose and design of our alliance,” while the British leader saluted the American president as “an ally, a partner and a friend.” “It was December 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor had finally thrust America into war, alongside our British friends. These were the words Sir Winston spoke to his new American partners — I will say that he must indeed have a blind soul who cannot see that some great purpose and design is being worked out here below of which we have the honor to be the faithful servants. So I'd like to propose a toast: to Her Majesty the Queen on her Diamond Jubilee, to our dear friends David and Samantha, to the great purpose and design of our alliance, may we remain, now and always, His faithful servants. Cheers everyone.”

“Barack, it is an honor to call you an ally, a partner and a friend. You don't get to choose the circumstances you have to deal with as a president or a prime minister. And, you don't get to choose the leaders that you have to work with, but all I can say is that it is a pleasure to work with someone with moral strength, with clear reason and with fundamental decency in this task of renewing our great national alliance for today and for generations to come. And, with that, I propose a toast, to the president, to the first lady, and to the people of the United States of America…cheers!” Read more ..

The Afghan War

US Defense Secretary in Afghanistan After Civilian Massacre

March 14th 2012

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is in Afghanistan to try to calm the fury after a U.S. soldier allegedly shot 16 civilians to death this week, including nine children.

Panetta told reporters Tuesday that "war is hell" and that these kind of terrible events happen in every war.  He said the killings probably will not be the last, but that the military will do everything possible to make sure they do not happen again.

Also on Wednesday, a motorcycle bomb has one Afghan security officer and wounded at least two other people in the city of Kandahar, near the village where a U.S. soldier allegedly murdered 16 civilians this week, including nine children.

No one has claimed responsibility for the Wednesday blast, but the Taliban has vowed to avenge the killings.

In Washington Tuesday, President Barack Obama said the United States takes the incident as seriously as if it were its our own citizens who were murdered. He said the killing of innocent civilians "is outrageous and unacceptable" and does not represent what the United States is. He said he has extraordinary confidence in U.S. military leaders and troops. He reasserted that despite the public outrage, there will be no hasty U.S. retreat from Afghanistan. The Taliban has threatened to behead Americans because of the murders. Taliban militants opened fire on a memorial servicefor the 16 villagers Tuesday in Kandahar, killing an Afghan soldier and wounding a policeman.

Hundreds of university students protested Tuesday in Jalalabad in the first significant public demonstration against the killings. Many of the marchers chanted "Death to America" and "Death to Obama." Read more ..

Uganda on Edge

Kony Video Campaign Shakes Up Advocacy World

March 14th 2012

The release this month by a U.S. non-profit organization of an Internet video denouncing a Ugandan rebel leader is creating a worldwide conversation and shaking up the world of advocacy. Like many other human rights campaigns, the video released by the organization Invisible Children got help from celebrities. One of them was Angelina Jolie. The Hollywood film actress spoke out against the elusive Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony at a recent appearance. “He is an extraordinarily horrible human being," she said. "His time has come, and it is lovely to see that young people are raising up as well.”

A collective of some of the biggest U.S. media and entertainment personalities used social media to promote the 29-minute video when it was released March 5. So did high school and college students across the United States and elsewhere. The Kony video has become the fastest growing ever on the Internet in terms of views. On Tuesday, it prompted U.S. lawmakers to introduce a resolution calling for increased efforts to boost the number of forces deployed to protect civilians and pursue LRA commanders hiding in Central Africa. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Liberal Groups Vow to Expose Corporate Money in Campaigns

March 13th 2012
Liberal interest groups, watchdogs and unions on Monday threatened to boycott, protest and publicly embarrass corporations that spend money trying to sway the outcome of the November election.  

Gathered Monday at the Washington headquarters of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the groups issued a call to arms for the 2012 campaign, vowing to aggressively challenge companies that contribute to super-PACs and 501(c) nonprofit groups.

“If you secretly contribute and scheme to buy our elections, we’re going to come knocking on your door,” said Aaron Black of the Occupy Wall Street movement. “And it’s not just going to be a couple of us. It’s going to be thousands of us. Everywhere you turn your head.”

Representatives of the coalition, which includes Common Cause, Health Care for America Now, Public Citizen and Occupy, among others, said they’d push for legislation and regulations that would require companies to disclose all of their political spending. “We’re saying to corporate America that enough is enough. We’re not going to stand for our democratic system being overwhelmed by money,” said Bill de Blasio, the New York City public advocate. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

US Investigates Afghani Air Force

March 11th 2012

afghan air force l39s
Afghani Air Force L-39s (credit: Tech Sgt Cecilio M. Ricardo Jr, USAF)

U.S. authorities announced earlier this month that the U.S. Military Coalition and Drug Enforcement Administration will be investigating claims that Afghan Air Force (AAF) officials are transporting narcotics and illegal weapons via aircraft through the country. Lieutenant General Daniel Bolger, the commander of NATO’s Training Mission-Afghanistan, which invested $1.9 billion in AAF over 2011 and 2012, explains that allegations indicate “that [AAF officials] were transporting drugs on aircraft and transported weapons not owned by the government of Afghanistan for the use of private groups.” AAF Major General Abdul Wahab Wardak has denied the accusations. Read more ..

Edge of The Afghan War

American Serviceman Detained Following Shooting of Civilians in Afghanistan

March 11th 2012

Soldiers In Afghanistan

A U.S. soldier was detained in Afghanistan under suspicion of opening fire on Afghan civilians on March 11. "A United States service member was detained today in connection to an incident that resulted in Afghan casualties in Kandahar province," said a statement from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

"This is a deeply regrettable incident and we extend our thoughts and concerns to the families involved," the statement added. Officials said on March 11 that the U.S. was in "cooperation" with Afghan authorities over the shooting and would "investigate the incident and release additional information as appropriate." U.S. authorities did not release casualty figures and directed such inquiries to the Afghan Interior ministry. However, Reuters reported Kandahar Gov. Tooryalai Wisa saying that initial reports suggested as many as 16 civilians may have been killed. Wisa told reporters a service member had left his base early on Sunday morning and opened fire on civilians. Read more ..

The Toxic Edge

Toxic Acid Release Again Draws Federal Investigators

March 10th 2012

Citco Refinery

Again drawn by a leak of toxic hydrofluoric acid, federal investigators are back at a Texas oil refinery they examined three years ago.

Some nearby residents were told to shelter in place after the release, said Daniel Horowitz, managing director of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, which has sent a team of investigators to the Citgo refinery in Corpus Christi. It’s not yet clear how much of the acid, known as HF, got out.

“Any incident involving the release of HF is something we take very seriously,” Horowitz said.

An investigation last year found that 50 refineries use the acid despite the availability of safer alternatives. At least 16 million Americans live in the path of a toxic cloud in the event of an accident. Read more ..

Edge of Space

Massive Solar Storm Has Little Effect on Earth

March 9th 2012

Solar flare Mar 2012

A massive solar storm initially expected to create havoc for everything from mobile phones to airline flights has reached Earth with little effect, but experts say that could still change.

The storm appeared to spare satellite and power systems as it shook the Earth’s magnetic field Thursday, with no reports of GPS or power disruptions. A scientist with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Joseph Kunches, said the storm struck in a direction that causes the fewest problems—but that orientation could change as the storm continues.

The storm started with a pair of solar flares Tuesday, and continued with two coronal mass ejections (CMEs). A large CME can contain a billion tons of matter that can be accelerated to several million miles per hour in a spectacular explosion. Solar material streams out through the interplanetary medium. CMEs are sometimes associated with flares but can occur independently. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Perceptions and Gamesmanship in Israel, Iran, and the U.S.

March 7th 2012

Iranian clerics

An Iranian media report of a pipeline explosion in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province on March 1 served as a reminder of the impact that instability in Iran’s neighborhood can have on world oil markets. By extension, the event showed the impact Iranian propaganda efforts can have in deterring a military attack.

The claim that a fire had broken out near a pipeline between Awamiya and Shabwa appears to have emanated from an Eastern Province-based Saudi Shiite Facebook group. The group posted pictures purportedly portraying a blaze near a pipeline. The report was picked up by Iranian media outlet PressTV more than four hours later and spread from there. There was no independent confirmation of a purported attack, and all indications so far point to this being another propaganda move by Iran to shake the markets. Read more ..

The Edge of Astronomy

Oxygen Detected in Atmosphere of Saturn’s Moon Dione

March 6th 2012

Blue Planet

Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists and an international research team have announced discovery of molecular oxygen ions (O2+) in the upper-most atmosphere of Dione, one of the 62 known moons orbiting the ringed planet. The research appeared recently in Geophysical Research Letters and was made possible via instruments aboard NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which was launched in 1997.

Dione, discovered in 1684 by astronomer Giovanni Cassini (after whom the spacecraft was named), orbits Saturn at roughly the same distance as our own moon orbits Earth. The tiny moon is a mere 700 miles wide and appears to be a thick, pockmarked layer of water ice surrounding a smaller rock core. As it orbits Saturn every 2.7 days, Dione is bombarded by charged particles (ions) emanating from Saturn’s very strong magnetosphere. These ions slam into the surface of Dione, displacing molecular oxygen ions into Dione’s thin atmosphere through a process called sputtering. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

Netanyahu tells Obama that Israel Reserves the Right to Defend Itself

March 5th 2012

Obama and Netanyau

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told President Obama that Israel would decide for itself whether to strike Iran.

“My supreme responsibility as prime minister of Israel is to ensure that Israel remains the master of its fate,” Netanyahu told Obama. In a sit-down on March 5 with the president in the Oval Office, Netanyahu pushed back against the administration’s repeated attempts to dissuade Israel from attacking Iran.

“Israel must reserve the right to defend itself and after all, that’s the very purpose of the Jewish state to, restore to the Jewish people control of our destiny,” said Netanyahu, who is meeting with the president in advance of his speech later today before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference. Israel reserves the right to strike Iran if need be, Netanyahu said. Read more ..

Middle East on Edge

Obama Tells Israel: I've Got your Back, But Chill Out

March 5th 2012

Barack Obama Israel speech

President Obama reaffirmed his staunch commitment to Israel on March 4, making clear in no uncertain terms that “I have Israel’s back.” But, at the same time, he urged Israel and its supporters to allow time for diplomacy and “crippling” sanctions on Iran to take hold to halt Tehran’s nuclear program.

Addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the influential pro-Israel lobby group, Obama tried to reassure the crowd of 13,000 people, who initially greeted him with a lukewarm response, by saying that if Iran fails to meet its obligations and the problem remains, “we must accomplish our objective.”

“Iran’s leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment, I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Obama said, drawing hearty applause from the crowd. “And as I’ve made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.” During his address, which comes one day before he sits down with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama sought time and again to reassure Israel and its supporters that he will do whatever it takes to help defend the country. Read more ..

China on Edge

China Boosts 2012 Military Spending

March 4th 2012

Chinese J-20 fighter

China is planning a double-digit rise in military spending this year, an increase authorities say is in line with the country's economic development and defense needs. Li Zhaoxing, the spokesman for the National People's Congress, announced on Sunday the overall figure for China's 2012 military spending. Li says the defense budget will be about $110 billion (670.2 billion RMB), which represents an 11.2 percent increase over what was spent last year. This compares to a 12.7 percent increase in military spending last year and is in line with a nearly unbroken string of double-digit increases over the past two decades. The spokesman says China has the world's largest population, a big territory and a long coastline, but only spends 1.28 percent of its gross domestic product on defense spending. By comparison, he points to other developed countries like the United States and Britain, which spend more than 2 percent of their national budgets on defense. Li says China is committed to a path of peaceful development and pursues a defense policy that is defensive in nature. Read more ..

The Arab Fall

Egypt Travel Ban Lifted; NGO Workers Leave

March 2nd 2012

NGO workers detained in Egypt

U.S. pro-democracy activists charged with encouraging unrest in Egypt have left Cairo after courts there lifted a travel ban against them. The standoff threatened more than $1 billion in U.S. financial support for Egypt.

State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday that the the Americans were allowed to leave Egypt after their non-governmental organizations agreed to post their bail.

“We are very pleased that the Egyptian courts have now lifted the travel ban on our NGO employees,” said Nuland. “The U.S. government has provided a plane to facilitate their departure. And they have left the country. They are currently en route home.” Read more ..

Senegal on Edge

Senegal Faces Run-Off Election

February 29th 2012

abdoulaye wade of senegal
President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal

Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade is expected to face a tough run-off vote against former prime minister Macky Sall, who is working to round up opposition support.

A group of Senegalese opposition leaders began talks on February 29 in the capital, Dakar, to discuss forming an alliance aimed at defeating the 85-year-old incumbent.

Wade has admitted he fell short of the 50 percent of the votes needed in the February 26 poll to avoid a runoff. Provisional results show he has more than 30 percent of the vote, and Sall is trailing him by roughly seven points. Final results are expected on on March 2 and a run-off election is scheduled for March 18. Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, one of eleven other presidential candidates, said opposition leaders want to unite with civil society groups to oust Wade. "Wednesday night, we will discuss to see if Macky Sall is ready to agree on what I call a citizen republican front, a national front, to get rid of Wade and his regime." Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Activist Group Says 144 Dead Across Syria

February 28th 2012

Syrian Protesters

A Syrian activist group has said that 144 people were killed across the country, scores of them in the embattled opposition stronghold of Homs by security forces as they tried to flee. The Local Coordination Committees activist group did not say whether all 144 died on February 27 or were killed over the past few days. Many of the casualties were believed to be from the rebel-controlled Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, which the Syrian Arab Red Crescent entered late on February 27 after days of trying to reach the area. Three people were evacuated. Foreign reporters trapped in the area were not evacuated and the bodies of two journalists killed there had not been recovered.

Homs has emerged as the center of the 11-month-old uprising seeking to oust authoritarian President Bashar al-Assad and has borne the brunt of his regime's bloody crackdown on dissent. Parts of the city have been surrounded for weeks, making it impossible for rescue workers to reach the wounded and for families to bring their dead and injured to the hospital. Reports by numerous activists that more than 60 bodies were brought to the hospital, all of whom appeared to have died in one incident, reflect the spreading carnage. Read more ..

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


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 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 ..

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