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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 ..


Europe on Edge

IMF Calls for Robust European Action on Debt Crisis

January 23rd 2012

Europe Topics - Euro money

The chief of the International Monetary Fund is calling for European governments to take more aggressive action to resolve the continent's debt crisis. The IMF's managing director, Christine Lagarde, said Monday that the 17 nations that use the common euro currency should boost the size of their financial rescue fund, lower already-low lending rates and adopt policies to bolster economic growth. She said the eurozone's current temporary $570 billion bailout fund could be added to the planned permanent $650 billion rescue fund set to take effect in July, something European leaders have not been intending to do. Lagarde said the extra money could help cover future debt problems beyond the bailouts already secured by Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

"We feel that a stronger firewall is needed. Why? Because without it, countries like Italy and Spain, for instance, that are fundamentally, fundamentally able to repay their debt could potentially be forced into a solvency crisis by abnormal financing costs. And this would have disastrous implications for systematic stability,'' said Lagarde. The IMF leader said the Washington-based agency is expecting slower economic growth across the globe this year and would make specific projections on Tuesday. She said even the world's largest economies can expect a downturn this year, with weaker economies hit harder. "Capital flows to emerging markets have already dropped off, and growth as I said is expected to be lower, even in the most vibrant part of the world economy. Low-income countries in particular are especially vulnerable," said Lagarde. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Nigeria: Population Exchange Follows Bomb Terror

January 23rd 2012

Nigeria - nigeria victim

"Kano is still in shock. The coordinated series of attacks in different parts of the city lasted about three hours", reported Catholic Bishop John Namazi Niyiring of Kano, the largest city in northern Nigeria. It was there on the evening of January 20 that Boko Haram Islamist terrorists detonated bombs that killed at least 178 and injured hundreds more. A spokesman for a local hospital said on January 22 that he expected more deaths as a result of the bombs and so could not give a final death toll.

Bishop Niyiring described the dramatic hours thusly: "The attackers seemed well trained and wore camouflage uniforms like those used by the Mobile Police Force. This misled some civilians that directed themselves towards the terrorists, believing them to be policemen, and were killed without mercy. Among the targets hit with explosive devices are the headquarters of the Regional Police, the Security Service, Customs and Immigration Department, in addition to the police station.”

“After the bombs, the members of the commando started shooting all those who were in the vicinity of these objectives, in particular those who wore a uniform. A good number of terrorists were foreigners, especially from Niger and Chad. Some of these are probably foreigners waiting for legal regulation and were recruited by Boko Haram. Even some of the Catholic Church structures were damaged, but priests and religious were not affected. But we have news of some of our parishioners among the victims", concluded Bishop Niyiring. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Intel, Samsung 'Smell Blood in the Water'

January 23rd 2012

Computer Topics - computer chip

Since 2009, Intel, Samsung and TSMC have boosted capital spending significantly, IC Insights noted. In 2010, TSMC doubled its capital spending compared to 2009, while Samsung tripled its semiconductor capex spending, IC Insights said. In 2011, Intel doubled its capex compared to 2010, IC Insights said. Collectively, the planned capex spending of Intel, Samsung and TSMC is forecast to be $30.7 billion in 2012, nearly 3 times as much as the group spent in downturn-plagued year of 2009, IC Insights said.

Samsung said it would spend about $6.5 billion in capital expenditures to support its logic ICs, more than it is planning to spend on memory capex—$5.7 billion—for the first time. IC Insights noted that Samsung currently does lucrative business as the foundry for Apple Inc.'s A4 and A5 applications processors. While reports have been circulating that Apple is looking to transfer all or some of this business to TSMC, IC Insights noted that Samsung does not want to lose it. Read more ..


The Arab Fall in Egypt

Armed Bedouins Storm Sinai Resort

January 23rd 2012

Arab Topics - Bedousins Storm Egypt

Some 70 armed Bedouins are reportedly holding employees of a Sinai resort hostage, demanding over $650,000 in ransom for their safe release.

The incident likely stems from growing discontent over Bedouin exclusion from the new Egyptian government that took shape after Hosni Mubarak's ouster last year. Last week, some Bedouin leaders protested "forged parliamentary elections" while threatening armed confrontation with those in power.

"We will not allow a parliament without Bedouin representation... forged through the alliance between the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and a certain Islamic party," said one tribesman. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Congress Wary About Conflict with Iran

January 23rd 2012

Military - Stennis B

Lawmakers from both parties are wary of a U.S. military conflict with Iran as tensions continue to escalate between the two countries. The U.S. just left Iraq and is still fighting in Afghanistan, making many in Congress worried about getting involved in another conflict in the Middle East. But, at the same time, most lawmakers say military action must be on the table to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. That dilemma — and what to do about it — is poised to play out in the halls of the U.S. Capitol as well as the White House in the coming months, starting with President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday.

In a series of interviews, lawmakers expressed a divide that didn’t always fall on partisan lines about how to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and whether to get the U.S. military involved to do so. “The tension is pretty high right now,” said Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), an Armed Services committee member and retired Marine who carried the nuclear football for Presidents Carter and Reagan. “We cannot let them close the Strait [of Hormuz], and should they try, then we really do run the risk of exchanging fire,” Kline said. “I don’t think they’re going to do it, but I also don’t think of them as a truly rational actor.” Read more ..


Edge of Terrorism

Death Toll in Nigeria Still Rising after Boko Haram Bomb Attacks

January 22nd 2012

Nigeria - President Goodluck Johnson
Nigerian President Goodluck Johnson

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan traveled to the northern city of Kano on January 22 as the death toll from the coordinated attacks on January 20 by the Islamist militant Boko Haram organization continues to rise. An estimated 170 people have now died, most of them police officers and soldiers, from the bombings and shootings at police stations and government buildings in Nigeria's second largest city.

The attacks, claimed by Boko Haram, are described as the group's deadliest ever. President Jonathan, who is Christian, met with the Emir of Kano, the city's Muslim traditional leader, and vowed to bring what he described as "terrorists" to justice.

The group says it aims to implement strict Sharia law across Nigeria.  A spokesman for Boko Haram said the carnage was in response to the arrest of several sect members in Kano. Soldiers patrolled on Sunday, January 22, in the northern city to ensure security and reassure residents the violence would not be repeated. Hospital spokesman did not discount the possibility of a greater death count, since they believe that more bodies have yet to be brought to the morgue. Residents fled in terror from the bomb scene. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Piracy Debate Shows Web is Catalyst for Change, Says Wyden

January 22nd 2012

Technology - pipa protest

The leading opponent of the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate said the decision to shelve the bill shows the Internet has the ability to affect change in Washington.

“The events of the last week demonstrate clearly that the Internet is the catalyst for the important changes Americans want in government,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) told reporters on Friday afternoon, referencing the week of online protests against PIPA and its House counterpart the Stop Online Piracy Act. “Senator Reid’s decision to pull PIPA from the floor is the right one. Legislation impacting the future of the Internet is simply too important to get wrong,” he said.

Wyden first raised concerns about PIPA and its predecessor the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) in 2010, arguing the legislation posed a clear threat to free speech online. Both bills cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously. Read more ..


Edge of Terrorism

Northern Nigeria Faces Apparent Ethnic Cleansing

January 21st 2012

Nigeria - Nigeria christmas day bomb
Christmas Day, 2011, bombing in Abuja

"I am trying to get in contact with Mgr. John Namanza Niyiring, Bishop of Kano but the lines do not work", reported Catholic Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama of Jos in central Nigeria. On the evening of January 20, in Kano, northern Nigeria's largest city, a series of coordinated bomb attacks and armed assaults hit several targets, among which where some police stations.

"Last night, I spoke with the pastor of the church of Our Lady of the Apostles who, over the phone, and told me he was forced to hide because he was under attack. But the information that we have so far are still fragmentary, and we are waiting for confirmation. Telephone lines are interrupted, I do not know if it is due to a technical problem or other causes. The situation is still confusing. We will see how the government reacts to this new attack", said the Archbishop of Jos.

A 24-hour curfew has been imposed in Nigeria's second-largest city, Kano, after a coordinated series of bomb attacks. Nigerian police say at least seven people have been killed in the bombings that targeted police and government offices in the northern city. The Islamic extremist group Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Labor Union Leaves BlueGreen Alliance Over XL Pipeline

January 20th 2012

Energy Topics - Keystone Pipeline

The Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) left the BlueGreen Alliance Friday, citing a disagreement with the group’s members over the Keystone XL pipeline. LIUNA, a vocal Keystone supporter, took aim at other unions for opposing the project. “We’re repulsed by some of our supposed brothers and sisters lining up with job killers like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council to destroy the lives of working men and women,” LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan said in a statement. The BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of environmental groups and labor unions, confirmed LIUNA’s exit Friday afternoon. “The BlueGreen Alliance regrets the decision of the Laborers' International Union of North America to leave our strategic partnership of labor and environmental organizations,” the group’s executive director, David Foster, said in a statement.

The move underscores the intense political divide among unions over the pipeline, which would carry oil sands crude from Alberta, Canada, to refineries along the Gulf Coast. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said earlier this month that the group’s membership has been unable to come to a unified position on the pipeline Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

France Suspends Afghan Military Operations After Troop Deaths

January 20th 2012

Europe Topics - Nicolas Sarkozy headshot2
Nicolas Sarkozy

France has suspended its military operations in Afghanistan and may withdraw its force from that country after an Afghan soldier shot dead four French troops and wounded several others. The French government has described Friday's attack against the soldiers as an assassination. French officials say an Afghan soldier killed the four troops during a training exercise at a base jointly operated by French and Afghan forces in the eastern province of Kapisa. Several other soldiers were wounded.

This is the second time in a month that Afghan soldiers have killed French troops. The assault brought to 82 the number of French soldiers killed during the decade they have operated under the NATO mission in Afghanistan. French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced he was suspending all French military operations in the country and dispatching his defense minister and other top officials to check out the situation there. Sarkozy said if security measures were not met for French soldiers and for recruiting Afghan soldiers, France may withdraw all of its roughly 4,000 forces from the country. He said French troops were in Afghanistan to fight against terrorism and the Taliban, not to be shot at by allies. Read more ..


Democracy on Edge

'Freedom In The World' Index Calls 2011 A 'Year Of Hope'

January 20th 2012

Politics - freedom house

The U.S.-based pro-democracy group Freedom House has called the popular uprisings that swept the Arab world in 2011 the greatest challenge to authoritarian rule since the collapse of Soviet communism, and said they have brought hope to people around the world who live in countries with oppressive governments. The conclusions come in Freedom House's latest "Freedom in the World" index, which has been published annually since 1972 and measures the ability of people to exercise their political and civil rights in 195 countries and 14 territories."

In the one region of the world -- the Middle East, which has been immune to the wave of democracy that affected every other region of the world back in the '70s, '80s, and '90s -- democracy is now a potential in that region," the group's vice president for research, Arch Puddington, told RFE/RL in connection with the report's publication. He said the political upheaval that began in Tunisia and spread to Egypt and other Arab countries shows that democracy is possible even in the most repressive of societies. Puddington added that "people are no longer willing to accept the old despotic ways of rule, and for this reason, we see the year 2011 as one that is cause for optimism and not for despair." Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Gaffes and Anti-Media Rant Dominate Acrimonious Republican Debate

January 20th 2012

Politics - republican debate

A fiery attack by Newt Gingrich on the news media for raising questions about his acrimonious divorce set the tone for a bruising Republican presidential debate that featured tough critiques of the presumptive front-runners - and more gaffes for Mitt Romney. Gingrich was pressed by moderator John King to comment about recent interviews given by Gingrich's second ex-wife, Marianne, in which she said that Gingrich had requested an open relationship. "I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office. And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that," Gingrich said, prompting a standing ovation from the crowd. 

"I am frankly astounded that CNN would take trash like that and use it to open a presidential debate," Gingrich added. The former House Speaker went on to denounce the story as "false" and accuse the media of raising the issue to protect President Obama. "I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans," Gingrich said. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Gingrich Ends Conversation on 'Open-Marriage' Claims as Ex-Wife Appears in TV Tell-All

January 19th 2012

Politics - Newt Gingrich 4_2011
Newt Gingrich

Newt Gingrich abruptly ended a news conference on January 19 when pressed on his extramarital affairs. “I’m not going to say anything about Marianne,” Gingrich said with an edge to his voice as he was pressed with questions about an explosive interview his ex-wife Marianne Gingrich has given to ABC. Marianne Gingrich claimed her former husband asked her for an “open marriage” so he could continue a romantic involvement with a congressional aide who eventually became his third wife, Callista Gingrich.

“It’s an issue I confront every time it comes up, and I confront it exactly the same way it comes up — and the people seem to be satisfied by it,” Gingrich said when asked by a reporter if he thought he needed to further address the matter. Reporters tried to ask Gingrich more specifically about his ex-wife’s charges, but he refused to answer.

“I just answered you — that’s my answer,” he responded testily before trying to move on to the endorsement his campaign received the same day from Rick Perry, who bowed out of the race. “I want to thank all of you for being here, I’m delighted Gov. Perry endorsed me and I look forward to tonight at the debate,” he said before walking off quickly. Read more ..


Economy on Edge

World Bank Downgrades Global Growth Forecast

January 19th 2012

Economy - One Million Dollars

The World Bank has scaled back its growth forecast for the global economy in 2012, as a result of Europe's ongoing debt problems. Although the world lending institution says the eurozone crisis appears to be under control, it is warning developing countries to brace for an economic slowdown and the possibility of a deepening economic crisis. The world's economy is expected to grow more slowly this year. Hans Timmer, head of development projects at the World Bank, projects overall growth in 2012 at around 2.5 percent - more than a full percentage point below the bank's initial estimate. "This will be a very slow recovery and it will take many, many years before the damage done by the great recession and the damage done by the imbalances created in a boom period before the recession are undone," said Timmer.

Developing countries will continue to outpace growth in richer, more developed economies but emerging countries face significant risks.  World Bank economist Lin Yifu says that includes reduced capital flows and trade if the European crisis worsens. "The sovereign debt crisis in the eurozone has appeared to be contained, however the risks of global freezing up of capital markets as well as a global crisis, similar to what happened in 2008 are real," said Yifu. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

SOPA Critics Win Round In Fight Over Internet Control

January 19th 2012

Computer Topics - Stop Sopa

A storm of protest from free-speech activists, popular Internet sites, and Internet users has prompted several U.S. lawmakers to drop their support for proposed Internet antipiracy legislation, including some co-sponsors of the controversial bills. Legislators switched sides as protests on January 18 blanketed the Internet and drew attention around the world to what the lawmakers now say are flaws. The "Stop Online Piracy Act" (SOPA) in the House of Representatives and the so-called "Protect Intellectual Property Act" (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate have been a top priority for lobbyists from entertainment companies, publishers, pharmaceutical firms, and others who say the legislation is critical to reducing online piracy.

The aim of the bills is to curb access to overseas websites that sell pirated films, music, and other copyrighted content -- U.S. companies would be barred from doing business with these sites. But Internet sites and tech companies argue that the proposals are so heavy-handed they would undermine innovation and free-speech rights, while also compromising the function of the Internet. Wikipedia, the world's free online encyclopedia, shut down for a day on January 18 in protest. Google and others used black censorship bars to draw attention to details in the draft laws. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Romney's Small Tax Bill Could be a Big Problem

January 18th 2012

Politics - Mitt Romney expansive

Mitt Romney, who made millions buying and selling companies for a private equity firm, pays an effective tax rate that is lower than a family earning less than $70,000. “It's probably closer to the 15 percent rate than anything,” Romney told reporters in South Carolina Tuesday, when asked about his taxes. The Bain Capital founder and current GOP presidential front-runner has been under pressure to release his tax returns. Romney is estimated to be worth as much as $264 million. If he had earned all that cash from salaried work, he would likely be in the top federal tax bracket of 35 percent. But because private equity partners and hedge fund managers make most of their money from carried interest — a cut of profits off investments that are taxed at the lower 15 percent capital gains rate — the Romney household likely pays a lower overall tax rate than many middle class American families.

But not all of Romney's earnings are taxed at the capital gains rate. The $374,328 in speaker's fees that the former Massachusetts governor disclosed in his candidate financial disclosure filing will likely be taxed at the higher 35 percent rate when he files in April. Romney told reporters Tuesday that the money he made from his paid appearances was “not very much,” a quote that has already found its way into an attack ad from American Bridge, a Democratic-aligned super PAC. Even before admitting his low tax rate, Democratic groups had targeted Romney over the carried interest loophole. In October, the Democratic super PAC American Priorities renamed it the “Romney Rule” after an analysis from the advocacy group Citizens for Tax Justice estimated that Romney paid a rate of 14 percent. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Wikipedia Goes Dark for a Day to Protest SOPA and PIPA

January 17th 2012

Corporate Logos - Wikipedia logo

Internet encyclopedia Wikipidia is to stage a 24-hour black out on its English language sites in protest against proposed anti-piracy legislation. The controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), if passed, would allow U.S government and asserted owners of content to close down sites connected to piracy.

Wikipedia president Jimmy Wales announced on Twitter that his website will join Reddit and other online businesses in an internet blackout scheduled for January 18. Speaking from his Twitter account, Wales warned students ‘Do your homework early. Wikipedia protesting bad law on Wednesday #SOPA.’ The blackout, commencing at midnight EST, is hoped to create greater opposition to the piracy bill. Site visitors will be met with information relating to SOPA and the corresponding Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) and will ask readers to urge local congressmen to vote against both bills.

Responding to two petitions against the bills, the White House stated that they will not “support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.” The bill does however, have considerable support from Hollywood and the music industry. Another supporter, News Corp chief executive Rupert Murdoch responded, via Twitter, to the news from The White House, “So Obama has thrown in his lot with Silicon Valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy, plain thievery.” Read more ..


North Korea on Edge

Associated Press Opens News Bureau in North Korea

January 16th 2012

Media - Associated Press

The Associated Press has opened a bureau in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, becoming the first international news organization with a full-time presence to cover news from the reclusive nation in words, pictures and videos. AP opened the office Monday, after almost a year of negotiations and less than a month after the death of longtime ruler Kim Jong Il.

AP President and CEO Tom Curley says the organization's newest bureau allows the news agency to "document the people, places and politics" of North Korea across all media platforms at a "critical moment in its history."   Curley says the Pyongyang bureau will operate under the same standards and practices as AP bureaus worldwide. The bureau expands AP's presence in North Korea, which has remained largely off-limits to international journalists.  In 2006, AP was the first international news organization to open a video bureau in Pyongyang.  Read more ..


Edge on China

Hu Jintao to Inaugurate China's Gift to Africa in Ethiopia

January 15th 2012

China Topics - Hu Jintao floral
Chinese President Hu Jintao

Chinese President Hu Jintao is expected to visit Addis Ababa this month to inaugurate a new African Union headquarters financed by China and built largely with Chinese labor.  The project was launched when Moammar Gadhafi was maneuvering to move Africa's diplomatic capital to Libya. Official African Union and Ethiopian sources confirm that President Hu will be in  the Ethiopian capital January 28 to open what is being called “China's gift to Africa.”  The inauguration ceremony will be held the day before African heads of state hold their January meeting at AU headquarters for the first time.

According to custom, African heads of state meet every January in Addis Ababa. But the summit previously has been held at the city's United Nations conference center because the AU headquarters building was too small. Construction of new facility began in June 2009, when Addis Ababa's position as Africa's diplomatic capital was in doubt.  The city has been home to the continental body since its founding, largely due to the influence of the late Emperor Haile Selassie, who was one of the driving forces behind creation of the Organization of African Unity in 1963. But in 2009, the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was the AU chairman, and he made no secret of his desire to build a grand new headquarters in his hometown of Sirte.  That plan was thwarted, however, when China agreed to pay for a $200 million facility in Addis Ababa. It was built by the China State Construction Engineering Corporation, largely with Chinese labor. Read more ..


Edge on the Economy

Obama to Offer Americans Tax Breaks for American Businesses

January 14th 2012

Obama Admin Topics - Obama and Flag

President Obama will propose tax incentives for companies that create jobs and will try to eliminate tax breaks for companies that outsource jobs, he said in his weekly address. "In the next few weeks, I will put forward new tax proposals that reward companies that choose to do the right thing by bringing jobs home and investing in America – and eliminate tax breaks for companies that move jobs overseas," Obama said on January 14.

The tax proposals are part of the White House's "insourcing" push. Obama on January 11 urged the nation’s corporate executives to invest in the United States by insourcing jobs to help the economy rebound, saying it’s “a race I want America to win.” The president featured products made in America during his weekly address. "The companies that make these products are part of a hopeful trend: they’re bringing jobs back from overseas," Obama said. "You’ve heard of outsourcing – well, this is insourcing." He also touted his plan to reorganize federal agencies to help businesses. Read more ..


War on Terror

Rep. King Encouraged that American Muslims Helped Foil Plot Against US Military

January 13th 2012

Politics - US Capital Day

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Pete King (R-N.Y.) said Thursday that he is encouraged by news that Muslim Americans in the Tampa, Fla., area provided information that led to the arrest of a Kosovar-American who was plotting an attack against the U.S. military there. Press reports say that Sami Osmakac met with radical Islamist groups while in Kosovo, and planned to use a car bomb to attack the U.S. military in Florida. Osmakac was arrested Sunday and was charged earlier this week.

King said he has been "reliably informed" that Tampa's Muslim American community tipped off U.S. authorities. "The good citizen or citizens who reported Osmakac to authorities deserve great credit for doing what too many leaders in the Muslim American community too often fail to do," King said. "I have long advocated for increased cooperation between Muslim leaders and law enforcement, so this development is a positive sign." Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Killing of Nuclear Scientist Fuels Anger in Tehran

January 13th 2012

Iran - iran-nuclear.jpg

The killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist this week has provoked a wave of anger in Tehran, which blames Israel and the United States for the attack. A hardline Iranian newspaper called on January 12 for retaliation against Israel, which Iranian authorities say orchestrated the January 11 bomb blast. An editorial in the Kayhan newspaper called for assassinations of Israeli military and other officials. The comments follow Tehran's call for the United Nations to condemn the attack and take steps toward eliminating what it called terrorism. Both Israel and the United States have denied any role in the killing of the Iranian nuclear scientist. 

The United States, other Western countries and Israel suspect Iran is using its nuclear program to build weapons.  Iran says its nuclear ambitions are peaceful, and that the attack will not delay work on the program. Read more ..


Inside the War on Terror

Suspected US Missile Strike Kills 4 in Pakistan

January 12th 2012

Military - MQ-1 Predator Drone

Pakistani officials say a U.S. drone strike has killed four suspected militants in the country's northwest near the Afghan border. Intelligence sources say the missiles hit a vehicle driven by rebels Thursday in the North Waziristan tribal region. This marks the second drone strike in the region this week. Late Tuesday, U.S. missiles killed four suspected militants after hitting a compound near Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan. U.S. officials confirmed that attack, the first of its kind since NATO helicopters mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the border last November.

The November attack worsened already strained U.S.-Pakistan relations and prompted Pakistan to block supply routes for NATO troops in Afghanistan. U.S. officials have denied that the recent drop-off in drone strikes has been deliberate.But last month, a prominent U.S. newspaper said the Central Intelligence Agency had suspended drone strikes targeting low-ranking militants in Pakistan for six weeks to mend badly frayed relations with the South Asian nation. Read more ..


Nuclear Edge

Hillary Clinton Denies U.S. involvement in Iranian Nuke Scientist Death

January 11th 2012

Iran - Car carrying Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan
The destroyed car that Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan was in when he was killed

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denied Wednesday that the U.S. was involved in the assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist. “I want to categorically deny any United States involvement in any kind of act of violence inside Iran,” Clinton said at a January 11 news conference.

The assassination of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, who was deputy director of an Iranian nuclear facility, was just the latest in a series of escalations between Iran and the West in recent months.

According to Iran’s semiofficial Fars News Agency, Roshan was killed after a motorcyclist planted a bomb under his car. A subsequent report blamed Israel for the attack. Tensions between Iran and the U.S. have been simmering long before Wednesday’s attack. Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, a key oil passageway, in response to economic sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program. Iran then warned that U.S. ships should leave the Persian Gulf. Earlier this week Iran sentenced to death a former U.S. Marine. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

U.S. Reports Rescuing More Iranian Sailors

January 11th 2012

Iran - US Picks up Iranian Sailors

The United States has announced its second naval operation in less than a week to rescue Iranian sailors from a distressed vessel in international waters.

The Pentagon said a U.S. Coast Guard cutter picked up the six Iranian mariners after their cargo ship, the "Ya Hussayn," broke down in the northern Persian Gulf.

“This is consistent with meeting our obligations to rescue vessels in distress,” Pentagon spokesman George Little was quoted as saying. Last week, a U.S. Navy ship rescued 13 Iranian fishermen in the northern Arabian Sea who had been held captive aboard their ship by Somali pirates. In that incident, U.S. officials said the U.S. Navy provided fuel and food for the Iranians to return home.
Read more ..


Election 2012

Mitt Romney Apparently Wins New Hampshire Primary by Wide Margin

January 10th 2012

Politics - mitt romney

Mitt Romney will win the Republican presidential primary in New Hampshire, giving the former Massachusetts governor a clean sweep of the first two primary contests. Networks projected a Romney victory in the Granite State’s first-in-the-nation primary minutes after polls closed at 8 p.m. on January 10, suggesting he would shut out his opponents by a wide margin — and that a last-minute flurry of rancorous attacks did little to knock Romney down from his longstanding position of dominance in the first-in-the-nation primary state.

Early results showed Texas Rep. Ron Paul taking the coveted No. 2 slot, likely earning him a second look as the GOP race moves on to South Carolina and Florida. Romney’s victory in New Hampshire came one week after he narrowly won the Iowa caucuses, making him the first non-incumbent to win both states since the two took their place at the front of the primary calendar almost four decades ago.

As results continued to trickle in, Romney and his rivals were focused on the open question of how wide a margin Romney would secure over his Republican rivals. Early results showed Romney capturing about 36 percent of the vote, with Paul in second and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman in third, with 8.6 percent of precincts reporting. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

U.S. Defense Secretary Draws Red Lines on Iran

January 10th 2012

Iran - Ahmadinejad at Iranian nuclear plant
Leon Panetta

The Obama administration has effectively put Iran on notice that war between the U.S. and the Islamic theocracy is a serious possibility. Appearing on CBS television's Face the Nation on Sunday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey laid down two unequivocal red lines: the development of a nuclear bomb or closure of the Straits of Hormuz by the Iranian navy. Either of these, he said, would lead to military action against Iran. "Our red line to Iran," he stated, "is to not develop a nuclear weapon. That's a red line for us."

When pressed whether the US could "take out their nuclear capability" without using nuclear weapons, [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] Dempsey said this: "I certainly want them to believe that that's the case." Panetta added: "I think they need to know that... if they take that step - that they're going to get stopped." Dempsey also outlined another act the United States would consider a casus belli: an Iranian blockade of the Straits of Hormuz. “They’ve invested in capabilities that could, in fact, for a period of time block the Strait of Hormuz,” Dempsey said. “We’ve invested in capabilities to ensure that if that happens, we can defeat that.” Read more ..


Burma on Edge

Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi Confirms Run for Parliament

January 10th 2012

Burma - Aung San Suu Kyi

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has confirmed that she will run for parliament in the country's highly anticipated April by-elections. A spokesperson for Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party said Tuesday the Nobel Peace Prize winner will compete for a seat in Kawhmu Township, on the outskirts of her hometown of Rangoon. Last week, the government approved the NLD to participate in the April 1 elections, marking its return to mainstream politics after two decades. But it had been unclear whether Aung San Suu Kyi herself would compete for a seat.

It will mark the first time the pro-democracy leader has run for political office. Her NLD party won a landslide victory in 1990, but the military government prevented it from assuming power. Aung San Suu Kyi spent the majority of the years since then under house arrest. The NLD boycotted general elections in November 2010 because of restrictions that, among other things, would have prevented Aung San Suu Kyi from running. That vote installed a nominally civilian government that has made a series of reforms, including beginning a dialogue with opposition groups.

Nicholas Farrelly, a Burma analyst at the Australian National University, told VOA the NLD's decision to compete in the upcoming elections reflects a significant change in Burma's political climate. “Since the elections that were held back in November 2010, so much has changed in the politics of Burma, and I think we see that so clearly with this recent effort by Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters to become active players once again in the country's mainstream political system.” Read more ..


Syria on Edge

Syria Criticizes Arab League Committee Chief's Comments

January 10th 2012

Syrian Issues - Basher Assad
Bashar al-Assad

Syria's representative to the Arab League says comments by the head of the group's committee on Syria, show a "biased stance" toward the crisis in the country. Syria's state-run SANA news agency Monday reported the criticism by Yousef Ahmad, who said the "majority of the Syrian people" are against outside interference in the country. His comments came in response to those made Sunday by Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani calling for Syria to stop its deadly crackdown on anti-government protesters.

Arab League foreign ministers agreed Sunday to increase the number of monitors observing Syria's compliance with a plan to stop the violence. The top diplomats from Qatar and other Arab nations met in Cairo to assess the progress of the observer mission, which has about 150 people in Syria. Syrian opposition activists and rights groups have criticized the observers, saying their presence has failed to secure any easing of the crackdown by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Some critics have called on the League to withdraw the monitors. Read more ..


Inside Africa

Sectarian Population Exchange Emerges as Christians flee northern Nigeria

January 10th 2012

Nigeria - Nigeria joint military task force

Nigerian Christians of indigenous tribes in the state of Yobe in northern Nigeria are preparing to abandon their ancestral territories, due to violence and the threat of further violence on the part of the Islamist Boko Haram terrorist organization. Gunmen from a radical Muslim group attacked a gathering of Christians in Nigeria on Jan 6, killing at least 20 people. The assault targeted a town hall where ethnic Igbo Christians were gathered together. Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the killings, which followed threats by the group to begin specifically targeting Christians living in the country's Muslim dominated north. On Christmas Day 2011, Boko Haram conducted raids on several Christian targets, killing scores.

According to the Fides news service, the people of northern Nigeria is in a panic, following the expiration of the ultimatum launched by Boko Haram, which enjoined Christians to leave the north within three days. The attacks by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria continue, even after President Goodluck Jonathan had decreed a state of emergency to prevent violence in four states and temporarily closed the nation's borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Boko Haram has been frequently linked to Al-Qaeda, the Islamist terrorist group once led by the Saudi Arabian, the deceased Osama bin Laden. Read more ..


The Edge of Terror

Bomb Kills 25 in NW Pakistan

January 10th 2012

PakistanTopics - Taliban in Pakistan

Pakistani officials say a bomb blast near the Afghan border has killed at least 25 people and wounded 26 others, making it the deadliest attack of its kind in months. The explosion hit a market in the Khyber tribal region Tuesday at a site where vehicles being used by pro-government militias were located.  Officials say they believe the bomb was likely remote-controlled. While no one immediately claimed responsibility for the blast, this type of attack is a common tactic of Pakistan's militant groups in the country's volatile northwest. 

Since 2007, Islamist militants - some with links to al-Qaida - have carried out hundreds of bombings, which have killed thousands.  However, there had not been a major Islamist militant attack in the country since a suicide bomber killed at least 31 people at a funeral for a tribal elder opposed to the Pakistani Taliban last September. Read more ..



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