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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.

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 ..

Mexico's NarcoWar

Narcotraffickers' Retribution Claims 13 Men and Boys in central Mexico

January 10th 2012

Mexican Topics - Mexico Drug War Casualty

The dead bodies of 13 people, all of them male, were found at a gas station in Zitacuaro, Michoacan State, close to several schools. The nearly naked bodies were found in a heap, and showed obvious signs of torture in addition to the bullet holes in their heads. Ten of the dead were adults, and three were minors.

Local police were alerted to the bizarre sight by fellow citizens who found the bodies on a main boulevard. Messages were found on the bodies, as is usual in cases involving retribution on the part of Mexico's narcoterrorist cartels. The scrawled messages were directed at a gang led by a criminal known by the alias “El El Güero” (Blondie, in English), in an apparent challenge over turf.

It is not known when the killing of the latest victims took place. The pile of bodies released an overpowering stench, leading to the conclusion that the men and boys had been tortured and killed in one place and then later dumped some days later at the Zitacuaro filling station. Neighbors in the vicinity claim that the bodies were dropped off at approximately 2 a.m. local time in the central Mexican state, long known for the production of powerful marijuana. Local police theorize that the dead were from the region of Huetamo, in the hot lowlands of Michoacan. Read more ..

Inside America

Foreign-Born Population in US Continues to Increase

January 9th 2012

Social Topics - Sailors and Marine in citizenship ceremony
Sailors and Marines swear Citizenship oath (US Navy photo)

Despite a flagging economy, foreigners continue to flock to the Land of the Free and the Brave, according to a Pew study.

The foreign-born population in the U.S. increased by 616,000, or 1.6%, from 2009 to 2010, according to a new analysis of census data by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center. Both the absolute increase and the percentage increase are substantially smaller than implied by American Community Survey (ACS) data released by the Census Bureau because of the Pew Hispanic Center's revisions to ACS data for 2009.

According to the ACS, the U.S. population in 2010 included 39.9 million foreign-born residents. This estimate, the latest available for the foreign-born population, is 1.5 million, or 4%, higher than the survey's original estimate of 38.5 million in 2009. The Pew Hispanic Center revised the 2009 estimate to account for changes in the Census Bureau's assumptions about population composition that underlie the original 2009 ACS estimates. The Pew Hispanic analysis concludes that the foreign-born population in the U.S. was 39.3 million in 2009 and the actual change from 2009 to 2010 is less than half the magnitude of the reported change. Read more ..

The Arab Fall

Yemeni Government Approves Immunity for President Saleh

January 9th 2012

Yemen Topics - Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh

Yemen's interim government has agreed to grant immunity to President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his administration, clearing the way for his departure in line with a Gulf-brokered agreement. The government on Sunday approved the law that grants Mr. Saleh immunity from "legal and judicial prosecution" for any alleged crimes committed during his 33-year rule. Yemen's parliament still must approve the deal.

In November, Mr. Saleh signed a Gulf-brokered deal aimed at ending the political crisis in the impoverished country. Under that deal, he handed authority to Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, ahead of a February presidential election in which Hadi is the consensus candidate of major parties. Read more ..

Syria on Edge

Arab League Officials Vow to Continue Syria Mission

January 9th 2012

Syrian Issues - arab league observers

Arab League officials have demanded Syria abide by its agreement to end violence against civilians and have vowed to carry on with a monitoring mission that many in the Syrian opposition feel is ineffectual. In their first review of the Arab League's observer mission in Syria, regional foreign ministers took few concrete steps that would put additional pressure on Damascus. Officials at the Cairo meeting had been expected to discuss possible U.N. technical help, a step towards bringing in additional nations to deal with Syria's brutal crackdown on a popular uprising.

But one of the most outspoken critics of the Syrian government, Qatar's Sheikh Hamad bin Jassin al-Thani, warned the monitoring mission is not open-ended, adding officials have a rough idea of when they will decide no further progress can be made. "But I do not think it is wise to announce this date.  We do not want to threaten anybody.  We are trying to cooperate with everybody, until we achieve peace in Syria, which up until now we are not satisfied [about] and I cannot see it," he said. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Iranian Official: Iran to Start Enrichment at Underground Site This Month

January 8th 2012

Iran - Iran Nuclear Equipment

A senior Iranian official says Iran will launch a second uranium enrichment facility later this month at an underground site that is well protected from potential air strikes by nations opposed to the Iranian nuclear program. The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Fereidoun Abbasi said late Saturday the injection of uranium gas into centrifuges at the Fordo enrichment facility will begin before February 1. Iran revealed the existence of the plant to the U.N. nuclear agency in 2009. It is located beneath a mountain near the Shi'ite holy city of Qom. Western powers suspect Iran's enrichment activities are aimed at developing the capability to produce nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is designed only to generate electricity and material for medical research. The United States and its ally Israel have not ruled out military action to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Israel sees a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to the Jewish state's existence.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says Iran's nuclear program has not progressed to the stage of building a nuclear bomb. But in an interview with U.S. television network CBS broadcast on Sunday, Panetta says that if Iranian leaders take that final step, the United States will stop them.  Panetta says the United States will continue what he called a "responsible" approach of putting diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran to abstain from developing nuclear weapons. He also advised Israel not to take unilateral action against Iran, saying a "better approach" is to "work together" with the United States on the issue. Read more ..

Inside Africa

Nigerian President Appeals for Calm as Christians Flee Muslim North

January 8th 2012

Nigeria - Nigerian Pres Goodluck Jonathan
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Election Day 2011

Nigeria's president has appealed for calm following a series of deadly attacks on Christians suspected of being carried out by Islamist militants. President Goodluck Jonathan, in a televised address on January 7, vowed to battle what he described as terrorism. The president's remarks came as more than 30 people were reported killed in a series of attacks, including on churches, and hundreds of Christians were reported fleeing northern Nigeria.

"I urge all Nigerians to eschew bitterness and acrimony to live together in harmony and peace," Jonathan said. "Wherever there is any threat to public peace, our security forces will enforce the law without fear or favor." The Boko Haram movement issued a warning last week calling on Christians to get out of mainly Muslim northern Nigeria.

The Battle for Syria

Arab League Convenes in Cairo to Discuss Syria

January 8th 2012

Syrian Issues - Basher Assad
Syrian President Basher Al-Assad

Foreign ministers of the Arab League member states are meeting in Cairo to assess the performance of the organization’s observer mission in Syria. The mission, which began work in Syria on December 26, has come under scrutiny, with critics noting that the mission has not resulted a halt of violence by the Syrian regime's forces against protesters. In numerous cases, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's security forces have killed civilians with sniper fire in the presence of Arab League observers.

The Syrian opposition has called on the Arab League to admit that the mission has failed, and has urged that the Syrian matter be handed over to the United Nations. Reports say, however, that the Arab League meeting in the Egyptian capital is not expected to result in a recall of the observers. Ahead of the meeting, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani was quoted as saying the Syrian regime had not implemented the terms of the Arab League-backed peace plan. He said Syrian forces had not withdrawn from cities and there had been no end to the killing. Read more ..

Crimes of Intolerance

Autistic Man Viciously Attacked in Kansas by Unknown Assailant

January 7th 2012

Crime Topics - Crime scene tape

A 22-year-old man, who is described as having autism, was assaulted and injured on January 4 in Lawrence, Kansas. Standing outside of a local Starbucks café, A.J. Alexander said that the perpetrator approached him in downtown Lawrence and struck him in the head, leaving a visible bruise on his left eye. Following the vicious attack, witnesses at the coffee house told the victim’s father, Tom Alexander, that the assailant “came out of nowhere” and struck the hapless youth.

Tom Alexander added that AJ is incapable of defending himself and that there was no reason why he should be attacked. AJ said that he was listening to music at the time when he was punched in the head. "I've never been sucker punched in my life," averred AJ. See video here.

The Alexander family came from California approximately twenty years ago. At that time, AJ was apparently unable to speak because of his condition, but with the help of the local school system, he is now communicative. AJ holds a job and lives with his parents.  "AJ could have been at the wrong place at the wrong time," said Tom Alexander. "But if he was singled out because he was acting like AJ, that's a pretty bad thing." AJ says that despite the assault, “I’ll be okay.” Read more ..

Genocide Watch

Turks March in New York against France's legislation Outlawing Denial of Armenian Genocide

January 6th 2012

Turkish Topics - Turkey students
Leftist Turks protest at French embassy in Ankara

About two dozen people of Turkish origin or descent gathered in front of the French Consulate in New York on January 5 to protest the French genocide bill, which would criminalize the denial that the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 constituted genocide. The evening protest, which was organized by the Young Turks Association, featured around 20 people waving Turkish and U.S. flags as they chanted "shame on France". Mae Sonmez, Vice President of the Northeast Region at the Assembly of Turkish American Associations, moved to the United States 23 years ago. She maintained that the bill was both "unfair" and "illegal," and that numerous attempts by the Turkish government to discuss what had happened were rejected. "The Turkish government [are] always asking Armenia [to] open the books, let's discuss on both sides," she said. "But they never open the books...we never can discuss archives and what is the truth." Read more ..

Syria on Edge

Deadly Blast Rocks Damascus

January 6th 2012

Syrian Issues - Syria protest

A suicide blast went off at a busy intersection in the Syrian capital Friday, killing 25 people and wounding at least 46 others. Syrian state media say an attacker blew himself up near a school and police station in the central district of Midan in Damascus. A bus carrying policemen appeared to be the target of the attack. State television showed people carrying human remains, and others shouting the blast was the work of terrorists.  The footage also showed damaged vehicles, including what appears to be a police bus with shattered windows and blood in it. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes two weeks after twin blasts targeting security buildings in Damascus killed 44 people. Meanwhile, there is mounting criticism about the effectiveness of an Arab League mission in Syria that is monitoring President Bashar al-Assad's compliance with a plan to end a bloody, 10-month crackdown on protesters. Read more ..

Edge on Terrorism

Deadly Terror Strikes Shiite-Held Areas of Iraq

January 5th 2012

Iraq - iraq bomb

Iraqi officials say multiple bombs have exploded in Shi'ite areas of the capital, Baghdad, killing at least 27 people and wounding more than 60 others.

The January 5 blasts first hit the northern neighborhood of Sadr City.  Officials say a bomb planted in a motorcycle exploded near a group of laborers who had gathered to seek work, followed by a roadside bombing a short time later.  The explosions killed 12 people.

Then in Kazimiyah, another Shi'ite area in northern Baghdad, a pair of car bombings killed 15 people. Iraqi Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said the aim of the attacks is "to create turmoil among the Iraqi people." He said it was too early to say who was behind the bombings. Read more ..

Edge on Defense

Republicans Stunned over Boeing's Plant Closing in Kansas

January 5th 2012

Transportation Topics - Boeing Wichita plant

Boeing’s decision to close a Kansas aircraft facility put its congressional delegation in a place unfamiliar to many red-state lawmakers: locking horns with a defense contractor. The defense-aerospace giant, during a nearly decade-long competition to build new aerial tankers for the Air Force, said a win would bring production work on those aircraft to its Wichita, Kan., facility. That work, the firm estimated, would deliver 7,500 new jobs.

But just months after the Air Force picked Boeing’s 767-based aircraft over one offered by Europe’s EADS, the Chicago-based firm began a study looking at the best path forward for the Wichita plant. That study led Boeing executives to set in motion plans to close the Wichita plant by the end of 2013. Gone will be the facility’s existing 2,100 jobs and the promised tanker jobs. As the U.S. economic picture continues to look blurry, losing more than 9,500 expected jobs is a crushing blow to the Wichita and Kansas economies. The Air Force tanker work will shift to Washington state, while other work will be moved to company sites in Oklahoma and Texas.  Read more ..

Significant Lives

A Lion Lays Down: Reflections On The Life Of Newton D. Becker: A Lion In The Fight To Support Israel

January 5th 2012

Jewish Topics - Newt Becker

Newt Becker, the man, is no more, but his legacy will remain for generations to come. Newt was my mentor, my muse, my inspiration and my friend.  More than 30 years ago he took a young assistant professor from CSU Chico under his wing because we shared similar ideas about distance education and the then newly developing internet.  Newt made a fortune on distance education of accountants and he was eager to translate his success into training young and old in fighting for Israel.   From my early days working with AIPAC as a faculty resource to developing distance studies for Jewish Studies in the CSU system to my years as a Dean, just up the street from him, at the University of Judaism to my almost three years of work with Newt as executive Director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, Newt was everything a supporter and donor could be.

I always referred to Newt as the Johnny Appleseed of pro-Israel organizations. He used his wealth and his expertise wisely and judiciously. He seeded organizations. He nurtured them until they got going and then he moved on. Only a few organizations he stayed with long term and continued to support with both money and wisdom. I still have copies of his organizational chart for pro-Israel organizations and constantly use his ideas on organizing in everything I do.

Most of all, Newt argued to think in terms of what is good for the long haul. Short term thinking was not a part of his world. I met with him a few weeks before he became ill. I could see that he was frail. But energy, passion and drive were still in him. He encouraged me and praised me and then proceeded to feed me six new ideas he had been thinking about. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

EU Agrees to Ban Iranian Oil Imports

January 4th 2012

Iran - Ahmadinejad at Iranian nuclear plant

European Union governments have agreed to ban imports of Iranian oil as part of a Western campaign to pressure Iran over its controversial nuclear program.

EU diplomats said Wednesday the governments of the 27-nation bloc agreed in principle on an Iranian oil embargo but need more time to discuss when to implement the measure. France wants EU foreign ministers to set a date for the embargo at a meeting on January 30. Western powers accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian energy program, a charge Tehran denies. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland welcomed the EU agreement to ban Iranian oil imports, saying other countries should take similar action to "tighten the noose on Iran economically." Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran's Currency Slumps on Sanctions Fears

January 3rd 2012

Iran - Iran Banknotes

Reports from Iran say the nation's currency has slumped to a record low against the U.S. dollar, two days after U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law new sanctions that could affect Iran's central bank and financial system. Traders said Monday the exchange rate dipped to around 17,000 rials to the dollar, which is about a 10 percent slide from Thursday's exchange rate. The new U.S. sanctions will target financial institutions that deal with Iran's central bank, and if fully implemented could affect Iran's ability to sell oil on international markets.  The step is part of a push to hamper Tehran's ability to finance its nuclear and missile programs.

The United States and the European Union contend Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons under the guise of its civilian nuclear program.  Iran says its nuclear intentions are peaceful. The European Union is expected to consider additional sanctions later this month, possibly including an embargo on Iranian oil imports. Iran has threatened to respond to such wider sanctions by closing the Strait of Hormuz, a vital export route for the other oil-producing countries of the Persian Gulf.   The U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, says it will not allow disruptions to Gulf shipping. Read more ..

Religious Intolerance

Islamist Terrorists Demand that Christians Leave Northern Half of Nigeria

January 3rd 2012

Nigeria - Nigeria Oil

The militant Islamist group Boko Haram has given Christians three days to leave northern Nigeria following attacks on churches and other targets over Christmas that left more than 40 people dead. The ultimatum, issued late on December 31, intensifies the threat to Christians in the Muslim-majority North, parts of which are under a state of emergency after the Christmas violence.

Boko Haram, which wants to impose Islamic religious law across the country, claimed responsibility for a coordinated series of bomb and gun attacks on churches and the security services in five states on Christmas Day 2011. The majority of the fatalities occurred at a Catholic church in Madalla, near the capital, Abuja; around 35 worshippers were killed as explosives were hurled at the congregation as they left the Mass. It is the second consecutive year that Boko Haram has staged Christmas attacks; in 2010, 32 people were killed in a series of bombings in Jos on Christmas Eve. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran's Sabre-Rattling Rattles Oil Markets and Its Own Economy

January 3rd 2012

Iran - Iranian warship
Iranian warship

As Iran threatened on January 3 to take action if the US Navy moves an aircraft carrier back into the Persian Gulf, the country’s economy is taking a hit as new US and EU financial sanctions take a toll. 

The prospect of sanctions targeting the vital oil sector has hit Iran's rial currency, which has fallen by 40 percent against the dollar in the past month. Lines of customers have snaked their way to the entrances of banks, while currency exchanges  shut their doors as Iranians scrambled to buy US dollars to protect their savings. Iranian consumers are also dealing with price hikes for fuel and other subsidized goods. Culminating weeks of saber-rattling, Iranian Army chief Ataollah Salehi said the United States had moved an aircraft carrier out of the Gulf ostensibly because of Iran's naval exercises, and Iran would take action if the ship returned. The USS John C Stennis aircraft carrier is leading a task force in the region. At least one US submarine, equipped with cruise missiles, is also believed to be in the region. The defiant Iranian officer, nonetheless, declared "Iran will not repeat its warning ... the enemy's carrier has been moved to the Sea of Oman because of our drill. I recommend and emphasize to the American carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf." He added, "I advise, recommend and warn them over the return of this carrier to the Persian Gulf because we are not in the habit of warning more than once." During its 10-day military exercises, Iran test-fired missiles that are believed capable of striking targets in Israel and the Arabian Peninsula. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Arab League Seeks Cease-Fire as Snipers Endanger Civilians in Syria

January 2nd 2012

Syrian Issues - arab league observers
Arab League monitors consult with Syrians

Speaking in Cairo on January 1, Arab League chief Nabil El Araby said snipers and gunfire remain a threat in Syrian cities despite the presence of League monitors. Speaking at the League's headquarters, El Araby called for an immediate cease-fire in Syria. He said Syria's military has withdrawn from inside cities, but snipers are still killing people and making it difficult to distinguish who is shooting whom.

The Arab League, which brings together 22 mostly-Muslim countries, has sent monitors to Syria to check on its compliance with a League plan for peace after a nine-month crackdown on anti-government protests. The plan requires the Syrian government to remove security forces and heavy weapons from the streets, start talks with the opposition, free political prisoners and allow monitors into the country.

The Arab League chief said 70 monitors are in six Syrian cities, with 30 more monitors joining them soon. He said the monitors have secured the release of about 3,500 prisoners in Syria so far. Al Arabi says that his organization and its observers' presence have helped residents in conflict zones secure food. His comments came as criticisms continue over the League's monitoring mission, which critics say has provided only cosmetic improvements to a ten-month conflict that the United Nations estimates has taken more 5,000 lives. As of now, dictator Bashr Assad's armored vehicles and artillery have retreated. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Tehran: U.S. Virtual Embassy A 'Virtual Den Of Spies'

January 2nd 2012

Iran - US Virtual Embassy Iran

Hours after its launch, the U.S. "virtual embassy" for Iran joined the tens of thousands of other websites, including Facebook and news sites, that have been banned by Iran.

U.S. State Department officials have expressed hope that Iranians will access the web-based embassy by using antifiltering tools.

Washington says it hopes the virtual embassy will be a bridge for communication between the American and Iranian people. Iranian officials, however, see things differently.

Senior lawmaker Heshmatollah Falahatpishe said that in launching its virtual embassy, the United States was publicly announcing that it's intent on recruiting spies among Iranians. Falahatpishe, who heads the parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, said that the "virtual embassy" was intended to put pressure on Iran. Read more ..

Oil Addiction Without a Plan

Iran Bluffing with Threat to Block Oil Passageway, Military Analysts Say

December 31st 2011

Iran - Strait of Hormuz

Iranian officials have been bluffing when they threaten to shut down the Strait of Hormuz so that “not even a drop of oil” would go through the key passageway, military analysts say. In reality, Iran has little ability to successfully blockade the strait - a gateway for nearly one-fifth of the world’s oil - and the U.S. Navy would overpower Iran’s military if it tried. “It’s a little bit hard to imagine when you start looking at nuts and bolts of how oil gets in and out of the area,” said Caitlin Talmadge, a George Washington University assistant professor who has studied the Strait of Hormuz.

Even if Iran did manage to close the strait, it would pay a heavy price, as doing so would also devastate the country’s own economy, which is heavily reliant on oil exports. Analysts say Iran can still cause problems in the strait that would cause oil prices to shoot upwards, even if the disruption would be small and short-lived. The threat of military escalation also could push oil prices higher even if no military action occurs. Read more ..

Edge on Terrorism

Nigerian Security Chiefs 'Worried' about Boko Haram Terror as Christians Hunker Down

December 30th 2011

Nigeria - Nigerian church burnt out by Boko Haram
Christian church bombed out by Boko Haram

There are conflicting reports that explosions rocked a mosque in the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri, even while local authorities claim that there were no explosions. Authorities did however report that there was a robbery that caused the deaths of at least three people, possibly attributable to the violent Boko Haram Islamic religious sect. The apparently false bomb report stunned the already jangled nerves of Nigeria that is still reeling after the fatal Christmas Day bombings that killed scores. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has summoned the Service Chiefs and other heads of the country’s security agencies to emergency meetings at the State House in Abuja, the capital city.

According to Air Chief Marshall Oluseyi Petinrin said that the president had been key decisions about national security. Inspector-General of Police Hafiz Ringim said the security chiefs and President Johnson reviewed the current security challenges and the way forward. Ringim said the security agencies were worried about the terrorist attacks in the county, “Well, we are all worried. Read more ..

Living With Verizon

Verizon Wireless, Pummeled by Mass Protests, Will Not Institute Single Payment Fee

December 30th 2011

Corporate Logos - Verizon Wireless Store

After receiving some 50,000 petition cancellation warnings in just two hours, VerizonWireless has decided it will not institute a $2 fee for online or telephone single payments as it announced earlier this week. The reviled fee rankled and astonished the nation. It triggered the type of instant consumer backlash that cost Bank of America billions in cash withdrawals, Netflix more than a million subscription cancellations, and Go-Daddy tens of thousands of domain transfers.

The $2 payment fee, which the company was unable to justify even to its own customer service staff, was particularly ironic since VerizonWireless's most advanced phones, such as the 4G Thunderbolt, don't work in most of the country, and even in the 40 isolated zones where they do work, services is spotty at best. Read more ..

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