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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 ..

The Battle for Syria

As Thousands March against Dictator Assad, Syrian Security continues to Kill Civilians

December 29th 2011

Syrian Issues - Syria death

As thousands protested across Syria against the government, activists say Syrian security forces killed at least 19 people on December 28, including some in an area visited by Arab League monitors.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least four of the deaths were in the Damascus suburb of Douma. It says security forces opened fire after thousands of people began protesting outside a mosque.  Some residents said Arab League observers were in the area at the time.

Earlier, the observers announced plans to visit the Daraa, Hama and Idlib regions to check on government pledges to halt the deadly crackdown and release political detainees. The monitors also said they will make unannounced visits.

On Decenber 27, activists and rights groups said government forces had killed at least 39 people since the monitors arrived on December 25, including six people shot in Hama. Government snipers currently rule entire neighborhoods, shooting at anyone who dares to cross into the open. Snipers seriously wounded a young woman in Damascus, who was seven months pregnant. Residents have resorted to throwing food and merchandise across conflictive city intersections in order to avoid snipers' bullets. Read more ..

No Plan for Oil Interruption

Nuclear Sub Equipped with Cruise Missiles Bound for Iran

December 29th 2011

Military - ohio class sub

This story is part of continuing coverage of the threat of an oil interruption as detailed in The Plan: How to Save America When the Oil Stops—or the Day Before (Dialog Press). Buy it here.

According to operational-level military sources, an Ohio-class nuclear submarine is on its way to the Gulf of Hormuz. Rotation and leave were cancelled for the cruise-missile carrying sub, which is based at the US Navy base in Bremerton, Washington.

Additionally, according to the source, on-shore resupply was cancelled and any necessary supplies will be delivered by helicopter. The crew was told to expect a deployment of at least six month’s time, with a possible intermediate stop at the US base at Diego Garcia – an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, which is a British possession. A rendezvous with a SEAL team before reaching the vicinity of Iran was also expected.

In a December 28 press conference, the US appeared to promise a significant response to Iranian threats to close the Straits of Hormuz, through which vital oil supplies emerge from the Arabian Peninsula to the world through a narrow sea passage. “This is not just an important issue for security and stability in the region, but is an economic lifeline for countries in the Gulf, to include Iran,” Pentagon press secretary George Little said. “Interference with the transit or passage of vessels through the Strait of Hormuz will not be tolerated.” A spokesperson for the US Navy 5th Fleet reportedly said that the United States is prepared to ensure freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz. Read more ..

No Plan for Oil Interruption

U.S. Promises to Counter 'Malevolent Actions' by Iran in the Gulf of Hormuz

December 29th 2011

Iran - Iranian Admiral Habibullah
Iranian Adm. Habibollah Sayyari

For the second time in two days, Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz.  Iranian officials warned they would shut down the world’s strategic oil passageway if the West imposes sanctions on Iran's oil shipments.  Now the U.S. has responded that it would answer any blockade forcefully.  The controversy revolves around Iran’s nuclear capabilities. 

More than a third of the world's oil flows through this narrow passageway called the Strait of Hormuz. But now, the channel is emerging as a bargaining chip in a war of threats, increasing in intensity.  The latest, the U.S. military says it will not tolerate any Iranian disruptions of oil shipments in the Strait of Hormuz.  The Bahrain-based U.S. Fifth Fleet stated that the navy is ready to "counter malevolent actions" to ensure freedom of navigation.

The threats and counterthreats come at a time when the Iranian navy is conducting war exercises in the strait and inevitably coming close to U.S warships.  Saeed Leilaz, a political analyst based in Tehran, says that magnifies the threat. "Two years ago, Iran's Supreme Leader had the Revolutionary Guards protect the Strait of Hormuz.  But regular naval forces are conducting the current war games," he said.  Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Arab Observers Visit Syria's Flashpoint City of Homs

December 28th 2011

Syrian Issues - Tanks Leaving Homs ahead of Ispectors
Tanks Leaving Homs ahead of Inspectors

Reports from the Syrian city of Homs say government forces have withdrawn some, but not all, of their tanks and armored personnel carriers from a flashpoint district as Arab League monitors visit parts of the city. Activists say 70,000 people took to the streets to welcome the observers.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators poured into the central square in Homs, shouting slogans against the government. The protesters came out in droves as Arab League observers visited parts of the city, including the embattled district of Bab Amr.

Witnesses reported that sporadic shooting and shelling continued in the district. A video posted on opposition websites showed vehicles accelerating to avoid gunfire. It is impossible to confirm the authenticity of such videos. Most foreign journalists are not being allowed into Syria. Read more ..

Religious Extremism

Israeli Police to Crack Down on Haredi Extremists in Beit Shemesh

December 28th 2011

Israel Topics - israeli protesters

The Israeli Police plan to deploy hundreds of additional officers in the central city of Beit Shemesh, the scene of rioting by Haredi extremists who have waged a months-long campaign against a Modern Orthodox girls school that has included violence and intimidation.

Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld says the additional police will be making on-the-spot arrests for anyone engaging in verbal or physical abuse.

“According to the law, verbal abuse and spitting are considered assaults,” Rosenfeld told The Jerusalem Post. “We’ve stepped up our presence around Beit Shemesh and will continue to work against illegal conduct.”

In addition, police will continue to take down signs calling for gender segregation on the city's sidewalks. Read more ..

Pakistan on Edge

Probe of November Airstrike Reveals Deep Mistrust between US, Pakistan Forces

December 28th 2011

PakistanTopics - Pakistani military brass

A deadly U.S. airstrike that killed nearly 30 Pakistani troops revealed a deep mistrust between American and Pakistani forces that permeates both militaries.

A month-long investigation into the incident uncovered several “miscommunications” between the two countries’ forces up and down their respective chains of command, Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark, of Air Force Special Operations Command, who led the investigation, said on December 22.

The strike, which occurred during the overnight hours of Nov. 25–26 when U.S. ground forces were attempting to raid a village when they came under fire, killed nearly 30 Pakistani troops at a border post in the northwestern part of that nation. The posts, which were still being erected, were located in the rugged Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.

Clark told reporters at the Pentagon via telephone that his investigation found fault on both sides. Read more ..

Inside China

Human Rights Advocate Chen Wei Gets Nine Years in Prison

December 27th 2011

China Topics - Chen Wei dissident

Sichuan dissident Chen Wei went on trial on December 23 at the Suining Municipal Intermediate People’s Court of Sichuan Province on charges of “inciting subversion of state power”. Chen’s defense lawyers, Zheng Jianwei and Liang Xiaojun, received Chen’s indictment on December 20 and entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf. However, the court found him guilty of the charges and sentenced him to nine years in prison. Attorney Jiangwei admonished the court, saying "Dictatorship will fall, democracy will prevail."

Chen was detained on February 20, 2011, and formally arrested on March 28. Following the Jasmine Revolution in North Africa and the Middle East earlier this year, Chinese authorities cracked down on dissidents, rights defense activists, petitioners, and lawyers. Many of these individuals were later released. Chen is one of the few who have been officially charged and facing criminal sanctions. Read more ..

Religious Intolerance

Nigerian Christians Angry and Fearful Following Christmas Day Carnage

December 27th 2011

Nigeria - Nigeria christmas day bomb

At least four bomb blasts rocked Nigeria, the most populous country on the African continent, killing more than 40 people on December 25. A bomb that detonated near a Catholic church in Madalla, Suleja, in Niger State on Christmas morning killed at least 15 people according to local reports, while residents rushed to provide aid to the stricken. In one case, an entire family was incinerated by the blast that detonated next to their car. The bomb at Madalla left a crater approximately three feet deep, a testimony to the severity of the blast.

Chaos ensued following another blast at an evangelical Christian church in the city of Jos, which has seen numerous murderous attacks by the Islamist Boko Haram terrorist organization. A spokesman for Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the attacks on Christmas Day. Outraged Nigerians demanded justice and an adequate response to the attacks.

Residents in northeastern Yobe state's town of Gadaka said a blast also struck a church there during Christmas services. Also in Yobe state, police in the state capital Damaturu said a car exploded. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Projected Capacitive Touch Screens now Mainstream in Mobile Devices

December 23rd 2011

Computer Topics - I-phone

An emerging configuration for projected capacitive touch screens is sensor-on-cover, also referred to as “one glass solution” or “touch on lens,” which requires the capability for on-cover lens finishing, as well as a new ITO patterning processes. “Sensor-on-cover touch devices are now being shipped by firms including Wintek and Cando,” said Jennifer Colegrove, PhD, Vice President of Emerging Display Technologies for NPD DisplaySearch. “With the benefit of thinner structure and lighter weight, DisplaySearch expects this approach to grow rapidly in 2012.”

Touch adoption in PCs—such as tablets, notebooks, and all-in-ones—could get a boost in 2012 by the release of Windows 8, which will be optimized for touch support. For example, a new feature called Metro will use live tiles to present information and control function of applications. The tiles are designed to be larger and less complicated than traditional user interface elements such as icons and menu, making them more suitable for touch input. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Republican Candidates Turn their Fire on Ron Paul’s Foreign Policy

December 23rd 2011

Congressional issues - Ron Paul
Rep. Ron Paul

The Republican presidential candidates turned their fire on Rep. Ron Paul at Thursday’s debate, showcasing what’s become the Texas Republican’s Achilles’ heel in the Republican primary: his foreign policy views.

Paul’s positions on national security remain his biggest obstacle to a realistic chance at the GOP nomination, even as he’s shot up in the polls in Iowa on his steadfast libertarian economic views. Paul called the war in Iraq “useless” Thursday and said Iran shouldn’t be bombed to stop it from getting nuclear weapons—positions loathed by many Republicans. Pundits give Paul a legitimate shot at winning the wide-open Iowa caucuses on his economic message, but say he’s unlikely to go much further.

In Paul’s 1988 and 2008 presidential campaigns, he was mostly viewed as a fringe candidate trying to publicize his views. But the libertarian’s economic message has been tailored to this year’s anti-government sentiment among GOP voters, and he’s slowly risen in the Iowa polls behind a fervent base. The disparity between Paul and the rest of the Republican field was on full display at Thursday’s Fox News debate, where the candidates who trail Paul escalated their attacks on him. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) called his positions on Iran “dangerous” as she and Paul had a terse exchange over whether the country is getting close to obtaining nuclear weapons. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Tea Party ‘Super PAC’ Going After Sen. Orrin Hatch

December 21st 2011

Congressional issues - Orrin Hatch

An outside spending group affiliated with the conservative Tea Party movement is targeting long-time Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch in 2012 for not being conservative enough.

FreedomWorks for America is a so-called “super PAC,” meaning it can accept unlimited donations from corporations, individuals and labor unions and spend the funds on advertising and other expenditures aimed at electing or defeating a candidate. The group recently reported to the Federal Election Commission that it spent more than $43,000 on expenditures to oppose Hatch, including payments to a Utah communications firm for research, a D.C.-based polling firm, an Oregon-based yard sign manufacturer and a North Carolina online services company. The group is affiliated with the conservative FreedomWorks 501(c4) nonprofit group, which also spends money on campaign advertising, but is not required to reveal its donors. Read more ..

The Koreas on Edge

South Korea Calls for Calm Following Kim Jong Il’s Death

December 20th 2011

Korea Topics - Lee Myung Bak (prez SK)
South Korean President Lee Myung Bak,

The South Korean government is calling for calm following the death of North Korean ruler Kim Jong-il. The December 19 announcement by the North Korea’s official broadcasting service caught most South Koreans by surprise and now casts uncertainty over future engagement with Pyongyang.

The South Korean government called an emergency cabinet meeting immediately following the announcement. Even though Kim Jong Il was rumored to be ill for some years, almost everyone here was caught off guard.

During a briefing, Choi Bo-sun, media secretary of the South Korean Ministry Unification, said the government is following protocol. He says the way the government needs to cope with this type of crisis is already laid out in the ministry’s manual. A monitoring team will watch all developments related to North Korea.

In a separate statement, President Lee Myung Bak urges citizens to be calm and carry on their normal lives. In Seoul, most South Koreans appeared to be heeding the president’s words.

Despite the uncertainty Kim Jong Il’s death casts on the future of North-South engagement as well as ongoing efforts to end Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions, many people here are unconcerned about developments up north.

Yu Mi Hyun, 25, who first heard about the news today at the office, says she didn’t think it was a big deal at first. But after talking with friends in the military, she now thinks the situation is serious and needs to be watched. Read more ..

North Korea After Kim

North Korea's Sudden Power Shift Raises Uncertainty

December 20th 2011

Asia Topics - Kim Jong Un

The death of longtime North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and promotion of his untested son Kim Jong Un as his successor is fueling uncertainty about the secretive and impoverished state. Our reporter looks at how North Korea's leadership transition may unfold and how that process may affect Pyongyang's domestic reforms and relations with regional powers. Kim Jong Un may be North Korea's next leader, but his influence within the North Korean leadership is not clear. His late father Kim Jong Il appointed him to several top posts, including four-star general, only last year. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

AT&T Abandons T-Mobile Merger

December 20th 2011

Technology - AT&T Logo

AT&T abandoned its $39 billion bid to buy T-Mobile on Monday, acknowledging that it couldn't overcome opposition from the Obama administration.

Both the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had moved to block the deal, arguing the merger of the second and fourth largest wireless carriers would stifle competition.

AT&T has agreed to pay T-Mobile's parent company, Deutsche Telekom, a $4 billion breakup fee.

 "The actions by the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice to block this transaction do not change the realities of the U.S. wireless industry," AT&T said in a statement. "It is one of the most fiercely competitive industries in the world, with a mounting need for more spectrum that has not diminished and must be addressed immediately. The AT&T and T-Mobile USA combination would have offered an interim solution to this spectrum shortage. In the absence of such steps, customers will be harmed and needed investment will be stifled." Read more ..

North Korea on Edge

Kim Jong Il Dead at Age 69

December 19th 2011

Korea Topics - kim-jong-il waves
Kim Jong-il

The secretive leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-il, is dead at the age of 69.

A tearful announcer dressed in black appeared on North Korean state television Monday morning and announced Kim Jong Il's death. She says Kim passed away on Saturday, from what she described as a “great mental and physical strain.” The official report says the North Korean leader had a heart attack while on a train during what it called a “field inspection.” It says every possible measure was taken to save his life, but that an autopsy on Sunday confirmed the cause of death. Kim is believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008 and has appeared visibly frail in the  limited number of photos recently released.

North Korea is a Communist country and has so far maintained a system of hereditary succession. Kim inherited North Korea's leadership from his father Kim Il Sung, who died in 1994. In September 2010, Kim Jong Il named his youngest son Kim Jong Un as his successor.

Peking University international relations professor Zhu Feng calls Kim's death “surprising.” “North Korea is not just some sort of failed state, but North Korea is also a dangerous state because it has the nuclear weapon," said Zhu. "So, then the sudden passing away of their top leader will certainly produce great worry, uncertainty and even instability.

Shortly after the announcement of Kim’s death, South Korea put its military on “high alert” and President Lee Myung-bak convened his national security council. The White House said President Barack Obama had been notified and U.S. officials are in touch with their South Korean and Japanese counterparts. Read more ..

Significant Lives

Václav Havel, Playwright and Former Czech President, Dead at 75

December 19th 2011

Czech Topics - vaclav havel

Dissident playwright and freedom fighter Václav Havel, a leader of Czechoslovakia’s anti-communist revolution in 1989, has died at his weekend house in the northern Czech Republic at the age of 75. He was a modest writer whose powerful words catapulted him from political prisoner to president.

Born in Prague three years before the outbreak of World War II, Václav Havel was persecuted by the communists who seized power in 1948 because his parents were wealthy. They would not allow Havel to receive a university education.

The plays Havel wrote in the early 1960s gained an international following. When he loudly protested the Warsaw Pact invasion of his homeland in 1968, his passport was confiscated. Read more ..

The Toxic Edge

Paper Mill Air Pollution Standards 25 Years Out of Date, Environmental Groups Sue EPA

December 18th 2011

Environment Topics - Smokestacks

Three advocacy groups sued the Environmental Protection Agency last week over concerns that regulations for paper mills emissions are 25 years out of date. Greenpeace, the Center for Biological Diversity and Port Townsend AirWatchers filed suit on Dec. 6 under a clause of the Clean Air Act that allows citizens to hold the EPA accountable for carrying out the provisions of the act.

The EPA last reviewed the New Source Performance Standards for kraft pulp mills in 1986. The mills use a chemical process to turn wood chips into pulp to make paper. The standards, by law, are supposed to be reviewed every eight years. “This is about how much pollution that people living near paper mills have to breathe,” said Helen Kang, the lawyer representing Greenpeace and Port Townsend AirWatchers. “Why does it take a lawsuit from the citizens to do a job that the agency has neglected for 25 years, when the duty is so clear?” Read more ..

The Arab Fall in Egypt

Egyptian Protesters, Military Police Clash in Cairo

December 16th 2011

Egypt - Egyptian
Egyptian police clear Tahrir Square

In Cairo, violent clashes between protesters and Egyptian military police began early Friday morning and grew larger throughout the afternoon.

A few hundred pro-democracy protesters staged a sit-in in front of Egypt's cabinet building since late November. Protesters said the pitched battle began when one activist, Abboudi Ibrahim, was detained by military police and badly beaten.

The clashes were confined to a broad avenue leading from Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo and several  smaller side streets. Throughout the afternoon, a handful of men in plainclothes pitched rocks from the roof of a government building onto jeering protesters in the streets below.

Other protesters said they were beaten by military police. The protesters armed themselves with stones, pitching them at Egyptian troops. Read more ..

Broken Banking

SEC Sues former Fannie & Freddie Execs for Misleading Investors and the Public

December 16th 2011

Economy - Foreclosure

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has sued six former executives at housing giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, alleging they misled the public and investors about the amount of risky mortgages in their portfolio.

The regulator filed two separate suits against the former heads of the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The former heads of Fannie and Freddie — Daniel Mudd and Richard Syron, respectively — were among those named in the suits.

In the claims, the SEC contends that as the housing bubble began to burst, the executives suggested to investors that the GSEs were not substantially exposed to sub-prime mortgages that were defaulting across the country. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Hundreds of North Korea Nuclear Experts Collaborate with Iran

December 15th 2011

Korea Topics - Kim Jong-IL

A diplomatic source has told the Korean Times that hundreds of North Korean nuclear and missile experts have been colluding with experts in Iran. The source claims that operations are taking place in no fewer than ten locations across the Islamic state.

The collaboration poses a new threat to the international community and adds weight to suspicions that North Korea is assisting Iran in its nuclear and missile programs. The communist state is also thought to be responsible for nuclear and missile proliferation in Syria, Myanmar and Pakistan. World leaders are keen to restrain the nuclear aspirations of Tehran and obstruct the trade of nuclear and weapons technology.

Speaking anonymously to The Korean Times, the source abstained from revealing a definitive number of North Koreans involved, for reasons of security, but claimed "Hundreds of North Korean nuclear and missile engineers and scientists have been working at more than 10 sites (in Iran), including Natanz and Qom." The Korean Times’ endeavored to contact the Iranian embassy in Seoul by telephone but was unsuccessful

Nuclear tests were carried out by North Korea in 2006 and 2009 and last year officials disclosed that a uranium enrichment facility is in operation. Highly enriched uranium is a component of nuclear weapons; coupled with Pyongyang’s plutonium program, North Korea has doubled its capacity to assemble nuclear bombs.

In November, Iran faced condemnation when a United Nations report said that the state appeared to have been working on nuclear weapons. The U.N intensified economic sanctions, hoping to increase the pressure on Tehran to halt its nuclear program. An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report states that it believes Iran "has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device" under a "structured program" until 2003, and "some activities may still be ongoing." Read more ..

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