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Pakistan on Edge

Mumtaz Qadri Sentenced to Death for Assassinating Punjab Governor

October 3rd 2011

PakistanTopics - Salmaan Taseer Sr
Salmaan Taseer, former governor of Punjab

Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, the self-confessed assassin of the former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, has been sentenced to death twice by the ATC (Anti Terrorism Court) Saturday morning at Adyala jail, Rawalpindi.

On 4th January Mumtaz Qadri, one of Taseer’s elite force guards, shot and killed the governor for his views on the blasphemy law outside a restaurant in Kohsar Market, Islamabad.

ATC Justice Syed Pervez Ali Shah, said "slaying the late governor was a heinous crime and there is no  justification to it."

Qadri had admitted before the judge that nobody intimidated him to murder the former governor. Qadri, a constable in the Punjab Police and a member of the Elite Force, tried to justify his act of assassination by stating that he killed Salman Taseer for supporting Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was accused of 295 /C and was sentenced to death. However Taseer believed that she had been wrongly convicted of committing blasphemy. Read more ..

The Drug Wars

The Other Forgotten War

September 26th 2011

Crime Topics - Drug War

As the Obama administration reviews its Afghanistan and Pakistan policy, looking for creative means to challenge extremist funding, the drug trade is increasingly coming into focus.

Afghanistan's booming narcotics industry generates much of the money that flows into terrorists' coffers, and increased production in recent years has overlapped with a sharp rise in Taliban attacks on coalition forces. Captured Taliban have confessed that most of their funding comes from the drug trade. And it is an open secret that much of Afghanistan's illicit money is through commodities and trade.

Indeed, Afghanistan's production of narcotics is greater than that of Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia combined. According to the United Nations Office of Drug Control (UNODC), Afghanistan accounts for more than 90 percent of the world's opium production and is the largest supplier of cannabis.

Opium is one of the few commodities Afghanistan produces that outsiders value. It is estimated that over one-third of Afghanistan's GDP is derived directly from narcotics activities. Some observers believe the narcotics industry makes up as much as half of Afghanistan's economy. In a country of high unemployment, the industry employs upward of one million laborers, from farmers to warehouse workers to truck drivers. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Who is Herman Cain and Where does He Get his Money?

September 26th 2011

Politics - Herman Cain

Georgia businessman and former talk radio host Herman Cain won an upset victory in the Presidency 5 GOP straw poll on the evening of September 25 in Florida. Cain, a Tea Party favorite, secured 37 percent of the vote. Texas Gov. Rick Perry finished a distant second, with about 15.4 percent of the vote. And former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney finished third, with about 14 percent of the vote.

Who is Herman Cain, and who is funding his presidential campaign?

Cain is the former head of the National Restaurant Association. It was in a leadership role with this group that Cain challenged then-President Bill Clinton about Clinton's proposed health care reforms at a town hall meeting in Kansas City, Mo., in 1993. Cain, who was the chief executive officer of Godfather's Pizza, would ultimately serve as the trade group's president and CEO. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Gov. Rick Perry Steals some of Obama's Fire while Meeting with New York Jewish Community

September 21st 2011

Politics - Gov Rick Perry
Gov. Rick Perry (R) of Texas

Texas governor Rick Perry told a news conference on September 20 that President Barack Obama’s approach to Mideast policy is “naive, arrogant, misguided, and dangerous,” while also asserting that the incumbent presidency to exact concessions from Israel had weakened the Jewish state and emboldened the Palestinian leadership into refusing to directly negotiate over statehood and take their bid to the United Nations. The news conference followed a meeting in New York City wherein the Texan spoke with leaders of the Jewish community in the U.S. and Israel.

Appearing on his coat-tails was newly-elected Rep. Bob Turner (R) who replaced former Rep. Anthony Weiner, the disgraced Democrat of the 9thCongressional district of New York in a special election. Read more ..

Cuba On Edge

Bill Richardson Meets with Cuban Officials, Alan Gross Remains a Prisoner

September 20th 2011

Cuba Topics - free the Cubans

Former Governor and New Mexico Congressman Bill Richardson was invited by Cuban officials to Havana on September 7, 2011 to discuss the perplexing case of Alan Gross. Gross was arrested in July 2009 while working on a secret agenda in Cuba with a United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded democracy-promotion program.

A Cuban court convicted Gross of crimes against the state for smuggling illegal satellite equipment into the country. Whether he was a guileless victim of a CIA-USAID plot to use a human-rights scenario to allegedly further weaken Castro’s rule (just as Havana was undergoing a transition to normal relations with Washington) is a position that had been heatedly opposed by the Miami Castro-bashers and outgoing Bush administration desperate to thwart any constructive developments taking place between the two countries. Read more ..

War Against the Weak

Official Report finds 'Unconscionable' Violations of Ethics in 1940s U.S. Syphilis experiments in Guatemala

September 13th 2011

Latin American Topics - Guatemala syphilis victim Marta Orellana
Marta Orellana, victim of U.S. syphilis experiment in Guatemala

The Obama administration released on September 13 the results of an investigation U.S. Public Health Service into reports of unethical medical experiments undertaken by the United States with the cooperation of the Guatemalan government in the 1940s. “In the Commission’s view, the Guatemala experiments involved unconscionable basic violations of ethics, even as judged against the researchers’ own recognition of the requirements of the medical ethics of the day,” said Amy Gutmann, Ph.D., chair of Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. “The individuals who approved, conducted, facilitated and funded these experiments are morally culpable to various degrees for these wrongs.” The PHS research involved intentionally exposing and infecting vulnerable populations to sexually transmitted diseases without the subjects’ consent.

Following the revelation in 2010 that the PHS supported research on sexually transmitted diseases in Guatemala from 1946 to 1948, President Obama asked the Bioethics Commission to oversee a thorough fact-finding investigation into the studies. The full report, Ethically Impossible: STD Research in Guatemala from 1946-1953, also includes the Commission’s ethical analysis of the case. The report has been posted on the Commission’s website, www.bioethics.gov. Read more ..

Egypt after Mubarak

Egyptian Christians Worry over Attack on Israeli embassy as Break with the Past

September 12th 2011

Egypt - Egyptian protests at Israeli embassy

Referring to the Egyptian rioters inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood, Rev. Giovanni Esti - a Catholic priest and missionary of the Comboni order - said "The attack on the Israeli embassy is a clear act of breaking with the past." On September 9, mobs sacked the Israeli embassy, destroying and tossing equipment and documents into the street. Israeli ambassador Yitzhak Levanon as well as other embassy personnel and their families were safely flown home that day, while Egyptian commandos managed to extract six Israeli guards from the embassy compound who were embattled by the violent protesters. This is the most serious incident so far in the rapidly deteriorating relationship between Israel and Egypt. 

According to the Fides news service, Rev. Esti observed, "It was a proof of strength, a gesture of breaking with the past. A 'sacred' place was violated, which under Mubarak's regime would never have been attacked in that way." Rev. Esti, who lives in Cairo, was an eyewitness to the attack. "We saw the group that attacked the Israeli embassy. It is hard to think that it was a spontaneous event. It was a planned event. This attack was carried out by recruited football fans. What is most disturbing is that the embassy was not adequately defended," said the missionary. Read more ..

Nigeria on Edge

UN Urges Nigeria to Stop Ethnic, Religious Violence

September 9th 2011

Nigeria - Violence in Jos

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is calling for an end to ethnic and religious violence in Nigeria’s “Middle Belt,” particularly in and around the city of Jos. U.N. officials want national and local authorities to address the underlying causes of the deadly attacks.

Violent ethnic and religious clashes erupted early last month in Nigeria’s so-called Middle Belt causing death, injury and destruction. The United Nations reports about 70 people have been killed so far.

Ethnic and religious divisions have affected this region for many years, provoking a cycle of violence and deadly reprisal attacks. Nigeria's Middle Belt divides the predominantly Christian south from the mainly Muslim north. Read more ..

The Battle for Libya

Battles Loom for Key Gadhafi Outposts

September 9th 2011

Libya - Libyan rebels

Libya’s provisional military leaders have sent reinforcements to towns still held by forces loyal to deposed leader Moammar Gadhafi, ahead of a Saturday deadline for the loyalists to surrender. Correspondents report from Tripoli that international pressure on Gadhafi has also increased, with Interpol issuing a warrant for his arrest.

Anti-Gadhafi fighters skirmished with his supporters Friday near Bani Walid and Sirte, two of the last towns held by loyalist forces. Gadhafi’s supporters fired Grad rockets at forces for the National Transitional Council near Bani Walid, while NATO aircraft struck a Gadhafi weapons depot near the town. Read more ..

Turkey and Israel

Naval Clash in the Offing for Israel and Turkey

September 9th 2011

Israeli Military - Israeli Navy

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey threatened on September 8 to have Turkish warships escort aid ships travelling from his country to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Tensions in the eastern Mediterranean have been high due to the distinct chill in military and diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey.

Turkey has denounced Israel’s blockade of Gaza ports and has demanded an apology for the deaths of Turkish nationals who were killed in 2010 onboard a pro-Palestinian flotilla by Israeli commandos. Erdogan also said that Turkey had taken steps to stop Israel from unilaterally exploiting natural resources from the eastern Mediterranean, according to Al Jazeera's translation of excerpts of an interview. Read more ..

The Violent Roads of Mexico

Binational Sting Yields Arrest of American who Bought Grenade parts On-Line and Smuggled to Mexico

September 8th 2011

Crime Topics - Jean Baptiste Kingery
Jean Baptiste Kingery

An American citizen, Jean Baptiste Kingery (40), is being held by Mexican authorities for allegedly smuggling grenade parts from the United States to a powerful and dangerous Mexican drug gang based in Sinaloa, on Mexico’s Pacific coast. Police arrested him last week as part of a binational investigation. He is alleged to have smuggled through the border town of Mexicali in the Mexican state of Baja California at least one hundred parts for grenades and firearms. The Illinois native allegedly bought the weapons over the internet and in stores in the United States. Mexican drug gangs frequently use hand grenades when combating police and soldiers, who are struggling to destroy the drug trade. Kingery’s arrest has been taken as a sign that Mexican gangs are now fabricating their own weapons. The Sinaloa criminal organization is headed by Mexico’s most-wanted criminal: Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, a.k.a. Shorty.

Mexican federales captured Kingery at a house in the Pacific tourist town of Mazatlan in Sinaloa state, where they seized a small cache of guns and found a Hummer sports utility vehicle. The parts smuggled by Kingery allowed Mexican criminals to kill scores of people in bars, nightclubs, and public squares in Mexico. In addition, Mexican police raided five other homes, finding manufacturing facilities for assembling grenades, including gunpowder and grenade triggers, pins and caps. In April 2011, Mexican police in Baja California arrested two men possessing 192 grenade casings in Baja California. They confessed that they were part of an arms smuggling gang. That sting led to the arrest of an American citizen who then led police to Kingery. Read more ..

Mexico's Wars

Failed 'Fast and Furious' Campaign by ATF Yields Novel Defense for accused Narcotrafficker

September 8th 2011

Mexican Topics - Jesus Zambada Niebla

Many people interested in security in Mexico and the Mexican cartels will turn their attention to Chicago in the next few days. Sept. 11 is the deadline for the U.S. government to respond to a defense discovery motion filed July 29 in the case of Jesus Vicente Zambada Niebla, aka “El Vicentillo.” El Vicentillo is the son of Ismail “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia, a principal leader of the Sinaloa Federation. While not as well-known as his partner, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, El Mayo nevertheless is a very powerful figure in Mexico’s cartel underworld, and one of the richest men in Mexico.

The Mexican military arrested El Vicentillo in March 2009 in an exclusive Mexico City neighborhood. Grand juries in Chicago and Washington had indicted El Vicentillo on drug smuggling charges, prompting the United States to seek his extradition from Mexico. Upon his February 2010 extradition, it was decided he would first face the charges pending against him in the Northern District of Illinois. According to the Justice Department, El Vicentillo is “one of the most significant Mexican drug defendants extradited from Mexico to the United States since Osiel Cardenas Guillen, the accused leader of the notorious Gulf Cartel, was extradited in 2007.” Read more ..

America on Edge

Declining Residential Segregation in U.S. Metropolitan areas and Waning American "Apartheid"

September 8th 2011

Social Topics - American apartheid

The ideal of equal housing opportunities is closer to becoming a reality in most major U.S. metro areas, according to a University of Michigan researcher.

"While black-white segregation remains high in many places, there are reasons to be optimistic that 'apartheid' no longer aptly describes much of urban America," said Reynolds Farley, an investigator at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR) who studies racial segregation in the United States.

According to Farley, residential segregation is a lens to assess whether the U.S. has achieved the equality symbolized by the 2008 Presidential election, when the Obama family moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

"Where you live determines much about what happens to your family, including where your children go to school, how easily you can access healthcare—and the quality of that care, your exposure to crime, the quality of your municipal services, your local tax rates, your access to fresh, healthy food, and whether your home appreciates or declines in value," said Farley, who has a special interest in the City of Detroit and maintains a website about the history and future of the Motor City. Read more ..

Turkey and Israel

Tensions between Israel and Turkey spill over into NATO

September 7th 2011

Turkish Topics - Tayyip Erdogan

Tensions are rising within NATO as Turkey declared that its navy is stepping up its patrols of the eastern Mediterranean as the rift between the Muslim-majority country deepened with Israel. Turkey, which has a secular government that is currently ruled by a nationalist party with Islamist leanings, also declared on Septebmer 5 that it would work for the recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations. The level of tension between Israel and Turkey was jacked up when Turkey demanded that Israeli diplomats had by two days to leave Turkey.

This comes after Turkey’s ejection of Israel’s ambassador last week after Israel refused to apologize for Israel’s boarding of a Gaza-bound flotilla. An Israeli boarding party was met by pro-Palestine activists on board a Turkish flag vessel who were armed with knives and bludgeons. Nine activists dead in the affray, while Israel has expressed regret for the loss of lives.

The United States is concerned about tensions between Israel and Turkey and Ankara’s threats to slap additional sanctions on Israel. The U.S. is endeavoring to ameliorate differences between the two parties, said U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland. Read more ..

After the Holocaust

Newly Discovered Documents Reveal Gold Meir called for the Bombing of Auschwitz

September 5th 2011

Israel Topics - Golda Meir

Holocaust researchers have discovered new documents revealing that Golda Meir was among Jewish leaders who attempted to persuade the Roosevelt administration to bomb the Auschwitz death camp.

According to a report published by the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, the future prime minister of Israel, who was a senior official of the Histadrut in the 1940s, forwarded an appeal to her organization's U.S. representative, Israel Mereminski, for U.S. officials to destroy the camp and the railway leading to it.

In the 1940s, Mrs. Meir, known as Goldie Myerson, was a senior official of the Histadrut, the powerful Jewish labor federation in British Mandatory Palestine. She and her colleagues received many harrowing messages from their Labor Zionist colleagues in Europe about Nazi atrocities.

The authors of one such message located by the Wyman Institute described themselves as "separated from you by a sea of blood and continents heaped with corpses."

In an exchange of correspondence uncovered by the Wyman Institute, Mrs. Meir forwarded one of the European messages to the Histadrut's U.S. representative, Israel Mereminski, in July 1944 together with an appeal to ask U.S. officials to undertake "the bombing of Oswienzim [Auschwitz] and railway transporting Jews" to the death camp [Typographical error in the original telegram. "Oswiecim" was the Polish name for Auschwitz].

Meir's appeal was cosigned by another Histadrut official, Heschel Frumkin. Mereminski replied that he contacted the U.S. government's War Refugee Board, which in turn submitted "to competent authorities" the Meir-Frumkin request for "destruction gas chambers, crematories, and so forth." Read more ..

Pakistan on Edge

Pakistani Non-Muslims Seek Answers about Abduction of Prominent Muslim Businessman

September 2nd 2011

PakistanTopics - Shahbaz taseer
Shahbaz Tasser

Members of minority religions in Pakistan, which is predominately Muslim, are prepared to “take to the streets for the salvation of the Muslim Shahbaz Tasser", kidnapped a week ago. Tasser is the son of a prominent Muslim businessman and politician who was murdered earlier this year after he had criticized Pakistan’s draconian Islamic blasphemy laws.

According to FIDES news service, Paul Bhatti - Special Adviser to the Prime Minister of Religious Minorities Affairs and leader of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), the largest organization of leaders and members of minority religious communities (Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and others) in Pakistani – following Tasser’s abduction in broad daylight in Lahore. While Tasser had been assigned bodyguards by Pakistan’s government, they were not on hand at the time of his abduction, and are now under investigation. No word as to Tasser’s condition has emerged. Read more ..

The Battle for Libya

Libyan Rebels Will Not Extradite Lockerbie Bomber

August 29th 2011

Libya - Abdelbaset al-Megrahi (Lockerbie bomber) Welcomed to Libya
Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s Welcome to Libya

Libya’s rebel government said August 28 that it will not extradite Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Libyan man convicted in the 1988 bombing of a U.S.-bound jetliner which killed 270 people when it exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Mohammed al-Alagi, the Transitional National Council’s justice minister, told reporters in Tripoli that Abdel Baset al-Megrahi already has been tried and convicted in Scotland for bombing Pan Am flight 103. He said the rebels will not hand over Libyan citizens as former leader Moammar Gadhafi did.

Later Sunday, CNN television reported that al-Megrahi had been found in Tripoli and appeared “near death.”

Nic Robertson, a correspondent for the network, said he found al-Megrahi at a spacious villa in the Libyan capital guarded by at least six security cameras and attended to by relatives. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Al Gore Bashes Rick Perry on Claims that Scientists Manipulate Data for Money

August 27th 2011

Politics - Gov Rick Perry
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R)

Former Vice President Al Gore on August 26 bashed the notion that climate scientists are manipulating data for financial gain, a charge levied by global warming skeptics, including GOP White House hopeful Rick Perry. “This is an organized effort to attack the reputation of the scientific community as a whole, to attack their integrity, and to slander them with the lie that they are making up the science in order to make money,” Gore said in an online interview.

“These scientists don’t make a lot of money. They are comfortable, as they should be, but they don’t make a lot of money. That is not their motivation for doing what they do,” Gore added.

His comments came in a wide-ranging interview with Alex Bogusky, a prominent former advertising executive who is working with Gore on the former vice president’s Climate Reality Project. Read more ..

Edge on Terrorism

Deadly al Qaeda-linked Car Bomb Levels U.N. building and Rocks Nigeria's Capital

August 26th 2011

Africa Topics - Nigeria car bomb

A car bombing in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, has leveled part of a U.N. building and killed at least 18 people.

Witnesses say the explosion occurred late morning on August 26 when a car rammed through two gates and into the U.N. compound.

Former VOA employee Josephine Kamara dropped her husband off for work at the U.N. building shortly before the blast. She described the scene in an interview, saying "All the way up to the top floor, there are shattered windows. There is debris. There are mangled iron rods all over the place."

The eyewitness continued, "I see a lot of the U.N. staff's family members are standing out here. Also, it looks like the entire Abuja police force has actually come to the U.N. building. They are trying to get casualties out. Those that are badly hurt have been taken to the hospital."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has condemned the attack. "Around 11 a.m. this morning local time, the UN house in the Nigeria capital Abuja was struck by a car bomb. These buildings house 26 humanitarian and development agencies of the UN family. This was an assault on those who devote their lives to helping others," he said. Read more ..

War Against the Weak

Author Black Lectures at Virginia Tech on Eugenic Genocide

August 26th 2011

Book Covers - War Against the Weak

Award-winning author and investigative journalist Edwin Black will deliver a multimedia presentation entitled, "Eugenics-- From Virginia to Auschwitz" on August 28 at the campus of Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg VA. Virginians from across the state will be driving to the campus to hear Black speak. Among the groups will be groups of Native Americans victimized by state eugenics.

Black's many books have included IBM and the Holocaust, The Farhud, and War Against the Weak. The latter of these recounts the growth of the pseudo-science known as eugenics that was funded by corporate America and which sought to eliminate so-called ‘unfit’ people such as African-Americans, Native Americans, and the poor, through sterilization abetted by local and state governments. Black follows the connections between American eugenicists and their funders and supporters, such as Henry Ford and the Carnegie Institution, to Adolf Hitler and the logical terminus of their inhuman philosophy in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

Author Black uses exhaustive research and dynamic literary style to bring alive the testimony of the victims of pseudo-science and intolerance in our own country and abroad. He will stop at Virginia Tech while travelling as a scholar-in-residence invited to North Carolina where, after speaking at several major universities, he will address the state legislature, which is currently considering legislation offering compensation to victims of forced sterilization. Click here to see lecture schedule.

In the early twentieth century and into the 1930s, over 60,000 people in the U.S. were forcibly sterilized in state institutions. The sterilizations were justifed because of the alleged criminality (generally poverty) of the victims, their race, intelligence, or perceived promiscuity, among other reasons. Virginia was the epicenter of the rash of sterilizations, having been the first place were eugenic genocide took place under official auspices. In next door North Carolina, over 7,600 people sterilizations took place that were assigned by a state eugenics board. Some victims were as young as 10 years old. This was done, said Black, to ostensibly improve the human race by eliminating undesirable humans. Read more ..

The Battle for Libya

Libyan Rebels using Unmanned Micro-Helicopters Made in Canada

August 25th 2011

Technology - Aeryon Labs Scout

Unmanned aerial vehicles are nothing new to the U.S. military, which has used them extensively for reconnaissance and combat in the Mideast and Central Asia. Larger UAVs, piloted remotely from the U.S., have condeucted reconnaissance overflights as well as missile attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example. U.S. military personnel in theatre are also using smaller versions.

But until recently no such technology was available to the rebels fighting to overthrow the four-decades-long dictator of Muammar Gadhafi of Libya. Aeryon Labs, a firm based in Canada, has provided their UAVs that are flying high over the oil-rich country and contributing to the eventual downfall of the dictator. Units of the Libyan rebels received training from Aeryon and have been using them to gather intelligence the positions of Libyan government forces and coordinate resistance efforts. Read more ..

The Battle for Libya

Libyan Rebels’ Immediate Security Concerns

August 23rd 2011

Libya - Rebels Advancing on Tripoli

Since Libyan National Transitional Council forces entered the capital city, the council’s two top officials have issued statements to remind the rebels that victory is not assured. Though the rebel council has announced the end of the Moammar Gadhafi era, it also continues to warn that areas of Tripoli remain unpacified, loyalist strongholds remain in the cities of Sirte and Sabha, and some loyalist forces could be on their way to the capital from the city of Zlitan.


Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, head of Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC), and the other top-ranking NTC official, Mahmoud Jibril, have issued several statements since NTC forces entered the city of Tripoli on Aug. 21. The leaders’ statements were meant to temper the behavior of the rebels, who feel victory is at hand, and allay international concerns that Libya could soon descend into chaos. The NTC also wants to assure residents of areas that were until recently under Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s control that NTC forces mean them no harm. Re-establishing security is the NTC’s main goal, but obstacles remain. Read more ..

Edge on Politics

US Post Offices Targeted for Closure are in GOP Congressional Districts

August 22nd 2011

Social Topics - Post Office closed

A large majority of post offices that have been targeted for closure are in Republican districts.

More than 2,500 of these post offices are in GOP districts, while about 1,000 are in districts represented by Democrats, according to a review by The Hill. There were fewer than 100 stores where the district could not be determined because the zip code is represented by lawmakers in both parties.

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has stressed that politics played no role in determining which sites to shutter, noting that it adhered to a strict methodology for choosing them. USPS used a computer program to select the offices on a range of factors, including revenue and workload.

The closures would save about $200 million annually for the ailing USPS, which has urged the end of its Saturday service. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Approval Rating for Congress Hits an All-Time Low

August 22nd 2011

Politics - US Capital Day

Americans' approval of Congress tied an all-time low in a new Gallup poll released on August 16, underscoring the sour opinion facing lawmakers during their August recess. Just 13 percent of U.S. adults said they approve of the way Congress is handling its job, tying a previous low point set in December of 2010, during the lame-duck session.

Disapproval of Congress hit an all-time high of 84 percent, eclipsing by one point the 83 percent disapproval rating that lawmakers were given in that same December edition of the poll.

The new Gallup results are in keeping with a series of negative indicators for lawmakers since they completed their work earlier this month and left town after hashing out a last-minute compromise to avoid defaulting on the nation's debt.

Approval of Congress slipped to 21 percent in the immediate aftermath of the debt deal, and just 24 percent of Americans said that most members of Congress deserved reelection. (Fifty-six percent said their own representative deserved reelection, not an all-time low, but still a dismal number relative to past levels.) Read more ..

Inside the Mideast

Americans Eager to Fight for Israel

August 22nd 2011

Israeli Military - Israeli recruits

On August 16, hundreds of Americans emigrating to Israel landed at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel. Of the 360 arrivals, an unprecedented 104 came to enlist in the Israeli defense forces. Brig. Gen. Eli Shermeister, the Chief Education Officer, was among a delegation of officials on hand to greet the 18 to 22 year-olds volunteers. "It's an honor to have you join the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) and the Israeli nation," the brigadier said. "There are no words to describe my appreciation for you, your courage and the Zionistic values you hold. The State of Israel is coping with security threats every day and defending its security is the main goal of the IDF."

Shermeister told the new immigrants he is proud that the IDF "is an army that focuses on educating the youth and building Israeli society. Those of you who will soon be soldiers, I promise you: there is a special place for every single one of you in the IDF." Also on hand was the Minister of Immigrant Absorption, Sofa Landver, who also welcomed the new recruits. "Young people coming to Israel to enlist in the army strengthen not only the country's defense but also the national strength," she said. Read more ..

America's Economy on Edge

FitchRatings Affirms US Credit is Still A-OK

August 16th 2011

Economy - Filthy Lucre

The United States is still a solid AAA country in the eyes of FitchRatings, as the credit rating agency affirmed the nation's top rating on August 16.

Notably, the rater also assigned a stable outlook on that rating over the long-term, setting itself apart as relatively optimistic about the nation's overall fiscal picture.

However, it did offer its own warnings to the freshly minted congressional "supercommittee." It warned that if the group of 12 lawmakers fail to find at least $1.2 trillion in deficit cuts as charged by their mandate, or if the nation's economy falters more than expected, the AAA rating could be given a negative outlook. Such a designation would mean Fitch would be likely to downgrade the nation's rating within two years.

It noted that while its economy beats all its peers, its fiscal picture is also worse than most of its fellow AAA-rated nations. Fitch said America's fiscal health has "deteriorated sharply." Read more ..

Tunisia After the Revolt

Justice is Elusive in Tunisia, where the Arab Spring was Sprung

August 16th 2011

Arab Topics - Tunisia wailing woman
Umm Zine Nceri, mother of Adel Hammami.

The central Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid is considered the birthplace of the North African country's historic January revolution, which triggered copycat protests across the Arab world. But as Tunisia prepares for its first democratic elections in October, discontent remains high. A July demonstration in Sidi Bouzid turned violent, killing a young boy.

There isn't much to see in Sidi Bouzid... a few government buildings, a small market where men sell fruit and Tunisia's strong, sweet red tea.

And a taxi stand that 41-year-old resident Ridha Bargougui shows visitors. It was here where an angry, 26-year-old vegetable seller, Mohammed Bouazizi, set himself on fire. His act triggered Tunisia's uprising that kicked out long-time dictator Zine el-Abidine ben Ali - and the broader Arab Spring uprising that followed. Read more ..

Inside the Mideast

Palestinian Journalist held by Israel over Activities in Afghanistan

August 16th 2011

Palestine Topics - Samer Allawi

A journalist for Al-Jazeera TV appeared before an Israeli tribunal on August 16. Samer Allawi, the network's bureau chief in Kabul, had been visiting his hometown in the West Bank region. The Arabic-language network says Israel arrested Samer Allawi on August 10 as he was trying to cross into Jordan at the Allenby gate. He had been vacationing in the Palestinian village of Sebastia for three weeks prior to his arrest. He is being held at the Betah Tekva facility. Allawi bears a Jordanian passport.

The journalist's family told his employer that Israel informed them his arrest was “security-related.” According to VOA, the Committee to Protect Journalists says Israel arrested Allawi without providing any justification. The advocacy group is calling on Israel's government to clarify the reasons for the journalist's arrest.

There was no immediate comment from Israeli authorities on the matter.

"Israel must clarify why it continues to hold Samer Allawi," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, of the New York-based CPJ. "Our concern for Allawi's well-being and his legal rights is amplified with every passing day that he is held without due process." The advocacy group has written to Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak saying it is "alarmed by a recent spate of press freedom violations ... including detentions, censorship, harassment, and physical attacks by Israeli soldiers." Read more ..

The Battle for Libya

Libyan Rebels Tighten the Noose around Gadhafi's Regime

August 16th 2011

Libya Topics - Libyan freedom fighter
Libyan anti-Gadhafi rebel

Just a day after dictator Muammar Gadhafi launched a SCUD missile into the Libyan desert, rebels in the oil-rich country were threatening to isolate the capital, Tripoli, on August 16 as they captured key towns to the south and west of the city and work to cut off supply routes in their bid to oust the decades-old regime. The rebels claim to control most of Zawiya, a strategic town 50 kilometers west of Gadhafi's power base in Tripoli.

Rebel fighters entered Zawiya on August 13 in their closest approach to the capital since government forces crushed Zawiya's rebel movement in the early weeks of the uprising. Gadhafi’s forces exchanged fire with rebels in Zawiya on August 15, trying to push them back from the town center. Read more ..

The Computing Edge

New Internet Anti-Censorship Scheme Makes the Blocking of Websites Impossible

August 13th 2011

Computer Topics - Shadowy Computer User

A radical new approach to thwarting Internet censorship would essentially turn the whole web into a proxy server, making it virtually impossible for a censoring government to block individual sites.

The system is called Telex, and it is the brainchild of computer science researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Waterloo in Canada. It was presented at the USENIX Security Symposium held in San Francisco earlier this month.

"This has the potential to shift the arms race regarding censorship to be in favor of free and open communication," said J. Alex Halderman, assistant professor of computer science and engineering at U-Michigan and one of Telex's developers. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Assad Unleashes Deadly new Attacks on Civilians

August 7th 2011

Syrian Issues - Syria - bombardment of Hama
Artillery fire strikes Hama

Syria's military has launched an offensive against the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, even as international pressure builds on the government to end its crackdown on a popular uprising. There has also been violence in Houleh in Homs province. Activists say at least 55 people have been killed in the unrest across Syria on Sunday. These casualty reports have not been confirmed because independent journalists are not allowed to go into the region.

Deir el-Zour

Tanks and troops moved into Deir el-Zour before dawn on August 7, and witnesses say gunfire and blasts can be heard across the city. Read more ..

America's Economic Edge

Fixing America's Credit Rating May Take Nearly two Decades--says S&P

August 7th 2011

Economy - John Chambers, S & P
John Chambers, S & P Chairman

John Chambers, the chairman of Standard & Poor’s sovereign debt ratings, estimated that it could take between 9 and 18 years for the nation to regain its AAA credit rating. Speaking on August 7, Chambers said the credit agency could further downgrade the national rating depending on whether President Obama and congressional leaders can agree on reducing the deficit. He put the chances of another drop in credit rating at one in three.

Chambers said if the nation’s fiscal scenario worsens or political gridlock becomes more entrenched, “that could lead to a downgrade.” Read more ..

The Race for Solar

White House Budget Office Raised Risk on Big Solar Loan Guarantee

August 2nd 2011

Energy Topics - solyndra HQ

The White House budget office raised flags about the first energy loan guarantee awarded under the Obama administration, adding another layer of questions to the taxpayer backed financing now at the center of a House investigation.

In 2009, as the Department of Energy pushed to close the $535 million loan guarantee to California solar panel maker Solyndra Inc., the Office of Management and Budget concluded the financing was a greater risk to taxpayers than did DOE. That higher risk rating, in turn, forced the government to set aside more money in case the company defaults on payments.

The Department of Energy pressed ahead, formally approving the deal in September 2009 while portraying the Solyndra loan guarantee as a symbol of President Obama’s quest to spread green energy projects with government backing. Read more ..

Egypt After Mubarak

Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists appear to Agree on Islamic state in Egypt

August 2nd 2011

Egypt - Egypt riot police clear Tahrir

Egyptian military and police on August 1 forcibly cleared Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the place where the revolution was played out against former dictator Hosni Mubarak. Hundreds of people were arrested in the affray. Demonstrators had camped for days in the streets demanding justice for those responsible for killings during the protests in January and February. Mubarak is to stand trial on August 3. The clean sweep followed a massive rally by Islamists following Friday prayers on July 29. Muslims around the world are now observing a period of fasting known as Ramadan.

Civilians joined riot police backed by military and armoured vehicles to dismantled the tents and temporary structures in Tahrir Square where pro-democracy protesters had been encamped for weeks. Police fired shots in the area and used electrified clubs on protesters who were swept from the place were thousands had demanded the ouster of Mubarak during the early months of the year. The April 6 movement and other pro-democracy advocates, along with the families of protesters killed this year, were far outnumbered in the square by Islamists. Read more ..

Edge of Justice

Americans' Right to List Israel as Place of Birth Reaches Supreme Court

August 1st 2011

Politics - Federal Court Building

The renowned law firm of Lewin & Lewin filed a brief on July 29 in the case of Menachem Zivotofsky v. Secretary of State Clinton (No. 10-699) which will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in November. At issue is the right of an American citizen, born in Jerusalem to self-identify as being born in "lsrael" on his or her U.S. passport and and birth certificate.

In 2002, Congress passed a law that directed the Secretary of State to record the birthplace of American citizens born in Jerusalem as "Israel" on such documents for American citizens who so request it. Since the bill's enactment, the Executive branch has refused to enforce the law, claiming that to do so would infringe on the President's authority to "recognize foreign sovereigns." Read more ..

Egypt after Mubarak

Militants Attack Sinai Gas Pipeline Supplying Israel and Jordan

July 30th 2011

Egypt - Hijab and flag

Gunmen destroyed a natural gas facility along a pipeline leading from Egypt to Israel on July 30 in northern Sinai Peninsula. The attack occurred at Sheikh Zuayed near El-Arish, the terminal which is the main liquefying station for gas exported to Israel and Jordan from Egypt. This is the third such attack on the same pipeline this month and the fifth since the 18-day uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in February. No gas has been flowing through the pipeline since the last attack on the pipeline on July 12.

The attack came a day after a huge demonstration in Cairo’s Tahrir Square where thousands of ultraconservative Salafist Muslims and members of the Muslim Brotherhood far outnumbered other Egyptian groups. Chants calling for the imposition of Islamic law, known as Shariah, were evident as opposed to the calls for democracy heard during February’s demonstrations.

Egyptian authorities said that insurgents destroyed the gas terminal in al-Shulaq, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from Egypt's border with the Gaza Strip. It is the last terminal before the pipeline enters the sea on its way to Israel. The attackers arrived in a truck, fired rocket-propelled grenades at the terminal and then detonated dynamite on the inside. Security at the terminal was minimal, which contained no gas, and no injuries were reported. No explosions or flame was reported. Read more ..

Edge on Terrorism

Thwarted Terrorist Attack at Fort Hood TX

July 28th 2011

Military - Naser Jason Abdo

An AWOL U.S. soldier was arrested the evening of July 27 on an outstanding child pornography warrant in Killeen, Texas, and is suspected to have been plotting an attack on Fort Hood. The suspect, Pfc. Nasser Jason Abdo from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, was reportedly arrested by the Killeen Police Department after an alert citizen noticed he was acting suspiciously and called police. Local TV station KCEN said explosives were found in his car, and FOX News is reporting two other U.S. military personnel have been arrested and that weapons and explosives were also found in their possession. According to sources in the U.S. law enforcement community, a reported plot by three U.S. military personnel to attack Fort Hood was in the advanced stages of planning. Read more ..

Tibet on Edge

The Free Tibet Lobby is Hardly Cheap

July 25th 2011

Asia Topics - tibet govt in exile emblem

Free Tibet isn’t cheap: China criticized President Barack Obama recently for meeting with the Dalai Lama, the prominent Tibetan spiritual leader who is visiting the United States. China has occupied Tibet since the 1949 Communist revolution, attracting international criticism and numerous public relations efforts on the part of the Chinese government. The Himalayan region, however, has had a longstanding effort in Washington to lobby the U.S. government for support in the form of the International Campaign for Tibet.

The group, which spent $160,000 on lobbying in 2009 and $145,000 in 2010, advocates for assistance to Tibet on a number of different issues. The group’s first-quarter report shows it spent $50,000 during the first three months of the year and was represented by lobbyist Todd Stein. Stein has lobbied for assistance to Tibetan refugees and Tibetan communities within Tibet. He’s also lobbied for Tibetan Fulbright scholarships, broadcasting entities, and exchange programs, according to lobbying records. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

OMB Dodges Subpoena on Solyndra Solar Investigation

July 25th 2011

Economy - solyndra plant groundbreaking
Solyndra plant groundbreaking, 2009 (credit: Solyndra)

The Obama administration’s budget office dodged a deadline Friday to hand over subpoenaed documents sought as part of a congressional investigation into a politically-connected solar panel manufacturer.

The Office of Budget and Management didn’t send over the requested documents—internal emails, memos and letters from OMB and anything in their possession from other offices—demanded in the subpoena from a House energy subcommittee on July 14 . But OMB promised to make a “substantial” number of internal documents and emails available for committee staff to review, said OMB spokesman Kenneth Baer. Read more ..

Edge on Terrorism

Norway Not Taking any Chances Even Though Killer Says He Acted Alone

July 24th 2011

Europe Topics - Anders Breivik action hero
Anders Breivik

Norwegians mourned at church services throughout the Scandinavian country, marking the death of the at least 93 killed at the hands of Anders Behring Breivik, a 32 year-old Norwegian in dual attack on July 22. A further 86 were wounded by Breivik, who allegedly set a fertilizer-fuelled carbomb that detonated at approximately 3:45 pm on a Friday afternoon, devastating a central Oslo building that housed the offices of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and government agencies.

This was followed soon after by a killing spree on Utoya island, some twenty miles from Oslo, where young members of the ruling Labor Party were on a camp out. It was there that Breivik, disguised as a policeman, opened fire and killed scores of young people, some of whom were felled by bullets as they attempted to swim to safety. A special police unit was hampered in arriving on the scene, blaming the lack of adequate boats for the 90 minute delay in arresting the culprit. Read more ..

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