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The Battle for Syria

Iranian Official: Israel Will Be First Victim of U.S. Strike in Syria

August 26th 2013

Executed Pile of Syrian Men

A senior member of Iran’s parliament said on Monday that a U.S. attack on Syria was unlikely, but if it were to occur, Israel would be the first victim of ensuing violence, Iran’s national FARS news agency reported.

“No military attack will be waged against Syria,”  Director-General of the parliament for International Affairs Hossein Sheikholeslam said. “Yet, if such an incident takes place, which is impossible, the Zionist regime will be the first victim of a military attack on Syria.”

Sheikholeslam claimed that the Syrian army is highly capable of defending itself against military action, and that it could attack and raze parts of Israel, which he said, would not be in the interest of the U.S.

FARS also cited Mohammad Esmayeeli, member of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, who said the U.S. is not ready for another war, but if it declared war on Syria, it would also have to contend with Russia, which he claimed, will support Damascus. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Questions Raised about Source of Syrian Chemical Attack

August 24th 2013

Corpses in Homs

Syrian state television said troops found chemical agents in rebel tunnels in a Damascus suburb on Saturday and some soldiers were "suffocating", intensifying a dispute over blame for a reported nerve gas attack that killed hundreds this week.

The top U.N. disarmament official arrived in Damascus on Saturday to seek access for inspectors to the site of the attack and the United States was realigning naval forces in the region to give President Barack Obama the option for an armed strike on Syria.

Syrian opposition accounts that between 500 and well over 1,000 civilians were killed by gas in munitions fired by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, and video footage of victims' bodies, have heightened calls in the West for a robust, U.S.-led response after 2-1/2 years of international inaction on Syria's conflict. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Chemical Weapons Attack Kills Over 1,000 in Syria

August 23rd 2013

Syria fighting injured baby

Syrian opposition activists claim more than 1,000 people were killed after government forces launched rockets with toxic agents in the Damascus suburbs early Wednesday. While the U.S. has not independently confirmed that chemical weapons were used, Israel's minister for intelligence and strategic affairs, Yuval Steinitz, told Israel Radio that it believes the reports of the attack are credible.

Videos apparently showing the graphic and disturbing aftermath of the alleged attacks on the rebel-held eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta were posted to social media but could not be independently verified. The clips showed children choking and vomiting, while adults writhed in agony, appearing not to have any visible wounds. Read more ..

China Rising

In China, an Unprecedented Demographic Problem Takes Shape

August 22nd 2013

Chinese man smoking

Two reports in Chinese media highlight different aspects of China's unfolding demographic crunch. The Ministry of Education reported Aug. 21 that more than 13,600 primary schools closed nationwide in 2012. The ministry looked to China's dramatically shifting demographic profile to explain the widespread closures, noting that between 2011 and 2012 the number of students in primary and secondary schools fell from nearly 150 million to 145 million. It also confirmed that between 2002 and 2012, the number of students enrolled in primary schools dropped by nearly 20 percent. The ministry's report comes one day after an article in People's Daily, the government newspaper, warned of China's impending social security crisis as the number of elderly is expected to rise from 194 million in 2012 to 300 million by 2025.

The Communist Party is already considering measures to counter, or at least limit the short-term impact of, demographic changes in Chinese society. On one hand, the Party continues to flirt with relaxing the one-child policy in an effort to boost fertility rates, most recently with a potential pilot program in Shanghai that would allow only-child couples to have another child. On the other hand, the government has proposed raising the national retirement age from 55 to 60 for women and from 60 to 65 for men. If implemented, this would bring China's retirement policy more in line with international norms and delay some of the financial and other social pressures created by the ballooning number of retirees dependent on government pensions and the care of their children. Read more ..

Broken Intelligence

Manning Sentenced to 35 Years in WikiLeaks Conviction

August 21st 2013

Bradley Manning

Former Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for carrying out what the Pentagon says is the largest leak of classified information in U.S. military history.

Army judge, Col. Denise Lind handed down her ruling during Manning's sentencing hearing at Ft. Meade, Md. on Wednesday, according to news reports. Manning was spared life in prison in July, when Lind acquitted the 25-year-old ex-Army analyst of providing aid to the enemy by leaking highly sensitive and classified information to the website WikiLeaks.

Army prosecutors argued that, by making that information public, Manning essentially hand-delivered U.S. state secrets to American adversaries like al Qaeda, the Taliban and other global terrorist organizations. But Lind did find Manning guilty on five counts of espionage and five federal counts of theft, as well as various lesser charges. He had already pleaded guilty to 10 other offenses prior to the July verdict. The convictions carried a maximum sentence of 136 years in federal prison. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

European Hi-Speed Rail Targetted by al-Qaeda

August 20th 2013

Italian Hi-Speed Rail

Al Qaeda has been plotting attacks on high-speed rail networks in Europe, according to a German media report. The information reportedly came from the US National Security Agency (NSA) listening in on top operatives. A report by the German daily newspaper Bild on Monday said that al Qaeda leaders have been plotting attacks on high-speed rail networks across Europe. The group was possibly targeting trains and tunnels or planning to sabotage railway tracks themselves and the electric cabling serving them.

The terrorist attacks were reported to have been a "central topic" of a conference call intercepted by the NSA, involving high-ranking al Qaeda operatives.


The Battle for Egypt

Mubarak May Go Free

August 19th 2013

Hosni Mubarak

Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's imprisoned former ruler, has been cleared in a corruption case by prosecutors.

Judicial officials told the AP news agency that a court on Monday ordered the 85-year-old be cleared in the case that alleged he embezzled funds for presidential palaces.

Mubarak, who was arrested after his overthrow in 2011, still faces charges in another corruption case where he is accused of accepting gifts from state newspapers, but he has already paid back the value of the gifts. Mubarak is also awaiting retrial after appeals against his conviction and sentence to life in prison last year over his complicity in the deaths of protesters during the uprising.

Mubarak's lawyer, Fareed el-Deeb, told the Reuters news agency that the second corruption case would be settled swiftly. "All we have left is a simple administrative procedure that should take no more than 48 hours. He should be freed by the end of the week," Deeb told the agency. Read more ..

The Battle for Egypt

Brother of al-Qaeda chief Al-Zawahri Nabbed by Egyptian Cops

August 18th 2013

Ayman al-Zawahiri

Egyptian police officers on Saturday arrested the brother of al-Qaeda's top leader Ayman al-Zawahri (also spelled Zawahiri). Mohammed al-Zawahri, the head of the radical Muslim group the Salafists, was apprehended by the Egyptian police at a security checkpoint in the city of Giza, which has been the scene of sectarian strife in the aftermath of the military's ouster of the Muslim Brother-Morsi government.

Mohammed al-Zawahri's organization is considered more radical than most of the hard-line Islamists. Besides Egypt, the Salafists have perpetrated terrorist attacks in the Palestinian territory in Gaza against Israel, according to Asher.

Mohammed al-Zawahri and his group are allies of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist, for whom supporters have created an uprising against the government officials installed by the Egyptian military, according to Philip Graham, a former anti-terrorism task force member in the U.S. Read more ..

The Battle for Egypt

Egypt Continues to Burn as Scores are Killed

August 16th 2013

Muslim Brotherhood bus burning 10 2012

Scores of people have been killed in Egypt as a "day of rage" called by opponents of the country's military-backed leadership turned to bloodshed with security forces opening fire to foil what they described as a "brutal terrorist plot". In the worst of the violence on Friday, at least 95 people were killed and hundreds injured in Cairo's Ramses Square as anti-coup protesters were fired on by government forces. A correspondent for Al Jazeera described lines of bodies in a makeshift hospital in the nearby Al-Fath mosque.

A protester, Said Mohammed, told Al Jazeera that the crowds were shot at by snipers and by men in helicopters. "Helicopters started to shoot us as we were walking. My friend took a shot in the neck and he died," he said. "This was the first time we saw helicopters shooting. There were people shooting from the windows." Read more ..

Egypt's Second Revolution

Egyptian Security Ousts Morsi Suuporters in Violent Clash

August 14th 2013

Security Forces Riot Gear

Security forces have moved in on two Cairo protest camps set up by supporters of Egypt's ousted president Mohamed Morsi, launching a crackdown that quickly turned into a bloodbath with dozens dead. Conflicting reports have emerged over the number of people killed on Wednesday. However, one correspondent counted 94 bodies in Rabaa al-Adawiya's makeshift hospital, while some members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood said the death toll was as high as 2,200, with about 10,000 injured.

Ammar Beltagi, the son of Mohammad Beltagi, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party, said that his 17-year-old sister was killed in the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in in Nasr City. The Health Ministry has put the figure at 56 people killed, including six members of the security forces, and a further 526 people injured. At least 66 security forces were injured. Read more ..

Inside Politics

William Koch Emerges from Shadow of Famous Siblings

August 13th 2013

Bundles of Money

Billionaire businessman William Koch once operated green energy plants on multiple continents and had a reputation for being more politically moderate than his better-known brothers, Charles and David — the principal owners of Koch Industries, Inc..

But William now rejects the “apocalypse of global warming.” He says investing in alternative energy is “foolhardy.” And ahead of the 2012 election, he criticized President Barack Obama for trying to “socialize” the country.

Koch is putting his fortune where his mouth is and is also using his companies’ funds to do so. He has spent millions of dollars to aid politicians he sees as more business-friendly and to fight the Obama administration’s moves to combat climate change, which could mean costly new regulations for Koch’s expansive Oxbow Carbon LLC business network.

Unlike his brothers who have favored politically active nonprofits as their vehicles of choice to back conservative causes, William Koch has poured resources into super PACs, with millions of dollars coming straight from the corporate treasuries of his firms. Meanwhile, donations from his company’s traditional political action committee are at an all-time high — as are Oxbow’s lobbying expenditures. Read more ..

Broken Economy

Six Federal Agencies Are Investigating Online Payday Lenders

August 12th 2013

Financial reform now protest

At least six federal agencies including the Justice and Treasury departments are coordinating a broad probe of online payday lenders that charge enormous interest and fees to low-income borrowers who need quick cash.

The Justice Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have sent civil subpoenas to dozens of financial companies, including the online lenders, many of which are located on Indian reservations to avoid complying with consumer protection laws. Also subpoenaed were banks and payment processors that do business with them, according to government and industry officials familiar with the probe. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it.

The government is using a range of tools — anti-money laundering laws, routine oversight of banks’ books, subpoenas and state laws — that could snuff out an entire category of lenders who contend they are operating lawfully. Among those involved: Justice’s Civil Division; the CFPB; the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.; the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency; the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network; and attorneys general and financial regulators from several states. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Israel Warns it Can Destroy Iran's Nuclear Program "In a Few Hours"

August 9th 2013


The international community must make it clear to Iran that it has only two options: end its nuclear program voluntarily, or “see it destroyed with brute force,” Minister of Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz has said, speaking to the Washington Post.

Demolishing Iran’s nuclear program by force is entirely possible, he said, estimating that it would take “a few hours of airstrikes, no more.”

He was not overly concerned with the possibility that Iran could fire missiles on Israel in response to an international attack on its facilities. Such an attack would cause “very limited damage,” he said, explaining that Israel would be able to intercept most of the missiles.

Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, has expressed willingness to negotiate with the international community over his country’s nuclear program. Read more ..

China Rising

China's Hopes for Bridging the Taiwan Strait

August 8th 2013

Bank of China

The South China Morning Post reported Aug. 5 that in its recently approved National Highway Network Plan for 2013-2030, the State Council included two highway projects linking Taiwan to the mainland. One involves the long-proposed Beijing-Taipei Expressway, which would start in Beijing and pass through Tianjin, Hebei, Shandong, Jiangsu, Anhui, Zhejiang and Fujian's Fuzhou before crossing the strait and reaching Taipei. Another inland route would start in Chengdu and pass through Guizhou, Hunan, Jiangxi and Fujian's Xiamen, and cross the Taipei-administered Kinmen archipelago before eventually ending at Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan.

The plan does not specify what kind of infrastructure -- a bridge or a tunnel, for example -- would be used to connect the mainland to Taiwan over the 180-kilometer (111-mile) strait, but since 1996, if not earlier, Beijing has publicly called for such infrastructure to be built. One proposal involved a 122-kilometer undersea tunnel, which was deemed preferable because of its relative seismic stability and its location in shallower water. This tunnel would connect Fujian province's Pingtan Island to Hsinchu in northern Taiwan -- a distance nearly three times that of Channel Tunnel, which connects the United Kingdom and France -- and would cost an estimated 400 billion-500 billion yuan ($65 billion-$81 billion) to build. Another proposal involves linking Taiwan's southern Chiayi county to the outlying island of Kinmen via tunnel or bridge, where it would connect with envisaged infrastructure that would eventually link it to Xiamen, Fujian province.  Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Al-Qaeda Develops "Liquid Explosives" That Dry into Clothing

August 7th 2013

NYPD and flag

While the U.S. continues to observe a terrorism alert, especially at U.S. diplomatic facilities in the Middle East and North Africa, Israeli intelligence officials began warning police and security agencies throughout the world that disturbing intelligence describes a new weapon in al-Qaeda's arsenal. According to an Israeli police counterterrorism expert, a liquid explosive may be utilized by al-Qaeda and its affiliates to attack targets that are increasingly vulnerable. According to soyrces, the liquid explosive can drench a suicide bomber's clothing and become highly volatile when dried.

Explosives experts credit al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) with the development of this new improvised explosive device (IED). AQAP is currently battling the government of Yemen, Saudi Arabia's vulnerable neighbor. U.S. intelligence claims that a message between Ayman al-Zawahri and AQAP was intercepted and there were also other streams of intelligence that contributed to the threat from AQAP against U.S. embassies overseas, according to Fox News Channel on Tuesday morning. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Facebook's Zuckerberg Now Building a Political Network

August 4th 2013

Facebook page

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is building a new social network, and this time it's political.

While he’s better known as the hoodie-clad, Harvard dropout that launched a multi-billion dollar Internet company, Zuckerberg has emerged as a political player on the national stage.

After largely sitting on the political sidelines for a few years, the 29-year-old Facebook founder is using his clout as a top business executive and American success story to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform.

This week, Zuckerberg will publicly dive headfirst into the immigration debate that’s captivated Washington by joining forces with pro-immigration advocates outside of the tech industry.

On Tuesday evening in San Francisco, Zuckerberg will give introductory remarks at the premiere of “Documented,” a documentary film directed by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas that looks at the stories of young immigrants, known as "Dreamers," who came to the United States illegally as children with their parents. Read more ..

Broken Government

Democrats Seize Super PAC Crown

August 1st 2013

One Million Dollars

Democrats have become the kings of super PACs.

With Congress fighting over gun legislation and immigration, and 2014 midterm races already simmering, many left-leaning donors are eagerly bankrolling these free-spending groups that the party faithful have often criticized for unleashing unlimited money into political races.

Liberal-aligned super PACs combined to raise more than $40 million during the first half of 2013, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of filings submitted to the Federal Election Commission. Their conservative counterparts, meanwhile, collectively raised about $20 million.

That’s a stark contrast with 2011 and 2012, when Republicans rapidly deployed the nascent organizations following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling that led to their creation.  During the first six months of 2011, for example, conservative super PACs outraised their liberal rivals more than 4-to-1, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of FEC data. Read more ..

Broken Government

Appropriations Chief Lashes Out at GOP After Spending Bill is Pulled

July 31st 2013

Capitol Senate

Long-running Republican tensions over the Ryan budget’s deep spending cuts boiled over Wednesday as the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee accused his party of being unable to support them.

In a blistering statement, Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said he was “extremely disappointed” with his leadership’s decision to pull the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development spending bill from the floor.

Leadership said they simply ran out of time, but Rogers charged that wasn’t the real reason. He hinted that a vote on the measure was scrapped because leaders didn’t have the votes to support the deep cuts he was directed to write, and accused Republicans of effectively abandoning Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget. Rogers called for a bipartisan deal that would replace sequestration with something bridging the gap between the House budget and Senate spending measures he said were too costly to pass the lower chamber. Read more ..

China Rising

Identifying the Successors in China

July 30th 2013


China has become a metaphor. It represents a certain phase of economic development, which is driven by low wages, foreign appetite for investment and a chaotic and disorderly development, magnificent in scale but deeply flawed in many ways. Its magnificence spawned the flaws, and the flaws helped create the magnificence.

The arcs along which nations rise and fall vary in length and slope. China's has been long, as far as these things go, lasting for more than 30 years. The country will continue to exist and perhaps prosper, but this era of Chinese development -- pyramiding on low wages to conquer global markets -- is ending simply because there are now other nations with even lower wages and other advantages. China will have to behave differently from the way it does now, and thus other countries are poised to take its place. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Mideast Peace Talks to Resume in Washington

July 29th 2013

John Kerry

Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians are set to resume late Monday in Washington after a long stalemate. But there are plenty of obstacles ahead.

The new Israeli-Palestinian talks follow nearly five years of paralysis, and skepticism on both sides runs deep. Twenty years of on-again, off-again negotiations have failed to achieve a final peace agreement with the creation of a Palestinian state.

Just hours before the negotiations were to begin,  US Secretary of State Kerry named former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk to be his point man for the talks. Indyk played a key role in the 2000 Camp David peace negotiations.

At a State Department briefing Monday with Indyk at his side, Kerry said "reasonable compromises must be the keystone for all efforts towards a negotiated settlement." Israeli and Palestinian chief negotiators will try to hammer out a framework for the talks which will tackle the thorniest issues of the conflict: the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, Jewish settlements and final borders. Gaps are wide, but the return to face-to-face talks signals that the parties are prepared to give peace a chance.   Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Embarrassing Glitches Cause Push-Back Against US Navy Littoral Combat Ships

July 28th 2013

Click to select Image
USS Freedom

One of the Navy’s newest warships suddenly found itself immobilized in the South China Sea on July 20, as the failure of one of its four diesel generators caused a shutdown of all its engines during its first operational deployment. It was not the first major glitch since the USS Freedom began to sail in 2008.

The crew was able to restart all of the engines and get the 3,000-ton vessel into Singapore for repairs the following day. But the incident could not have occurred at a worse time for the sea-going service.

The Freedom is part of a planned fleet of 52 fast, agile, modern Navy warships known as Littoral Combat Ships and meant to operate in shallow coastal waters around the globe, combatting everything from pirates to terrorists to small submarines. But it is suddenly under intense scrutiny as Washington debates whether to fund the production of eight more sister ships over the next two years. Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

Obama Care Funding Battle Pits Tea Party VS. Establishment GOP

July 27th 2013


The latest fight between Tea Party and establishment Republicans is a familiar one: ObamaCare. The Tea Party is ready to take a stand on defunding the divisive healthcare law and willing to risk a government shutdown in the process.

Establishment Republicans worry the strategy will repeat the Clinton-era government shutdown showdown, which hurt Republicans in the 1996 elections.

Tensions will reach a boiling point after the August recess, when lawmakers start negotiations over how to keep the government open. In the meantime, old-guard Republicans are sending a clear message to conservatives: The shutdown isn’t worth the risk.
On Friday, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said that a plan to shut down the government to block funds for ObamaCare would cost the GOP control of the House and could destroy the party. Read more ..

Egypt's Second Revolution

Obama Administration Will Not Label Toppling of Egypt’s Morsi a Coup

July 26th 2013

Anti-Morsi Protests June 2013

The State Department on Friday said it will not label the overthrow of Egypt’s democratically-elected government a coup, arguing the law does not require it to make a formal determination. Administration officials notified lawmakers Thursday of the decision, which will allow about $1.5 billion in mostly military aid to Egypt to continue uninterrupted.

“The law does not require us to make a formal determination—that is a review that we have undergone—as to whether a coup took place, and it is not in our national interest to make such a determination,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. “We have determined we are not going to make a determination.”

She vehemently denied that the administration was skirting the law with its apparently unprecedented choice to avoid a decision. “Given that our legal team was an important part of this process, certainly, I would refute any notions that we were flouting the law,” Psaki said. U.S. law requires that aid be cut off if the military overthrows a democratically elected government, but the administration wants to be able to continue sending aid to the Arab World’s most populous country despite the toppling of President Mohamed Morsi. Read more ..

After Fukushima

TEPCO Admits Radioactive Groundwater Is Leaking Into The Sea At Fukushima

July 25th 2013

Rad monitor Japan

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), operator of the disaster-stricken Fukushima nuclear power facility, has admitted for the first time that radioactive groundwater may be seeping out of the nuclear plant area and out into sea. In tests earlier this month, the embattled utility company said that groundwater samples have shown an increase in levels of cancer-causing cesium-134, but that the contaminated groundwater was contained at the current location by concrete foundations and steel sheets. TEPCO has changed its assessment of the situation on Monday.

“We believe that contaminated water has flown out to the sea,” a TEPCO spokesman said on Monday. The spokesman also insisted the impact of the radioactive water on the ocean would be limited, but the citizens of Fukushima have heard TEPCO make the same claims before, only to take them back when they were pressured to reveal damaging information. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Iraq Prison BreakOut Frees Hundreds of Al Qaeda Terrorists

July 23rd 2013

Revolutionary Guards

Iraqi security forces locked down areas around the infamous Abu Ghraib prison and another high-security detention facility on Baghdad's outskirts Monday to hunt for escaped inmates and militants after daring insurgent assaults set hundreds of detainees free.

The carefully orchestrated late-night attacks killed dozens Sunday, including at least 25 members of the Iraqi security forces. Insurgents fired dozens of mortar shells and detonated suicide and car bombs, drawing Iraqi forces into firefights that lasted more than an hour.

The prison break of hundreds of prisoners from Abu Ghraib was been helped by guards working with the attackers, according to the Iraqi Interior Ministry. The ministry said in a statement that its senior officials along with senior Ministry of Defense officials had briefed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on the attack on the Abu Ghraib and Taji prisons. More than 50 people, including 26 guards and Iraqi soldiers were killed in gunmen attacks accompanied by suicide bombers late Sunday. Read more ..

Israel and America

Christians Unite as More than Five Thousand Come out for Israel

July 22nd 2013

John Hagee

As has happened since 2006, the largest pro-Israel American gathering comprised largely of non-Jews has once again taken place in the Washington DC Convention Center. Dynamic Christian Evangelist Pastor John Hagee and his million-plus strong organization Christians United for Israel opened the three-day conference on July 22 to an audience that surpassed 5000 supporters.  On the heels of Secretary of State John Kerry’s most recent Middle East stint, having been shuttling between DC and Tel Aviv many times over the past four months, CUFI’s founder believes that “Israel's security establishment is in a state of emergency.  Israel is surrounded with enemies like never before.” Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Israel, Palestinians Set Down Guidelines for Peace Talks

July 21st 2013

John Kerry Shimon Peres and Palestinian dude

Israel and the Palestinians are setting down guidelines for new peace talks brokered by the United States.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the expected resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians after a four-year stalemate. Speaking at the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said negotiations with the Palestinians are a “vital strategic interest” of Israel.

He said the talks will be difficult and any final agreement would be brought to a national referendum. Israeli and Palestinian chief negotiators are due to meet in Washington soon with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who on Friday announced an agreement had been reached establishing a basis for the resumption of direct final status negotiations.  The officials will try to hammer out the framework for resumed peace talks, but disagreements have already emerged over the borders of a future Palestinian state. Read more ..

The Edge of Justice

Journalists Prepare US Supreme Court Fight Against Indefinite Detention

July 20th 2013

prison cell northern ireland flickr

A group of journalists and activists are preparing to challenge a U.S. court decision upholding the Obama administration’s ability to indefinitely detain individuals. The ruling, plaintiffs say, deals a blow to civil liberties in the name of national security, and could even be used to detain U.S. citizens without due process.

An appeals court in New York this week ruled the plaintiffs do not have standing to challenge Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found the law “says nothing at all about the President’s authority to detain American citizens,” as argued by the plaintiffs. It also said the non-citizen plaintiffs “failed to establish standing because they have not shown a sufficient threat that the government will detain them under Section 1021.” Wednesday’s decision hands a victory to the U.S. government, upholding its ability to indefinitely detain people considered enemy combatants, or individuals considered to have provided support to them.  Read more ..

The Edge of Sport

Football: A Sporting Barometer of European Integration Policies

July 19th 2013

African soccer

The phones ring continuously at Kurdish football club Dalkurd FF, a hot team for agents and players. In 2009, it signed Bosnian international Nedim Halilovic and upcoming Algerian-Swedish star Nadir Benchenaa. More prominent signings are in the works. Started in 2004 with the support of top Swedish football club IK Brage as a project to create jobs for Kurdish youth, Dalkurd's meteoric rise has put it on the international football map and turned it into a model of how a Middle Eastern immigrant community can address its social and economic problems and project its identity. Dalkurd, one of three Swedish clubs that have fielded Europe's most successful immigrant teams, was founded in Borlänge, a small iron and paper mill workers' town of some 50,000 predominantly ethnically Swedish residents 220 km north of Stockholm.

The club was initially launched as a project to create jobs for the youth. Dalkurd's Swedish identity is clearly identifiable on maps; its minority Kurdish identity is not. That makes Dalkurd as much a product of the social and economic challenges facing immigrants in Sweden and elsewhere in Europe as it is of the carve-up of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century that turned Kurds into the largest nation without a homeland, and scattered them across the Middle East and the globe. Read more ..

Broken Elections

Washington DC Groups Spent Big In Special Elections

July 18th 2013

Money Bands=Happiness

Carpetbagging super PACs and nonprofit groups are dominating this year’s special congressional elections in a potential foreshadowing of the 2014 midterms, where even the sleepiest locales aren’t immune from out-of-state, cash-flush special interests.

Take Massachusetts’ U.S. Senate election, which last month propelled veteran Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., to Congress’ upper chamber — and attracted millions of dollars in outside spending from political groups based in California, New York and Florida.

Organizations in Illinois, meanwhile, spent precisely zero dollars to advocate for or against several candidates who vied early this year to replace ex-Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., while outfits from everywhere but collectively burned through more than $2 million. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Violence and Political Rifts on Rise in Lebanon

July 16th 2013

Beirut Ruins

On July 9, a car bomb detonated in Beirut's Hezbollah-controlled southern suburb of Dahiya, killing one person and injuring dozens of others, mostly Shiites. A day later, the parliamentary speaker announced that retired Christian general Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement would be leaving the Hezbollah-led "March 8" bloc in parliament. Since 2006, the FPM's alliance with Hezbollah has facilitated the Shiite militia's political dominance of Lebanon.

If the new split persists, it will represent a significant shift in the country's political dynamics -- and further isolation of Hezbollah -- at a moment when Lebanese Sunnis are becoming increasingly militant. For more than two years, the war in Syria has been threatening Lebanon's stability. The presence of nearly half a million mostly Sunni refugees from next door has skewed Lebanon's delicate sectarian demographics, and the deaths of thousands of Sunnis at the hands of the nominally Shiite Alawite Assad regime have raised tensions to the boiling point. Read more ..

Egypt’s Second Revolution

Egyptian Generals Tell Washington "Don't Bully Us."

July 15th 2013

Egypt Flag @ 6.2013 Anti-Morsi Protests

Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, the first senior US official to visit Cairo since the military coup of July 3, exchanged tough talk with the coup leader, Defense minister Gen. Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Monday, after he met interim President Adly Mansour and Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi.

The general frankly advised Washington to be more realistic about the situation in Egypt. Accordingly to debkafile’s Middle East sources, El-Sisi asked Burns bluntly why the Obama administration backed the Muslim Brotherhood and appeared to accept an Egypt plunged in chaos and economic meltdown during Mohamed Morsi’s one-year presidency. Burns said the US remained committed to an Egypt that is "stable, democratic, inclusive and tolerant," stressing Washington understood that "only Egyptians can determine their future.” To this, Gen. El-Sisi replied that in ousting Morsi, the military had obeyed the authentic will of the Egyptian people. He said the army’s role is national not political.

On the question of US military assistance, the general remarked that the “US is more keen than Egypt on keeping up military aid as an assurance of the continuation of military ties between the two countries.” debkafile: Implicit in this comment was a hint that military ties with Washington would suffer if the administration tried to push the Egyptian army around.

Present at the two-hour meeting were Egypt’s chief of staff Sobhi Sidki and US Ambassador Anne Patterson, a known supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood who tried hard to bridge the differences between the Brotherhood and the general and avert the coup. Secretary Burns faces an uphill task in his mission to mend fences between the Obama administration and the caretaker rulers of Egypt – especially when the Egyptian street’s two halves – anti and pro-Morsi - are united on little else but anti-American sentiment. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran's Long-Range Rockets Could Reach America By 2015

July 13th 2013

Iran Missiles


The Digital Edge

How Hackers Can Take Control of Your Car

July 12th 2013

car door

You might have seen that frightening episode of the CBS series, Person of Interest, in which a fictional social media company's billionaire founder loses control of his car. From the street, the driver appears to be either a total nutcase (well, in this case, he is) or heavily intoxicated. His car weaves through traffic left and right, crossing lanes willy-nilly and clipping other cars. But inside the car, the driver is helpless. Any control he tries, especially the brakes, is overridden, apparently by the car itself. Unbeknownst to the driver, of course, the car is under remote control.

Inevitably, the car blows up (creating an exciting visual). However, the software genius escapes in the nick of time.This, of course, is TV drama. It's fiction. A remotely compromised car is a scenario that makes a good thriller and scares the bejesus out of viewers. But possible in real life? No way.Well, wait a minute.Way. Read more ..

The Edge of Transportation

Global Shipping Contends With Oversupply Problems

July 11th 2013

Container Ship at Sea

The global shipping industry is oversupplied. Because supply far exceeds demand, shipping rates have plummeted, as have the prices of ships. Some shipping companies have sought to capitalize on this trend by purchasing newer, larger ships at lower prices so that they can remain price competitive. But unless demand rebounds by the time these ships become operational, the industry's oversupply problem will only worsen.

It is unclear whether the global shipping industry will normalize before these new ships enter the market. Demand could rise as the global economy recovers, or the supply of ships could somehow fall. But the economy's recovery could just as well be slower than anticipated. Several factors could prevent the industry from righting itself, not the least of which are inaccurate forecasts of future market behavior. Read more ..

Broken Government

Tampa and Miami Go to War over Cuban Trade

July 10th 2013

Click to select Image

Quietly at first, and now quite publicly, the city of Tampa has courted Cuba in hopes of becoming its future trading partner. Business owners in Tampa talk of how they’ll capitalize when the island opens up, and politicians make trips there and have come out against the embargo.

Things are far different across the state in Miami. Elected officials there favor the trade embargo. Business leaders, fearful of retribution, rarely speak about future trade with the island nation.

Miami may seem poised to benefit most when the embargo ends, with its close proximity and much larger Cuban-American population. There are 982,758 people of Cuban ancestry in the Miami metro area, compared to 81,542 in the Tampa Bay area. Read more ..

Broken Intelligence

FISA Court Judge Got Free Pass to Koch Anti-Terror Event

July 7th 2013

contemplation of justice/scotus building

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson, who signed an order requiring Verizon to give the National Security Agency telephone records for tens of millions of American customers, attended an expense-paid judicial seminar sponsored by a libertarian think tank that featured lectures from a vocal proponent of executive branch powers.

Vinson, whose term on the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court began in 2006 and expired last month, was the only member of the special court to attend the August 2008 conference sponsored by the Foundation for Research on Economics & the Environment, according to disclosure records filed by the federal judge. The Center for Public Integrity collected the disclosure records as part of an investigative report that revealed how large corporations and conservative foundations routinely sponsor ideologically driven educational conferences for state and federal judges. Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

Republican Lawmaker Smells 'Big, Fat Rat' in ObamaCare Delay

July 6th 2013

Obama in front of AMA

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) said he smells a "big, fat rat" in the Obama administration's delay on a key part of its healtcare bill. "I smell a big fat rat. Not just a little rat," Gingrey said on Fox News on Friday.

The congressman, a doctor and leading ObamaCare critic who's running for the Senate, said the move to delay a mandate requiring large employers to provide healthcare insurance until 2015, rather than 2014, was done solely to give red-state Democrats cover in the 2014 midterm elections.

"You know, in 2010 the Democrats in Congress pushed the enforcement of the employee mandate back to 2014... conveniently until after the presidential election. So, now under the cover of Independence Day holidays, they're pushing it back again. But this time, out of fear of its disastrous consequences and the impact on the midterm elections. And this decision was not made in the best interest of the people, I can assure you." Read more ..

Egypt’s Second Revolution

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Recovers After Morsi’s Ouster

July 5th 2013


It is unclear what will become of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the wake of the July 3 ouster of President Mohammed Morsi. In the short term, the world’s oldest and largest Islamist movement will continue to denounce the coup and engage in protests which, coupled with the security crackdown on the Brotherhood, will likely result in violence. Eventually, however, the group will try to revive itself by re-assimilating into Egypt’s political institutions, though it is in no hurry to attempt to reclaim the presidency.

On July 4, Egyptian security forces continued to hold members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership, particularly those affiliated with its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party. In addition to Morsi, who remains in what military authorities are describing as “preventative” detention, many key figures such as supreme guide Mohammed al-Badie. Read more ..

Egypt's Second Revolution

Mansour Sworn In as Interim President

July 4th 2013

Chief Justice + President Mansour

Adly Mansour, tapped by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to hold executive authority in Egypt until the "national reconciliation plan" for a new government is implemented, was sworn in this morning as Egypt's President. Mansour is a relative unknown upon the world political stage, but has a reputation for effective administration and fairness. He became Chief Justice of Egypt's High Constitutional Court a mere two days before being announced as interim President, after spending 21 years as a Justice in that court.

The 67-year-old Mansour was appointed to the court in 1992, and will exercise executive authority as transitional President until new Presidential Elections are held, General Abdel-Fattah Al- Sisi announced in a televised speech to the nation last night. It is as yet unknown exactly how much authority Mansour--a highly regarded jurist--will actually be invested with.   Read more ..

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