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Soldier Sentenced To Death For Fort Hood Shooting

Source: Associated Press

FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) -- A military court on Wednesday sentenced Maj. Nidal Hasan to death for the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, giving the Army psychiatrist a path to the martyrdom he appeared to crave in the attack on unarmed fellow soldiers.

The American-born Muslim, who has said he acted to protect Islamic insurgents abroad from American aggression, never denied being the gunman. In opening statements, he acknowledged to the jury that he pulled the trigger in a crowded waiting room where troops were getting final medical checkups before deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The same jurors who convicted Hasan last week had just two options: either agree unanimously that Hasan should die or watch the 42-year-old get an automatic sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole.

Hasan could become the first American soldier executed in more than half a century. But because the military justice system requires a lengthy appeals process, years or even decades could pass before he is put to death.

Read more: http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_FORT_HOOD_SHOOTING?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2013-08-28-14-58-02

Fidel Castro Pens New Essay On Syria, Snowden

HAVANA (AP) -- Fidel Castro can't stay away.

Despite a vow to retire from his second career as a columnist last year, the 87-year-old revolutionary whose interests range from the nutrition benefits of a leafy plant called moringa to the threat of nuclear Armageddon apparently still has a lot to say about world events.

The former president published a new essay Wednesday that took up nearly a full page in the Communist Party newspaper Granma, warning of dire consequences from the conflict in Syria. He also denied a Russian newspaper report that alleged Cuba caved in to U.S. pressure and refused to grant NSA leaker Edward Snowden transit en route to Latin America, calling it a "paid-for lie."

"I admire the bravery and justness in Snowden's declarations," Castro wrote. "In my opinion, he did the world a service by revealing the repugnantly dishonest politics of an empire that lies and cheats the world."

"I am compelled to write because very soon grave things will happen," Castro wrote. "In our time, no more than 10 or 15 years go by without the human race being in danger of extinction."

"The Empire's Navy and Air Force and their allies are preparing to begin a genocide against the Arab people," he added.



Iraq Bombings, Shooting Kill At Least 70 People

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Car bomb blasts and other explosions tore through Shiite districts around Baghdad during morning rush hour Wednesday in a day of violence that killed at least 70, intensifying worries about Iraq's ability to tame the spiraling mayhem gripping the country.

It was the latest set of large-scale sectarian attacks to hit Iraq, even as the government went on "high alert" in case a possible Western strike in neighboring Syria increases Iraq's turmoil.

A relentless wave of killing has left thousands dead since April in the country's worst spate of bloodshed since 2008. The surge in violence raises fears that Iraq is hurtling back toward the widespread sectarian killing that peaked in 2006 and 2007, when the country was teetering on the edge of civil war.

Most of Wednesday's attacks happened within minutes of each other as people headed to work or were out shopping early in the day.

Insurgents unleashed explosives-laden cars, suicide bombers and other bombs that targeted parking lots, outdoor markets and restaurants in predominantly Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad, officials said. A military convoy was hit south of the capital.



Security Council’s 5 Permanent Members Meet To Discuss Syria; UK Resolution Seems Doomed

Source: Associated Press

By Associated Press, Updated: Wednesday, August 28, 1:03 PM

UNITED NATIONS — The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council failed to reach an agreement Wednesday on a British-proposed resolution that would authorize the use of military force against Syria.

The draft resolution — if it were to be put to a vote — would almost certainly be vetoed by Russia and China, which have blocked past attempts to sanction President Bashar Assad’s regime

Britain put forth the proposal Wednesday as momentum seems to be building among Western allies for a strike against Syria. U.S. officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, have charged that President Bashar Assad’s government used deadly chemical weapons near Damascus last week.

The U.S. has not presented concrete proof, and U.N. inspectors have not endorsed the allegations.

Read more: Link to source

Obama Meets Panel Reviewing U.S. Surveillance Programs

By Margaret Talev and Mike Dorning - Aug 28, 2013
President Barack Obama met for the first time yesterday with a panel he requested to review U.S. collection of telephone and Internet data, according to a White House statement that identified the group’s members.

The panel includes Richard Clarke, a former U.S. cybersecurity adviser; Michael Morell, a former deputy CIA director; Geoffrey Stone, a University of Chicago law professor; Cass Sunstein, a Harvard Law School professor; and Peter Swire, who served earlier on Obama’s National Economic Council.

The review group was among a series of steps Obama announced at an Aug. 9 White House news conference to quell growing public and congressional criticism of programs that scour data on communications by U.S. citizens to look for links to terrorist activity.

“It’s not enough for me as president, to have confidence in these programs,” Obama said at the news conference. “The American people need to have confidence in them as well.”

The panel will provide interim findings to Obama within 60 days to be followed by a final report, according to the White House statement. The group’s goal, according to the statement, is to examine how the U.S. “can employ its technical collection capabilities in a way that optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while respecting our commitment to privacy and civil liberties.”



Obama’s ‘Outside Experts’ For NSA Review Are Former Intel And White House Staffers

ABC reports that the Obama administration’s surveillance review panel will include former intelligence and White House staffers, including Michael Morell, Richard Clarke, Cass Sunstein and Peter Swire. An official announcement of the members of the panel is expected soon.

The review panel was first announced in a White House press conference on Aug. 9, when Obama said the administration would form “a high-level group of outside experts to review our entire intelligence and communications technologies.”

Privacy advocates aren’t happy with the composition of the group revealed so far. Some privacy groups believe that the White House will insist on all members having top secret clearances, effectively barring most independent privacy watchdogs from consideration for the panel.

Amie Stepanovich, director of the domestic surveillance project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) found the choices reported by ABC troubling:



Rebels Without a Leader Show Limit to U.S. Role in Syria War

By Donna Abu-Nasr and Alaa Shahine - Aug 28, 2013

Even Mustapha al-Sheikh, among the first senior officers to defect from the Syrian army, says the rebels he joined are too divided to gain much from a possible Western military attack against President Bashar al-Assad.

“The strength of the regime comes from the weakness of the opposition,” al-Sheikh, who was a brigadier-general in Assad’s army, said in a phone interview yesterday from an undisclosed location in Syria.

Because of those divisions, as the U.S. and its allies consider military action against Assad, they are struggling to identify potential successors to the Syrian leader should his regime collapse. More than two years into the conflict, hundreds of militias fighting Assad aren’t unified under a national command and don’t report to opposition politicians in exile, who have been cultivated by the West. Some of them are radical Islamist groups allied with al-Qaeda.

That has constrained U.S. efforts to provide support for the rebels. It’s also likely to limit the scope of any U.S.-led strikes to punish Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons, according to al-Sheikh and defense analysts in Europe and the Middle East.

“We don’t have an opposition that I think we should be putting in power,” said Col. Richard Kemp, a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, and a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies, speaking by phone from London. “The opposition is dominated by al-Qaeda and other extremists, so it’s going to be bad, possibly worse than Assad himself.”

‘Face-Saving Move’

Al-Sheikh said he expects any military strikes now to be no more than a “face-saving move for Western countries,” because “a sudden change of regime will create a political vacuum that both the West and Arabs fear.” U.S. and British officials have said the possible attack won’t aim to topple the government.



Gasoline Gains as Looming Syria Strike Sends Crude Above $112

Source: Bloomberg

Gasoline jumped to a five-week high, following crude’s rally, amid concern that any U.S. military strikes against Syria will lead to a widespread Middle East conflict and oil supply disruptions.

Futures rose as much as 2.3 percent. West Texas Intermediate crude surged to the highest level since May 2011. U.S. officials aren’t limited to a one-day operation, an administration official said as the U.K. drafted a United Nations resolution to condemn last week’s suspected chemical attack in Syria. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said yesterday “we have the means to defend ourselves, and we will surprise people with them.”

“We’re off the highs, but until we have a clear feeling on how the aftermath of this potential strike in Syria will go, you can’t afford to be short,” said Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. “All the major oil producers are on opposite sides of the conflict.”

Gasoline for September delivery rose 3.89 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $3.073 a gallon at 9:46 a.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Prices touched $3.1033, the highest intraday price since July 22. Trading volume was 10 percent above the 100-day average.

Read more: Link to source

Just received notice that our mid-michigan area prices are going up .25 as I type.

Happy Holiday...

Pending Home Sales Fall 1.3% in July as Higher Rates Slow Demand

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Contracts to purchase previously owned homes declined in July, as buyers feeling the impact of rising interest rates retreated from the housing market.

The National Association of Realtors on Wednesday said its Pending Home Sales Index fell 1.3% to 109.5 in July from 110.9 in June, although the index was 6.7 % above July 2012.

Economists were expecting pending home sales to fall 1%.

Pending home sales are a leading indicator of existing-home sales activity, as it measures contracts signed during the month. A sale is usually closed within one or two months from the time the contract is signed.

Recent data suggests thatbuyer demand is slowing down as the rapid rise in interest rates and higher home prices have dented affordability. Buyers are also weary from the bidding wars that have been prevailing due to an acute shortage of inventory.



U.S. Sees Multiday Syria Strikes as U.K. Goes to UN

By Leon Mangasarian, Dana El Baltaji and Robert Hutton - Aug 28, 2013

U.S. officials planning potential military strikes on Syria aren’t limited to a one-day operation, an administration official said, as the UN Security Council’s permanent members considered a resolution condemning last week’s suspected chemical attack.

The U.S. and its allies are still working to define goals for a military strike on Syria, said the official, who asked not to be identified discussing war-planning efforts. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said today the United Nations resolution offered by his country would authorize action to protect civilians in Syria.

U.S. and British officials say there’s little doubt that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces are responsible for the chemical attacks near Damascus that opposition groups say killed more than 1,300 people. The head of the UN said its inspectors in Syria need time to establish the facts.

The U.K. resolution would allow the use of “all necessary measures under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter to protect civilians from chemical weapons,” Cameron’s office in London said in an e-mailed statement. The veto-wielding permanent Security Council members -- the U.S., U.K., Russia, China and France -- were meeting in New York to discuss the draft. Russia, an ally of Syria with a naval base in the country, has so far opposed moves to censure Assad’s government.



Can The U.S.'s Limited Military Strike Against Assad Stay Limited?

By Ian Bremmer
Tue Aug 27, 2013 5:50pm EDT

But even as the United States prepares to strike, Syria is not really the heart of the issue. As Kerry said in his speech, "The meaning of attack goes beyond the conflict in Syria itself." The goal will not be to tilt the scales in Syria's civil war or to put an end to the violence; rather, the U.S. wants to retaliate against an affront to its credibility, and the unambiguous breaching of an international norm. But there is danger. What begins as a limited military strike to punish Assad could quickly devolve into deeper engagement in Syria, or it could scuttle America's top regional priorities like its nuclear discussions with Iran.

Months ago President Obama made clear that he would not permit any chemical weapons abuses in Syria, calling it his "red line." But despite evidence of small batches of chemical weapons being deployed on Syrians, Obama sat idle for months. It's only now, after chemical attacks last week that left hundreds dead and more traumatized, that the U.S. is moving to action. The chemical warfare became too large — and calls from the United States' allies too loud — for the United States to remain a spectator any longer. So after two years of idling on Syria, it's clear that what the U.S. is really defending is not Syrians, but the international prohibition of chemical weapons, and, most of all, its own credibility. Assad has to be punished because he clearly and publicly crossed Obama's one explicit red line — however arbitrary hundreds of chemical weapons-induced deaths may seem in comparison to the 100,000-plus Syrians who have perished in the civil war.

As I explained a few months back, the United States had two options that weren't quite as bad as the status quo of slowly slipping into the conflict: it could go big — establish a no-fly zone and do what is necessary to stem the violence — or go home: firmly stay on the sidelines. The Obama administration opted for the latter — that's why it dragged its feet responding to chemical weapons charges the first time around. The White House believes the best way to stay the course is to apply the minimum amount of force that will satisfy the mounting pressure for action without becoming further entangled: "The options we are considering are not about regime change," the White House said on Tuesday. Afterwards, it can return to its backseat role.

But it has only become more difficult to pull that off. If there were limited military actions that had no risk of dragging the U.S. deeper into the Syrian conflict, Obama would have opted for them in response to the first wave of chemical attacks. The irony is that the bar for what the international community will deem an acceptable response to Assad's chemical weapon use has risen substantially since that first instance a few months back. If this had been an Israeli red line that was breached, we would have seen an immediate, limited and surgical strike in response. The U.S. dithered, a much bigger atrocity occurred, and now the U.S. will need to engage in a broader response to maintain its credibility and satisfy its allies — just the sort of response that carries a higher risk of pulling the U.S. further into the quagmire.

So what will be deemed sufficient action? It's hard to say. But it seems clear that a cruise missile or two aimed at specific weapons sites in Damascus will likely no longer be sufficient. The situation demands bellicose words from America's top diplomats, and actions that can back them up — certainly a broader set of military targets, perhaps sustained aerial strikes as well. It demands just the sort of actions that always carry the potential to exceed their limited scope.


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