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Member since: 2003 before July 6th
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US, Europe Consider Crippling Worldwide Bank Penalty Against Iran, Though Costs Could Be High

By Associated Press,

WASHINGTON — The United States and Europe are considering unprecedented punishment against Iran that could immediately cripple the country’s financial lifeline. But it’s an extreme option in the banking world that would come with its own costs.

The Obama administration wants Iran evicted from SWIFT, an independent financial clearinghouse that is crucial to the country’s overseas oil sales. That would leapfrog the current slow-pressure campaign of sanctions aimed at persuading Iran to drop what the U.S. and its allies contend is a drive toward developing and building nuclear weapons. It also perhaps would buy time for the U.S. to persuade Israel not to launch a pre-emptive military strike on Iran this spring.

The last-resort financial effort suggests the U.S. and Europe are grasping for ways to show immediate results because economic sanctions have so far failed to force Iran back to nuclear talks

But such a penalty could send oil prices soaring when many of the world’s economies are still frail. It also could hurt ordinary Iranians and undercut the reputation of SWIFT, a banking hub used by virtually every nation and corporation around the world. The organization’s full name is the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications.



Nuclear Arms Cuts Under Consideration By Obama Administration


WASHINGTON - The Obama administration is weighing options for sharp new cuts to the U.S. nuclear force, including a reduction of up to 80 percent in the number of deployed weapons, The Associated Press has learned.

Even the most modest option now under consideration would be an historic and politically bold disarmament step in a presidential election year, although the plan is in line with President Barack Obama's 2009 pledge to pursue the elimination of nuclear weapons.

No final decision has been made, but the administration is considering at least three options for lower total numbers of deployed strategic nuclear weapons cutting to: 1,000 to 1,100; 700 to 800, and 300 to 400, according to a former government official and a congressional staffer. Both spoke on condition of anonymity in order to reveal internal administration deliberations.

The potential cuts would be from a current treaty limit of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads.



Israel Forces Raze Illegal Settler Outpost

(AFP) – 10 hours ago

JERUSALEM — Israeli forces razed three temporary structures comprising a wildcat settler outpost near the West Bank city of Ramallah early on Tuesday, an Israeli spokesman told AFP.

The demolition of the Oz Zion outpost was carried out by the Civil Administration, the Israeli military body which manages all civilian affairs relating to the Palestinians and their lands in the portions of the West Bank under full Israeli military and civilian control.

Civil administration spokesman Guy Inbar said that some three weeks ago troops had demolished illegal structures at the same location.

Tuesday's operation was "a recurring action to destroy illegal structures," he said, noting that it sparked minor clashes, but police said no-one was arrested.



Report: Israel's Mossad Still Using Foreign Passports In Undercover Operations

By Haaretz

Israeli Mossad spies are still using foreign passports, including those of British nationals, when conducting undercover operations abroad, according to The Times of London.

According to the report, new evidence suggests that foreign nationals in Israel continue to allow the Mossad to use their passports — on many occasions willingly.

The Times article stated that two young men agreed to be interviewed on condition of anonymity — and only once they had had their passports returned. A third man said he had been involved in a similar scheme, but was still serving in the Israeli military and declined to be interviewed.

The Times report revealed several testimonies of Israeli émigrés which ended up giving their passports to the Mossad. “Matthew” first emigrated to Israel after leaving his parents’ London home in 2009, and volunteered to join the Israeli military shortly afterwards. It was just before his first week of army duty that he was approached by a young woman from Mossad and asked if he was “committed to the State of Israel.”



January Retail Sales Gain Points To Modest Growth

(02-14) 07:50 PST WASHINGTON, (AP) --

Americans rebounded from a weak holiday season and stepped up spending on retail goods in January. The latest government report on retail sales pointed to a slowly improving economy.

Retail sales rose at a seasonally adjusted 0.4 percent last month, the Commerce Department said Tuesday.

Consumers spent more on electronics, home and garden supplies, sporting goods, at department and general merchandise stores and at restaurants and bars. They also paid higher prices for gas.

Spending on autos fell in January, the report showed, even though automakers had previously reported higher sales last month. That could mean that dealers offered more discounts to attract buyers.



Israel and Proxy Terrorism

By Robert Wright
Feb 13 2012, 8:43 AM ET

Should Israel be classified as a state sponsor of terrorism? That question is being debated in the wake of a story that NBC News broke late last week.

Citing unnamed US officials, NBC reported that Israel has used an Iranian opposition group to carry out those much-publicized assassinations of Iranian scientists. The group in question is the M.E.K. (Mojahedin-e Khalq, or People's Mujahedin of Iran), which since 1997 has been designated a terrorist group by the United States because of its alleged assassinations of US citizens.

The argument for considering Israel a supporter of terrorism comes in two varieties:

1) According to NBC, Israel gives the M.E.K. the funding, training, and weapons to carry out the assassinations--and that would seem to constitute support for a terrorist group.



Israeli Attack On Iran Would Be Complex Operation

If Israel attacked Iran's nuclear facilities, the strike would probably take the form of a complex air assault involving scores of planes that would have to penetrate Iranian air defenses and attack up to a couple of dozen targets simultaneously, analysts say.

"This would be way more sophisticated than anything that's ever been done before," said Charles Wald, a retired Air Force general who led the coalition air campaign in Afghanistan that helped topple the Taliban.

By contrast, Israel's strike on Iraq's Osiraq nuclear reactor in 1981 and an attack in Syria in 2007 were simpler operations that required Israel to hit a single above-ground target. Neither country had sophisticated air defense capabilities.

There would be nothing "surgical" in a strike on Iranian facilities, Wald said.



Iran Hosts Chinese Envoy, Says Ready For Nuclear Talks

Tehran - Iran is ready to hold nuclear talks with world powers but will not tolerate undue pressure from them, Iran's chief negotiator said Monday after holding talks with China's deputy foreign minister, Ma Zhaoxu.

'Talks on the basis of pressure will not yield any results, but we need to hold the talks in a way that both sides end up in a win-win situation,' Iran's deputy nuclear negotiator, Ali Baqeri, was quoted by state television network IRIB as saying.

While Tehran says it is ready to resume nuclear talks with Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, it insists it will not accept their main demand - a temporary suspension in uranium enrichment until the peaceful nature of its nuclear programme has been proven.

'We do not want to give in to any pressure, but have our own initiative in the talks,' Baqeri said, without providing further details on what such Iranian initiatives might be.



Top Officer Seeks ‘More Autonomy’ For Elite Special Ops Forces: Report

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, February 13, 2012 2:23 EST

The top US special operations officer, who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, is seeking new authority to move his forces faster and outside of normal Pentagon deployment channels, according to The New York Times.

The newspaper said Admiral William McRaven, who leads the Special Operations Command, is pushing for a larger role for his elite units who have traditionally operated in the dark corners of US foreign policy.

The plan would give him more autonomy to position his forces and their war-fighting equipment where intelligence and global events indicate they are most needed, the report said.

It would also allow the special operations forces to expand their presence in regions where they have not operated in large numbers for the past decade, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America, the paper noted.



Obama Proposes Doubling Highway Spending on Savings From Troop Withdrawal

By Carol Wolf - Mon Feb 13 16:15:12 GMT 2012

President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget proposed almost doubling the amount spent on U.S. highway, bridge and mass transit projects by using money previously spent on military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The White House budget released today proposes $476 billion over six years for surface transportation, and the president calls for an immediate $50 billion infusion in spending this year. About $38.5 billion a year would be transferred from the U.S. general fund, offset by “reduced overseas military expenditures,” the document said. The budget also provides a boost in financing authority for a transportation loan program beyond current estimated outlays.

The Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Program, or TIFIA, would have financing authority of about $5 billion under the president’s budget. In fiscal 2012, financing authority was $1.23 billion. The TIFIA program provides loans to help pay for toll-road and other projects in combination with private financing.

The Highway Trust Fund, which finances U.S. transportation projects using vehicle-fuel taxes, faces insolvency as soon as October, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The president and some Republicans have ruled out raising the taxes to fill the funding gap.


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