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Member since: 2003 before July 6th
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Sochi Games Open With Snowflake Malfunction Amid Pageantry

By Rob Gloster Feb 7, 2014 2:16 PM ET

Months of concern over security and unfinished facilities gave way to Russian pageantry and a malfunctioning snowflake as the record-setting $45 billion Sochi Winter Olympics started with the opening ceremony.

Though the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee promised “the most technologically innovative ceremony ever,” there was an early glitch when a giant electronic snowflake failed to open and left the Olympic rings one short of their usual set of five.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had a grim look on his face as the snowflake failed to unfurl and hovered next to four open circles.

Putin is using the games, the most expensive in history, to transform a Soviet-era summer resort on the Black Sea into a year-round destination and highlight the country’s progress. The malfunctioning prop added to organizers’ headaches as visitors complain about incomplete hotels, half-built sidewalks and the treatment of stray dogs.

While journalists have been using social media to show the world photos of broken doors, brown water coming from faucets and unfinished bathrooms, athletes have been little affected, officials and participants said.



U.S. Senate Panel Approves Controversial Civil-Rights Nominee

President Obama's pick to lead the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division easily cleared his first hurdle toward confirmation Thursday, despite mounting criticism of his work appealing the death sentence of Philadelphia cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal.

In a 10-8 vote along party lines, the Senate Judiciary Committee backed the nomination of 46-year-old civil rights attorney Debo Adegbile.

The decision set the stage for a full Senate showdown later this year that is all but sure to rip scabs off three decades of hard feelings surrounding the 1981 murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.

"I am physically, emotionally, and mentally distressed that I was not able to be in that room. This is personal to me," said Faulkner's widow, Maureen, in an interview with Fox News. She was denied an opportunity to testify before the committee.

Within hours of the decision, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican who has emerged as one of Adegbile's chief critics, began lobbying his colleagues to oppose the nomination.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/news/politics/20140207_U_S__Senate_panel_approves_civil-rights_nominee_who_helped_with_cop-killer_Mumia_Abu-Jamal_s_appeal.html#A4XJ2RIKJbWZo4ae.99

‘Kerry Has Declared A War On God,’ Write Hard-Line Rabbis In Letter

Rabbis warn Kerry to stop negotiations "in order to avoid severe Heavenly punishment for everyone involved."


A group of hard-line nationalist rabbis wrote in an open to letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry that through his current mediation efforts between Israel and Palestinian negotiators he had declared war against God.

The rabbis warned that the secretary must cease such activities, to avoid divine punishment.

The letter was sent by the Committee to Save the Land and People of Israel – an activist group opposed to any political accords with the Palestinians involving territorial concessions – founded by Rabbi Shalom Dov Wolpo, who also founded the far-right Our Land of Israel party.

“Your incessant efforts to expropriate integral parts of our Holy Land and hand them over to Abbas’s terrorist gang, amount to a declaration of war against the Creator and Ruler of the universe! For G-d awarded the entire Land of Israel to our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in order that they bequeath it, as an everlasting inheritance, to their descendants, the Jewish people, until the end of all time,” the letter reads.

The rabbis argue that Kerry’s plan endangers Israeli Jews by bringing them within close range of potential rocket and missile fire from the West Bank should it be ceded by Israel to the Palestinians.



Has SoS Kerry ruled out running for President again in 2016?

Ukraine Crisis: Leaked Phone Call Embarrasses US

The BBC's Mark Mardell: "Some will delight that American frankness has been caught on tape"

An apparently hacked phone conversation during which a senior US diplomat disparages the EU over the Ukraine crisis has been posted online.

A voice resembling that of Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland reportedly refers to the EU using a graphic swear word.

The US said Ms Nuland had "apologised for these reported comments".

The audio also reveals a frank exchange about America's strategy on how to work with Ukraine's main opposition leaders.

The tape appeared on YouTube after Russia had accused Washington of meddling in Ukraine.



U.S. Policy Change On Cuba Stalled - By Obama

(Reuters) - U.S. relations with Cuba are at their best in almost two decades, but President Barack Obama seems unwilling or unable to confront a well-organized anti-Cuba lobby and push for further progress.

Obama suggested change was coming at a Miami fundraiser in November, saying "we have to be creative, and we have to be thoughtful, and we have to continue to update our policies" on Cuba, and yet he has withheld using his executive power since last easing Cuban travel restrictions in January 2011.

Many Cuba experts and policy analysts say a fundamental revision of Cuba policy is overdue and that greater U.S. involvement could promote the market-oriented reforms under way on the communist-ruled island since Cuban President Raul Castro took over for his ailing brother Fidel in 2008.

The Obama administration says Cuba must first improve human rights and release imprisoned U.S. contractor Alan Gross, who was sentenced to 15 years for attempting to establish an illegal communications network on the island.



Job Cuts Surge In January, Up 47 Percent From Previous Month

Source: UPI

CHICAGO, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- Job cuts announced by U.S. employers jumped 47 percent in January from December's 13-year low, a private outplacement firm said Thursday.

Layoff announcements jumped from 30,623 in December to 45,107 in January with the retail sector leading the pack in the month after the holiday season, Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported.

Poor earnings during the holiday season prompted the heavy retail job cuts, the outplacement firm said.

Layoffs were announced in January at Macy's, Sam's Club, JCPenney, Sears, Best Buy and Target, as retailers in total cut 11,394 positions, a 71 percent increase over cuts announced in January 2013.

Read more: http://www.upi.com/Business_News/2014/02/06/Job-cuts-surge-in-January-up-47-percent-from-previous-month/UPI-81021391702513/

Ukraine Leader To Sochi As Kremlin Warns May Act Against "Coup"


(Reuters) - Ukraine's embattled president flew to Russia on Thursday as a senior Kremlin aide urged him to stamp out a standoff on the streets, calling it an attempted coup financed and armed by the United States.

Caught in a rip-tide of competing enticements and threats from Russia and the West, President Viktor Yanukovich flew to Sochi where he was expected to meet Vladimir Putin before the Russian leader opens the Winter Olympics on Friday evening.

The bitter tug-of-war going on between east and west broke out into dirty tricks on the Internet, with what appeared to be online leaks of bugged recordings of top U.S. and EU diplomats discussing efforts to help Yanukovich's opponents into power.

And the Kremlin aide, a key Putin adviser on Ukraine, added to the Cold War ambience of Russia's first Olympics since 1980 by warning that Moscow could intervene to defend Ukraine's sovereignty under the terms of the 1994 pact with the United States under which Kiev gave up nuclear weapons inherited from the Soviet Union.

Read more: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/06/us-ukraine-idUSBREA151QL20140206

Power Outages Could Last For Days In Storm-Battered Northeast

Source: LA TIMES

By Michael Muskal

February 6, 2014

Hundreds of thousands of electricity customers in parts of Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania waited for power to be turned back on as states fought to clean up Thursday from the second major storm this week.

Up to a foot of snow fell in parts of the Northeast on Wednesday, still reeling from the first storm at the beginning of the week. Schools have been closed in many areas, as have businesses and government offices. The cold coated many power lines with heavy ice that brought them down.

As its peak, nearly a million people were without power in storm-socked states. Pennsylvania had the most outages, with about 849,000 customers hit. As many as 3,500 utility workers worked feverishly to repair the damage, according to PECO, the utility. Despite successes, work remained to be done.

“With damage still occurring, it is too early to determine when service will be restored to all customers,” the utility warned in a posting on its website. “Based on the conditions and damages so far, we believe we will be able to restore service to most customers in the next few days. However, some customers – in more heavily damaged areas – could be without service into the weekend.”

Read more: http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-pennsylvania-power-out-winter-storm-20140206,0,3887119.story#axzz2sZiNxxYN

Rouhani Spars With Iran State TV Delaying Broadcast

By Kambiz Foroohar - Feb 6, 2014

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in unprecedented public sparring with state authorities, accused the official television company of trying to keep him off the air by deliberately holding up his address to the nation.

Rouhani said on Twitter yesterday that the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting head, Ezatollah Zarghami, was obstructing his “discussion with the people.” As his speech was due to air, state TV showed video clips from the Islamic revolution of 1979 -- images of soldiers clashing with fist-pumping demonstrators, against a soundtrack of revolutionary slogans. Iranians mark the anniversary of the revolution on Feb. 11.

Rouhani has clashed with conservatives in Iran who have opposed diplomatic initiatives such as the phone conversation with President Barack Obama that ended a three-decade taboo, and the nuclear accord reached with world powers in Geneva in November. Zarghami reports to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the top decision-maker in the Islamic Republic.

Scrolling banners on the TV screen attributed the delay to technical problems. Local media, including the state-run Iranian Students News Agency, gave other, conflicting accounts, including disputes over the choice of a presenter and which journalists would put questions to Rouhani.
‘Bit Late’

The president referred several times to the spat once the program eventually went on air about an hour late. “We are a bit late, and the viewers might be tired,” he said in his introductory remarks.



U.S. Freeze Costs $3.5 Billion Including Travel Delays

Source: Bloomberg

Winter storms that brought heavy snowfall, freezing rain and Arctic air to the U.S. last month will probably cost more than $3.5 billion in economic losses, according to insurance broker Aon Plc.

Insurers estimated losses of more than $1.4 billion from the second week of January, the most costly of four extreme-weather periods during the month, the London-based broker said today in a report. Insured losses from the three other stretches totaled about $200 million.

At least 21 people were killed from Jan. 5 through 8, as more than 20 inches (51 centimeters) of snow fell in the Great Lakes region and Ohio Valley and freezing rain pelted the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Widespread property damage and severe travel delays added to the costs.

“The combination of physical damages and business-interruption costs have quickly aggregated into direct economic losses well into the billions of dollars,” Steve Bowen, a senior scientist at Aon’s forecasting unit, said in a statement. He said this is the costliest year for “winter weather peril” since 2011.

Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-02-06/u-s-freeze-costs-3-5-billion-including-travel-delays.html
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