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Monday, November 12, 2012

Syria Pulls Turkey, Israel into Conflict as Rebel Groups Unite

Syrian forces bombed a village close to its border with Turkey and provoked Israel into retaliating today for the second time in two days after erratic mortar fire hit the Golan Heights, a territory Israel took from Syria in 1967 (and which, to this day, isn’t recognized as Israeli by the international community). There has been speculation in Israel and among observers that an increasingly desperate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may be trying to pull Israel into the conflict in order to distract his Arab adversaries. This happened hours after Syrian rebels struck a deal, after months of international pressure to form a coalition that would represent all groups on the ground. The new bloc, called the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, elected Islamic preacher Maath al-Khatib as its leader yesterday, and was recognized by the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) as the “legitimate representative” of the Syrian people.

EU and IMF in Deadlock Over Greece

Despite approving its 2013 budget with heavy austerity cuts late last night, Greece will not receive the next tranche of its bailout package today, finance ministers of the European Union (EU) said. The debt-saddled nation will probably have two more years to sort out its finances and reach its deficit targets, a concession that may cost an extra €32.6 billion ($41.4 billion) to a group of creditors led by Germany. This is according to the troika of Greece’s international lenders (EU, International Monetary Fund – IMF, European Central Bank). The IMF and the EU disagreed on Greece’s debt levels and on the way for the nation to attain “debt sustainability.” The IMF says more austerity would hurt economic growth, and European officials showed reluctance to foot the bill for the two more years that may be granted to Greece. Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras had warned his country would run out of money by November 16, but announced it found a temporary solution to cover the debt that comes due. Meanwhile, protests and strikes took over Europe, in Greece, but also in Portugal, where people demonstrated against a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in Belgium, France, Poland, Romania, Italy, Spain, and Slovenia.

U.S. to Become World’s Top Oil Producer by 2017, Self-Sufficient by 2030

A new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) says the U.S. will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest producer of oil in five years, and will become a net exporter of the commodity by 2030. “The recent rebound in U.S. oil and gas production, driven by upstream technologies that are unlocking light tight oil and shale gas resources, is spurring economic activity – with less expensive gas and electricity prices giving industry a competitive edge – and steadily changing the role of North America in global energy trade,” the report reads. As the U.S. becomes “all but self-sufficient,” the IEA estimates global demand will grow 35 to 46 percent between 2010 and 2035, with China, India, and the Middle East being responsible for two thirds of this increase. The report also says the U.S. will be the world’s largest exporter of natural gas, before Russia, by 2015. Cheap natural gas in the U.S. has already caused domestic consumption of coal to decline. A focus on renewable energies and efficiency requirements for cars and home appliances will also contribute to the U.S.’ self-sufficiency.

Claims of Secret Prison in Libya by Petraeus’ ex-Lover “Baseless”

Claims by Paula Broadwell, the ex-lover of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)  Chief David Petraeus, that the CIA was holding Libyan militants in a secret U.S. prison in Benghazi are “baseless,” according to the agency. Broadwell, whose affair with Petraeus was uncovered last summer during an inquiry by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) into threatening emails she sent to a friend of the Petraeus family, said last month the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi was an effort to free militants who were held in a secret CIA annex. While the CIA had been able to take prisoners under the George W. Bush administration, President Barack Obama signed an executive order in 2009 barring the agency to do so. “Any suggestion that the agency is still in the detention business is uninformed and baseless,” said CIA Spokesman Preston Golson. The September attack on the consulate resulted in the deaths of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three American staffers.

How Social Scientists Helped Obama Win

A group of social scientists, invited by President Barack Obama’s campaign, helped create a strategy that led to Obama’s victory in last week’s elections. The academics, who specialize in psychology, behavioral science and economics, shared with campaign operatives research that deepened their understanding of how voters make decisions and suggested ways to deal with false rumors. To counter the rumor that Obama is a Muslim, researchers recommended he asserted, over and over, that he is a Christian, instead of simply denying it. They also helped establish scripts for volunteers as they addressed potential voters, dropping small hints to motivate engagement. It is the first time in a Democratic candidate’s campaign social science concepts are used so widely, and the first time scientists were explicitly asked to help. “It’s a big change for a culture that historically has relied on consultants, experts and gurulike intuition,” said Psychologist Todd Rogers, from the Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

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