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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Syrian Rebels Swap Iranian Hostages for 2,130 Assad Prisoners

Syrian rebels freed 48 Iranian they held captive for five months in exchange for the release of 2,130 prisoners by Bashar al-Assad’s regime. This is the largest prisoner swap since the conflict began 21 months ago. The exchange, brokered by Turkey and Qatar, is an encouraging sign that not all talks have broken down, even after Assad said in a speech three days ago he would not negotiate with his opponents. Iran has been one of Assad’s most steadfast allies as Syria’s loyalist forces and rebels delved deeper into violence. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Defense told the New York Times about being contacted by Israel at the end of November regarding intelligence that Assad’s soldiers filled dozens of bombs with sarin gas before loading them onto vehicles near air bases, causing concern that there would be no time for an intervention. The crisis triggered an unprecedented show of cooperation between the U.S., Russia, China, and Arab countries that stopped Assad in his tracks.

 Australia Fires Reach “Catastrophic” Levels on Blistering Heat

Wildfires continued to spread and rage in south-east Australia as blistering heat led to “catastrophic” conditions, forcing the Australian Bureau of Meteorology to create maps with a new color — purple — to account for temperatures above 54°C (129°F). Strong winds also contributed to fueling fires, which have now ravaged over 46,000 hectares (114,000 acres) of farms, homes, and wooded areas in New South Wales and Tasmania. The nation’s average temperature on Tuesday reached 40°C (104°F), breaking a record set the day before. The fires were so strong they could be seen from space, as this NASA image attests. “This event is turning out to be hotter, more spatially expansive and the duration is quite remarkable,” said government climate scientist David Jones. “And that suggests climate change.”

Obama May Call Climate Summit at White House

U.S. President Barack Obama may call a summit on climate change at the White House early in his new term, according to environmental organizations. The news comes a day after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said 2012 was by far the hottest year on record, and among the ones with most extreme weather. Obama has been under pressure from various group to take a leadership role in the fight against climate change, a request made more pressing by the destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy. While nothing has been confirmed, the White House has shown interest in hosting a bipartisan meeting to launch a national strategy for action.

Obama Said to Pick Chief of Staff Lew to Replace Geithner

U.S. President Barack Obama will appoint his Chief of Staff Jack Lew to replace Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, according to an official who was part of the talks. Lew, who was been shielded from recent budget and fiscal cliff negotiations, will be thrown in the deep end as the White House and Republican-dominated Congress prepare for another round of acrimonious debate, this time over spending cuts and the usually uncontroversial debt ceiling. Lew served during former President Bill Clinton’s second term, helping negotiate a budget deal with a Republican Congress that led to four years of surpluses. While his experience in international finance is limited (he once told Congress he did not think deregulation was a factor in the 2008 financial crisis), he understands the intricacies of fiscal policies and is known as a redoubtable negotiator.

Steroid Use Means No Hall of Famer This Year

For the first time in 17 years and for the eighth time since such elections began, no baseball player won the 75 percent of the vote necessary to be inducted in the Hall of Fame. The candidacies of both Barry Bonds, who was Most Valuable Player a record seven times, and Roger Clemens, who received an unsurpassed seven Cy Young awards, were rejected because of their link with steroid use. Bonds, Clemens, and all other players on the ballot were active before steroid testing, which began in 2004. Craig Biggio won the most votes at 68.2 percent, falling 39 ballots short of an induction.

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