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U.S. Navy bolsters air craft carrier presence in Persian Gulf

I believe that brings total aircraft carriers near Iran to 3, and any subsequent fleet ships that go with them.

Read here:

A new aircraft carrier strike group has entered the Arabian Sea and another is on its way, a Pentagon official said in a news briefing Wednesday — a shuffling of the U.S. fleet amid rising tensions with Iran.

Officials said there is no connection between the fleet movements and threats from Iran, however, the arrival of the USS Carl Vinson comes on the heels of Iranian military exercises in the Persian Gulf and threats to block the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil transit route.

And the killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran on Wednesday further escalated tensions, as the Obama administration denied any role in the death.

The U.S. Navy announced Monday that the USS Vinson had arrived in the region to conduct missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts.

“We will work closely with our regional partners to demonstrate our commitment to security and stability in the region,” Rear Admiral Thomas Shannon said in a written statement.

Captain John Kirby, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Media Operations, on Wednesday denied U.S. involvement in the killing of the Iranian scientist and said the incident has not changed the U.S. position in the Gulf region.

And the number of carriers in the region “does go up and down, but it’s based on overall broad requirements in the region that the Central Command commander sets and establishes, [it’s] not necessarily … driven by a specific incident,” Capt. Kirby said.

The shift in naval assets in the region, Kirby said, is not linked to Iran’s recent threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, a threat made in response to the West’s sanctions on Iranian oil exports over the country’s contested nuclear program

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FLASH: Car Sinks into Hudson River, 1 Person Rescued


A car went into the Hudson River Thursday morning at 96th Street and the Henry Hudson Parkway, and one person has been pulled from the water.

Divers were searching for more possible victims.

An FDNY spokesman said someone called in shortly after 10 a.m. to report the car in the water.

The rescued person has been taken to a hospital.


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French journalist killed in Syria

Damascus, Syria (CNN) — A French journalist died Wednesday in a mortar strike on a pro-government rally in Homs, the Syrian city that has become the symbol of grass-roots resistance against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The violence comes as international journalists and Arab League monitors viewed the tumult rippling across restive cities. A journalist who witnessed the incident told CNN that a civilian also died in the strike. A Dutch journalist and nine civilians were injured.

The dead journalist is Gilles Jacquier of the France 2 TV network, the network confirmed. There are different casualty figures filtering out of Homs. France 2 also said seven people died in the same place. Jacquier’s cameraman was lightly injured, France 2 said. It said they were there as part of a trip authorized by the government.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe expressed his condolences and condemned the “heinous act.”

“We are asking for an inquiry to be launched to shed all light on the circumstances of this tragedy,” the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

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300 Foxconn Workers at Xbox 360 Factory Threaten Suicide

According to the Chinese anti-government website China Jasmine Revolution, about 300 employees at a Foxconn Technology Park in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, threatened to kill themselves by jumping from the top of a building in the park.

On Jan. 2, about 300 employees at a plant belonging to Taiwan-based Foxconn — the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer — asked their boss for a raise. They were told either quit their positions with compensation or keep their jobs and receive no additional payment. Most employees took the first option, but the company terminated the agreement, and none of them were given the money they were promised.

Eventually, the mayor of Wuhan came to stop dissuade the former employees from committing suicide. At 9:00pm on Jan. 3, the group chose life.

Suicides at Foxconn plants resulted in the deaths of 14 workers in 2010, where employees frequently complained of discrimination and long working hours.


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Iran Sentences American Man to Death in CIA Case


TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – An Iranian court has convicted an American man of working for the CIA and sentenced him to death, state radio reported Monday, in a case adding to the accelerating tension between the United States and Iran.

Iran charges that as a former U.S. Marine, Amir Mirzaei Hekmati received special training and served at U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan before heading to Iran for his alleged intelligence mission. The radio report did not say when the verdict was issued. Under Iranian law, he has 20 days to appeal.

The 28-year-old former military translator was born in Arizona and graduated from high school in Michigan. His family is of Iranian origin. His father, a professor at a community college in Flint, Michigan, has said his son is not a CIA spy and was visiting his grandmothers in Iran when he was arrested.

His trial took place as the U.S. announced new, tougher sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, which Washington believes Tehran is using to develop a possible atomic weapons capability.

Iran, which says it only seeks nuclear reactors for energy and research, has sharply increased its threats and military posturing against stronger pressures, including the U.S. sanctions targeting Iran’s Central Bank in attempts to complicate its ability to sell oil.

The U.S. State Department has demanded Hekmati’s release.

The court convicted him of working with a hostile country, belonging to the CIA and trying to accuse Iran of involvement in terrorism, Monday’s report said.

In its ruling, a branch of Tehran Revolutionary Court described Hekmati as a mohareb, an Islamic term that means a fighter against God, and a mofsed, or one who spreads corruption on earth. Both terms appear frequently in Iranian court rulings.

In a closed court hearing in late December, the prosecution asked for the death penalty for Hekmati.

The U.S. government has called on Iranian authorities to grant Swiss diplomats access to him in prison. The Swiss government represents U.S. interests in Iran because the two countries don’t have diplomatic relations.

Hekmati is a dual U.S.-Iranian national. Iran considers him an Iranian since the country’s law does not recognize dual citizenship.

His father, Ali Hekmati, and family friend Muna Jondy, an attorney who has been speaking on behalf of the family, did not immediately respond to emails and phone messages left at their offices before business hours Monday morning.

Similar cases against Americans accused of spying have heightened tensions throughout the years-long standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran arrested three Americans in July 2009 along the border with Iraq and accused them of espionage, though the Americans said they were just hiking in the scenic and relatively peaceful Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

One of them was released after a year in prison, and the other two were freed in September in deals involving bail payments that were brokered by the Gulf sultanate of Oman, which has good relations with Iran and the U.S.

On Dec. 18, Iran’s state TV broadcast video of Hekmati delivering a purported confession in which he said he was part of a plot to infiltrate Iran’s Intelligence Ministry.

In a statement released the same day, the Intelligence Ministry said its agents identified Hekmati before his arrival in Iran, at Bagram Air Field in neighboring Afghanistan. Bagram is the main base for American and other international forces outside Kabul, the Afghan capital.

It is not clear exactly when he was arrested. Iranian news reports have said he was detained in late August or early September.

Hekmati’s father, Ali, said in a December interview with The Associated Press, that his son was a former Arabic translator in the U.S. Marines who entered Iran about four months earlier to visit his grandmothers.

At the time, he was working in Qatar as a contractor for a company “that served the Marines,” his father said, without providing more specific details.

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Moody’s Lowers Illinois Credit Rating, Again

Hmmm…what famous politician hails from the Land of Lincoln? What city is it that is considered the most corrupt, politically speaking? I can’t recall at this moment, but it seems important, for some reason.

Associated Press January 6, 2012 10:04PM

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois, unable to solve its long-running financial problems, was given the lowest credit rating of any state in the country by Moody’s Investors Service on Friday, a move that will increase costs to taxpayers.

A second agency, Standard & Poor’s, left its Illinois rating unchanged but warned of a negative outlook that could lead to a downgrade in the future. A day earlier, Fitch Ratings also left the rating unchanged and declared a stable outlook.

Lower credit ratings generally mean the state winds up paying more interest when it borrows money by selling bonds.

Both Moody’s and S&P said they are troubled by Illinois’ failure to balance its budget and strengthen government pension systems, although a tax increase and other measures have helped.

Moody’s cited “weak management practices” and a recent legislative session that “took no steps to implement lasting solutions.”

Moody’s now rates Illinois “A2,” below any other state. Only one state, California, qualifies for the next-highest rating. All the rest are ranked higher.

Standard & Poor’s flip-flops the states in its ratings. California is worst, with Illinois a notch above.

Read the rest here.

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West Readies Oil Plan in Case of Iran Crisis

By Peg Mackey and Richard Mably

LONDON | Fri Jan 6, 2012 5:12pm EST

(Reuters) – Western powers this week readied a contingency plan to tap a record volume from emergency stockpiles to replace nearly all the Gulf oil that would be lost if Iran blocks the Strait of Hormuz, industry sources and diplomats told Reuters.

They said senior executives of the International Energy Agency (IEA), which advises 28 oil consuming countries, discussed on Thursday an existing plan to release up to 14 million barrels per day (bpd) of government-owned oil stored in the United States, Europe, Japan and other importers.

Action on this scale would be more than five times the size of the biggest release in the agency’s history — made in response to Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

The maximum release, some 10 million bpd of crude and about 4 million bpd of refined products, could be sustained during the first month of any coordinated action, the plan says.

“This would form a necessary and sensible response to a closure of the strait,” a European diplomat told Reuters. “It wouldn’t take long to put in place if it was required … and would be unlikely to prove controversial amongst the (IEA) membership.”

A spokesman for the IEA confirmed that the Paris-based agency has an existing contingency plan that outlines a maximum stock release capability of 14 million bpd for a month. “We’re watching the situation carefully,” he said of Iran.

Tehran announced plans on Friday for new military exercises in the world’s most important oil shipping lane, through which some 16 million barrels of crude pass each day.

Read the rest here.

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SEC Warns of Social Media Investment Scams

“Regulators are warning the public to be wary of social media sites that could be offering bogus investment schemes.

The warning follows civil charges filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission against an Illinois-based investment adviser who tried to sell fraudulent securities through Linkedin.

The SEC accuses Anthony Fields of offering more than $500 billion in bogus securities to investors through the popular social media site. No one bought the investments, the SEC says.

Fields couldn’t be reached for a response.

SEC officials say they have detected more fraud cases involving the use of social media.”


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