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Obama to pay first visit to mosque as president

Islamic Society of BaltimoreThe White House announced plans for President Barack Obama to visit the Islamic Society of Baltimore on Wednesday.

The visit will be Obama's first visit to a mosque as president.

"The President will hold a roundtable with community members and deliver remarks, where he will reiterate the importance of staying true to our core values," a White House official said in a statement. "Welcoming our fellow Americans, speaking out against bigotry, rejecting indifference, and protecting our nation's tradition of religious freedom."


Israeli Cabinet approves liberal Jewish prayer at the Western Wall

Women pray at Western Wall in JerusalemIsrael's Cabinet voted Sunday to allow non-Orthodox Jewish prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, a move advocates said marked a historic show of government support for liberal streams of Judaism.

The issue is of particular importance to the Jewish community in the United States, where the more liberal Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism are dominant. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed the plan in an attempt to please American Jews, a key source of support for Israel, despite stiff opposition by ultra-Orthodox and religious nationalist elements in Israel who are key members of his own government.


Amid shaky start to Syria talks, IS-claimed blast kills 45

Syria peace talksA triple bombing claimed by the extremist Islamic State group killed at least 45 people near the Syrian capital of Damascus on Sunday, overshadowing an already shaky start to what are meant to be indirect Syria peace talks.

Syria's state news agency SANA said that the blasts went off in Sayyda Zeinab, a predominantly Shiite Muslim suburb of the Syrian capital. SANA said attackers detonated a car bomb at a bus stop and that two suicide bombers set off more explosives as rescuers rushed to the area.


Alex Baer: Hopalong Banshee

earth exploding It's the Age of Superheroes, among other burdensome identifiers of today.

(Such titles are the darlings of media and marketing, and are among the clusters and clutter of many clumsy, clunky ways of trying to figure out What On Earth is Happening Right Now, I realize, but it's better than the Age of Ignorance and Arrogance, as titles go -- GOP- and Trumpian-fandom and other related Fox-like IQ-slides aside.)

Perhaps superhero-dom is all the rage because all our problems seem so big, so unresolvable, so permanent, and so unyielding to our constant, hapless tinkering. Maybe it's just the mathematical result and automatic fun which comes from unchecked population increase where, thanks to sheer body-count growth, we still have the same basic percentage of lunatics, fools, morons, and village idiots, but -- Hey! -- where did all YOU yahoos come from? we say.


Israel’s liberal artists decry attempts to limit expression

Miri RegevIsrael’s cultural class is increasingly alarmed by what many see as a tightening noose on freedom of expression, as a hard-line government minister seeks to cut off funding for artists who are critical of the state and activists accuse them of outright treason.

The clash highlights a broader battle amid Israel’s rightward lurch after nearly 50 years of occupation of lands the Palestinians want for a future state. As Israel’s dovish camp erodes, a nationalist-religious right is rising that lends more emphasis to Israel’s character as a Jewish state, rather than one that is equally Jewish and democratic.


Tests Reveal A New Problem With Treating Flint’s Lead-Tainted Water

Flint lead levelsResults of recently-tested water samples, released Friday out of Flint, Michigan, show levels of lead so high in some locations that government-issued filtration systems are unable to effectively treat the water.

Water problems began in Flint as early as April 2014, when state-appointed emergency managers made the decision to switch the city’s water supply from Detroit’s system to the Flint River. Unbeknownst at the time, the Flint River funneled corrosive water through the city’s old lead-lined pipes, which caused lead to leach into the public water. Tests conducted between January and June 2015 revealed lead levels of 11 parts per billion in the city’s drinking water — the EPA requires action be taken to monitor water corrosion when lead levels reach 15 parts per billion, though no level of exposure to lead is considered safe.


Pentagon won't demote Petraeus for sharing classified information

Petraeus will not be demotedRetired General David Petraeus will not be docked one star for his conviction on charges of leaking classified information to his biographer and former lover, according to a letter sent by the Pentagon to the Senate and obtained by USA TODAY.

Stephen Hedger, a top official for legislative affairs, wrote Friday to Sen. John McCain saying that Defense Secretary Ash Carter considers the Petraeus matter closed, according to the letter, which was obtained by USA TODAY from a Pentagon official who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.


Pulitzer prize-winning security expert denied White House clearance

Ashcan SoltaniA Pulitzer prize-winning computer security expert recently hired by the Chief Technology Officer of the United States, Megan Smith, has been denied a security clearance and is heading to the West coast.

Ashkan Soltani was previously the chief technologist at the Federal Trade Commission. He was hired by the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy as a senior adviser to Smith in December.


Main Syrian opposition team heads to Geneva as peace talks open

Syrian Opposition joins peace talksA delegation from Syria's main opposition group flew to Geneva on Saturday to assess whether to join Damascus government officials in United Nations-brokered peace talks, an opposition representative said.

The 17-strong team included the head of the Saudi-backed Higher Negotiation Committee (HNC), which includes political and militant opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country's five-year civil war.


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