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Dutch and Australian investigators along with members of the OSCE mission in Ukraine examine pieces of the crashed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in the village of Petropavlivka, Donetsk region, in eastern Ukraine on Friday. (AP)

Ukrainian Troops Said Poised To Retake Rebel-Held Donetsk

Jul 26, 2014

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Ukrainian forces were reportedly advancing on rebel positions near the key eastern town of Donetsk on Saturday, as they try to retake the separatist stronghold.

Donetsk is the region where Malaysia Airlines MH17 was shot down on July 17, killing nearly 300 people. Pro-Russian rebels have been blamed for downing the plane and they have hampered international efforts to access the site of the wreckage.

The Washington Post says: "Government troops are currently battling rebels in the nearby town of Horlivka and have blocked all roads leading out of Donetsk to prevent the insurgents from replenishing supplies and fighters or escaping, said Andriy Lysenko of the Ukrainian Security and Defense Council. Once Horlivka is under Ukrainian control again, he said, the army will move to retake Donetsk, a city where pro-Russian separatists have held sway for months while declaring it the Donetsk People's Republic. The Ukrainian military has ousted rebels from 10 surrounding villages and towns in the past week."

According to the AP, the move comes "as Ukrainian forces appear to have gained some momentum recently by retaking control of territory from the rebels. But Russia also appears to becoming more involved in the fighting, with the U.S. and Ukraine accusing Moscow of moving heavily artillery across the border to the rebels."

As we reported earlier this week, the U.S. has said it has "new evidence" that Russian forces were lobbing artillery across the border and that Moscow was planning to ship powerful multiple rocket launcher systems to the pro-Russian separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine.

NPR's Corey Flintoff, reporting from Donetsk, says Ukrainian officials have been accusing Russian troops for days of firing across the border

"The allegations come as separatists appear to be losing ground in the face of a Ukrainian offensive," Corey says.

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Commuters in major U.S. cities spend an average of 2.5 days a year stuck in traffic. Some companies are capitalizing on that time and offering drivers money for renting out their bumper space to advertisers. (AP)

This Traffic Backup Brought To You By ...

by Sean Braswell
Jul 26, 2014 (

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Sean Braswell

With the advent of the "sharing economy" and successful peer-to-peer ventures like Airbnb and RelayRides, it is now possible for millions to turn a quick buck by renting out underused assets like a spare guest room or a even a dog that needs walking.

But many of us who endure long car rides to work each day have another asset that we may have been too frazzled, bored or fatigued to appreciate — even though it trails us almost everywhere we go: our car's bumper.

Traffic Problems

It may be painful but think about it: The average commuter in large, congested American cities like Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York spends the equivalent of 2.5 days stuck in traffic each year. It's even worse in other parts of the world: Commuters in London spend three days (72 hours) in traffic annually, and their counterparts in Brussels (83 hours) and Antwerp (77 hours) endure the worst congestion on the planet.

That's a lot of time staring at the bumper in front of you. And, let's face it, unless you're stuck behind that dirty Subaru that has more stickers plastered to it than miles left on it, there's usually not much to look at.

Now consider another traffic problem: Brands are struggling to get their message out across a variety of media. It's getting ever harder to find places to put ads that people will not close (pop-ups), ignore (magazines, banner ads), circumvent (television) or toss (direct mail). The search for a captive audience has even led some entrepreneurs to follow consumers into the toilet.

Online advertising has had a particularly tough time. The average click-through rate for online display ads, for example, is around 0.1 percent. Put another way, you are more likely to survive a plane crash or give birth to twins than click on a banner ad.

Is it possible that advertisers and brand managers have simply been focused on the wrong kind of traffic? And by doing so, they've been giving commuters a free ride — when what they ought to be giving them is a subsidized one.

Letting It Ride

Advertisers have not always been oblivious to drivers. For example, they quickly learned that the explosion in car ownership in the U.S. in the 1920s and '30s — and the increasing amount of time that Americans were spending on the road — meant that drivers could, as history writer Diarmuid Jeffreys puts it, "be a (literally) sitting target for bold, brash ads." Thus the roadside billboard was born.

It was not long before cars themselves became the ad canvas. In 1970, when the federal government banned tobacco advertising on television, R.J. Reynolds and other big tobacco companies were forced to look for new ways to keep their brands in the public eye. One of the most profitable places they discovered: NASCAR stock cars.

Big Tobacco launched the Winston Cup series, and other companies soon followed suit, placing their advertisements all over cars, tracks, drivers and pit crews. Today NASCAR attracts more Fortune 500 companies as advertisers than any other sport.

Mass transit is also a well-adorned ad landscape: From wrap advertising on commercial vehicles, taxis and buses to the insides of subway cars and tunnels, advertisers have already started colonizing the viewing space of millions of commuters. So much so that many municipalities have banned mobile billboards — those trucks that drive around carrying large advertisements on their trailers.

Yet the vast majority of vehicles remain ad-free despite the tremendous incentives for both advertisers and drivers to cash in.

Sponsored Content

By placing advertisements on car bumpers, companies and brand managers not only gain access to prime, undeveloped ad space, they also grow brand loyalty by providing thousands of drivers with a sponsored commute.

Whether it's for gas money or a portion of your next car payment, wouldn't you consider renting out your bumper? In India, one enterprising firm recently offered to pay its drivers' monthly car payments in return for putting up vinyl ads on car exteriors — and received more takers than it could handle.

For those worried about pimping their vehicles to corporate sponsors, a few minutes on Facebook should disabuse you of that concern. With millions of people already "friends" or "fans" of everything from Jell-O Pudding Pops to Spam, is anyone really going to care if your bumper pitches Netflix or Target?

The logistics of the bumper ad should also not pose a challenge. In an era of GPS and self-driving cars, it should be a snap to create a bumper messaging board that is digitized, connected to the driver's smartphone and whose movements can be tracked and geo-coordinated to estimate the number of "impressions" a bumper generates.

Follow Me (Literally)

Of course, the bumper messaging board, like the bumper sticker, has another potential use, and source of appeal: self-expression. Think of it as Twitter meets vanity plates, and it wouldn't have to be limited to commercial expression.

Tired of being defined by the same political slogan or "Coexist" sticker you've had emblazoned on your car's rear end since 2004? Want to say something fresh, funny or less conventional with your bumper space? Want to grow your followers even while you're parked on the freeway? Perhaps recommend a favorite restaurant, TV show or local business?

The possibilities abound. As Mark Twain once said, "Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising." If advertisers can figure out how to rent some real estate on your rear bumper, that small thing might just turn out to be your wallet.

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Vincenzo Nibali, Astana Pro Team, on the podium as he retains his yellow leader's jersey on the penultimate day of the tour. (PA Photos/Landov)

Vincenzo Nibali Set For Tour De France Victory

Jul 26, 2014 (

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It's all over but Sunday's ride down the Champs-Elysees: Italian cyclist Vincenzo Nibali has locked up an unassailable lead in the 2014 Tour de France.

Nibali, 29, is poised to take his first title in cycling's premier event and will become the first Italian to wear the yellow jersey on the final stage from Evry to Paris since Marco Pantani in 1998.

Astana Pro Team and Nibali, Cycling Weekly says, "relinquished the lead to Frenchman Tony Gallopin for just one day before Nibali took it back with an impressive win at the top of La Planche des Belles Filles.

CW said:

"When the race hit the Alps Nibali wasted no time in cementing his lead further. He won his third stage in Chamrousse and distanced all his rivals again the following day to Risoul."

According to The New York Times, Nibali drove home his domination when he "joined the American Chris Horner in an attack on the final climb of the Tour."

On Saturday, a day before the finish of the grueling, nearly three-week event, Nibali did well enough in the time trial to cement his dominance, as German Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) "crushed stage 20," Velo News writes.

The Times says:

"Before the race began, it seemed likely that a time-trial showdown would involve Alberto Contador and Chris Froome, the defending champion. But both abandoned the race earlier because of crash-related injuries.

"Oleg Tinkov, the owner of Contador's Tinkoff-Saxo team, had suggested that Nibali, who has also won the grand tours of Italy and Spain, was winning by default. But several strong performances at the Tour by Nibali, particularly Thursday, meant that Tinkov held a minority opinion.

"Nibali rejected the idea that he was emulating the style of the disgraced Lance Armstrong by imposing himself as the boss no rider dare cross.

"'I'm very different than Lance,' said Nibali, whose news conference manner is certainly far less combative than Armstrong's. 'I haven't done one huge performance. I got 30 seconds here, 40 seconds there.'"

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Smoke rises from buildings in May after shelling on the Iraqi city of Fallujah, which is currently held by anti-government fighters. Rights workers say civilians are being killed by government attacks with so-called barrel bombs. (AFP/Getty Images)

Barrel Bomb Attacks Devastate Iraqi Families

Jul 26, 2014 (Weekend Edition Saturday /

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Human rights groups are accusing the Iraqi government of indiscriminate bombing. Baghdad officials deny that and note they're fighting a Sunni insurgency that commits mass executions and suicide bombings.

Yet rights workers say civilians are being killed by government attacks with so-called barrel bombs — the crude weapons made famous in Syria's current conflict. Barrel bombs are illegal and indiscriminate explosives, packed in things like oil drums or gas cylinders.

Hospitals haven't been spared. A doctor reached in the town of Garma in Anbar province says his hospital was destroyed by a barrel bomb and now he works in a school nearby. Many of the victims, he says, were women and children.

Other doctors contacted by NPR say they're counting hundreds of civilians killed in several places, including Mosul, Fallujah and Baiji — casualties of barrel bombs from Iraq's Shiite-led military.

A Terrifying Blast

Distraught and in tears, Ali Hamad can barely describe the destruction that fell from the sky last Wednesday.

The family had broken their day-long fast in the city of Fallujah in the restive Anbar province. Hamad walked out of the house and heard the hum of a helicopter, saw a barrel bomb drop, then a terrifying blast.

"I got up and screamed for my sisters and my mother," he says. Hamad's house was wiped out, his whole family dead — two teenage sisters, a 10-year-old brother, his mother and his uncle. He found pieces of them in the rubble. His mother's arm was still holding her prayer beads. Hamad already lost his father during the U.S. invasion in 2003.

Next door, a family of six was gone. A grieving man cries and says he wishes he had died with them.

"I want someone to hear me, to tell the United Nations what Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki is doing to us. Why? Because we're Sunni?" he asks.

Insurgents And Indiscriminate Bombings

Tirana Hassan, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, investigated 17 separate airstrikes, including six barrel bombs since June 6 that killed at least 75 civilians.

"The Iraqi government needs to cease all indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas and foreign governments who are providing military support and assistance should only continue to support the Government of Iraq on the condition that the armed forces are compliant with international humanitarian law," Hassan says.

Baghdad is locked in a battle with the extremists calling themselves the Islamic State who have taken over vast parts of the north and west. They're known for extreme violence and killing innocents.

The government denies the use of barrel bombs, but they've been documented in Fallujah since January and are being used in other towns. Doctors in Fallujah estimate the town gets hit by barrel bombs three times a week and more than 600 civilians have been killed in strikes since January.

"A number of these barrel bombs have dropped in these civilian areas and not actually exploded," Hassan says. "So here you have a civilian population who is trapped between insurgents on the one hand and indiscriminate bombings on the other also living with unexploded ordinances."

And so people are fleeing in huge numbers to safer areas like Shaqlawa, northeast of Erbil. It's a resort town where many families from Anbar fled to escape the airstrikes.

Escaping To Safety

The Nouri family fled Fallujah. Ahmed Nouri lays in a bed recovering from a strike that wounded him. He says it was a barrel bomb a month ago. It overturned his car. A scar runs down the length of his arm, another across his stomach.

"This is genocide by Maliki against the Sunni people of Fallujah," he says.

His sister, Suad, and brother, Mohamed, sit nearby. They survived a rocket and then a barrel bombing last week and fled.

Mohamed Nouri pulls out a small pink piece of paper where he lists every strike he witnessed — July 11, July 12, the list goes on. First, the Americans came and killed us, he says, and now the leader of our own country is doing it.

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South Koreans at the Seoul train station watch a TV news program showing a June missile launch conducted by the North. (AP)

North Korea Reportedly Tests Short-Range Ballistic Missile

Jul 26, 2014 (

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North Korea has fired a short-range ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan, according to The Associated Press, which quotes an unnamed South Korean official.

The test is described as beginning with a launch in the country's southwest Hwanghae province on Saturday morning and ending when the missile landed off the east coast at the end of a 310-mile flight path.

The unnamed official quoted by AP did not specify what type of missile was involved, but its range suggests it could be the Hwasong-6, described by the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation as a variant on the Russian-made SCUD-C. It was put in service by Pyongyang in 1988 and is said to be North Korea's most widely deployed missile (with approximately 400), capable of carrying up to a 1,760 pound payload.

AP calls Saturday's test, "the latest in a slew of weapons tests by Pyongyang, and came on the eve of the 61st anniversary of the signing of an armistice that ended the rivals' war."

According to the AP: "North Korea routinely test-fires missiles, artillery and rockets, but the number of weapons tests it has conducted this year is much higher than previous years. Outside analysts say this indicates that North Korea's young leader, Kim Jong Un, is handling things differently than his late father, Kim Jong Il, who sparingly used longer-range missile and nuclear tests as negotiating cards with the outside world to win concessions. Kim Jong Un inherited power upon his father's death in December 2011."

In June, the blog, run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS, noted the appearance of a North Korean cruise missile in the latest propaganda films out of Pyongyang.

Author Jeffrey Lewis writes that the North Korean cruise missile appears to be a copy of the Russian Kh-35 Uran, a sea-skimming anti-ship weapon.

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