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Chatter: Obama approved secret order to aid Syria rebels

Obama reportedly throws his support behind Syrian rebels, Phelps becomes greatest Olympian, Ebola threatens Uganda and medal winners stuck with taxes.
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Need to know: 

President Obama reportedly signed a secret order months back, authorizing the United States to aid Syrian rebels in toppling the Assad regime. Indeed, the report just makes official what most people already knew: that the US has been involved in supporting the Free Syrian Army since the early days of the uprising. The documents do not say whether the US would be supplying arms to the emboldened fighters.

This as the fighting continues to rage in Syria's largest city, Aleppo, where it was reported that rebel fighters were able to steal a tank and open fire on an airbase. The reports, always difficult to confirm from Syria, suggest that this is the first use of heavy weapons by the rebels.

Despite advances by the Free Syrian Army, videos by unknown sources may show the bodies of those summarily executed by rebels - 52 in all. The next day more video appeared, with rebels claiming that it showed the bodies of those killed by Assad's forces after house-to-house raids.

Want to know: 

Michael Phelps has become the most decorated Olympian of all-time. The US swimmer now has 19 career medals, including 15 golds, 2 silver and two bronze, after helping his team win the 4x200m freestyle relay yesterday.

His victory pushes him past the medal count of Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina who participated in the 1956, 1960 and 1964 games.

Phelps' glory caught the attention of President Obama who tweeted at the swimmer: "Congrats to Michael Phelps for breaking the all-time Olympic medal. You’ve made your country proud. -bo." Phelps and his teammate Ryan Lochte are set for a showdown tonight in the 200-meter individual medley.

Dull but important: 

Uganda is still on high alert as the death toll from the Ebola virus increases to 16 after two others died overnight. About two dozen others are being kept in quarantine after coming in contact with the virus, made famous by the 1995 Hollywood film, "Outbreak."

The last serious outbreak of the virus in Uganda occurred in 2000, when 425 people became infected and over half of them died.

The country's president has warned against human contact and even told countrymen to refrain from shaking hands - a move that has been said to have increased awkward social situations. 

Just because: 

The law exempting ultra-Orthodox Israelis from military service expired yesterday, with the government signalling that it had no intention of renewing it. The controversial move will likely end what many Israelis feel has been an unfair privilege to the ultra-Orthodox community. The effort to expand participation in military service in Israel will undoubtedly affect the Arab Israeli community, which has also been exempt from serving until now.

The lead-up to the expiration has seen protests around the country by ultra-Orthodox Jews who have vowed to fight the new draft law. "The Israeli military is not ready, won't be ready and doesn't want to be ready to draft ultra-Orthodox Jews," Meir Porush, an ultra-Orthodox community leader and former lawmaker told the Associated Press, vowing a "civil war," if the draft law on conscription is passed.

Strange but true: 

Here's another way for Olympic athletes to give back to their country: pay more taxes. Americans for Tax Reform, led by a man some call the most powerful person in America, Grover Norquist, pointed out recently that the US is one of the only places that taxes Olympic medal wins.

Win a gold medal? Athletes can expect to pay $236 for the medal itself and another $8,750 for the prize money. Silver medallists pay $135 for their award, while, to add insult to injury, Bronze winners pay a solid $2.

After the release of the news, Senator Marco Rubio announced the Olympic Tax Elimination Act, exempting athletes from the medal tax.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/chatter/chatter-obama-approved-secret-order-aid-syria-rebels

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