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Archive for June 2009

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Financing Terrorism

Terrorism and Tobacco--How Cigarette Smuggling Finances Jihad and Insurgency Worldwide

June 29th 2009

Palestine Topics - Gaza Tunnel Smuggler

For centuries, blue-turbaned nomadic Tuareg tribesmen have led caravans of camels across the expanses of the Sahara. Laden with millet and cloth from Africa’s West Coast, the caravans traveled unmarked paths to trade for salt and dates in Timbuktu, across the sand plains of Niger, and into the mountain oasis of the Algerian south.

Smugglers take the same routes today — driving SUVs along paved roads or with guidance from the Tuareg and satellite phones — to move weapons, drugs, and, increasingly, humans — through the Sahara for transport across the Mediterranean Sea. The paths are no longer known as the Salt Roads of the Tuareg, but as the “Marlboro Connection,” named after the most lucrative contraband along this 2,000-mile corridor.

Among those who control this underground trade is al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), an Algeria-based terrorist organization widely believed to have been backed by Osama Bin Laden. Descended from the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (known by its French acronym, GSPC) the group has hundreds of members and is blamed for a bloody campaign of bombings, murders, and kidnappings across North Africa and Europe. The lead smuggler, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, 37, is blamed for the 2003 kidnappings of 32 European tourists and the 2006 murder of 13 Algerian customs officials. “They are a significant threat,” says Lorenzo Vidino, author of Al Qaeda in Europe. “Of all Islamic terrorist groups, they have the most extensive and sophisticated network in Europe… And among their activities, smuggling is particularly important.” Read more ..

The Edge of Energy

Global Natural Gas Demand Dip Today Will be Felt for Years

June 29th 2009

Energy / Environment - LNG Tanker

Like other segments of the worldwide energy industry, natural gas is experiencing its first dip in years—in fact, decades. That is a mixed blessing. True, global demand is softening for the first time in a half century. But that means that costly investments in new production have been comprised. Forecasters see a supply crunch hitting in about 2013, according to the International Energy Agency which tracks such trends.

"We have moved from a tight supply and demand balance with extremely high gas prices to an easing one with plummeting prices," Nobuo Tanaka, executive director of the IEA. Oil has experienced a similar drop in prices, although is now rebounding. Read more ..

The Edge of Ecology

Amazon Rainforest is Worth the Worldwide Crusade

June 29th 2009

Environment Topics - Amazon rainforest

Brazil is home to one-third of the world’s rainforest and half of the Amazon. Between its vast rainforests and bodies of water, Brazil hit the planet’s natural resource jackpot, although both are rapidly disappearing habitats. Despite its ecological wealth, Brazil has stated that international climate change is a burden that should be shouldered by both the developed and developing worlds. It also shortsightedly contends that each nation should take environmental action based solely on an inventory of its own needs. Among the world’s top ten largest emitters of greenhouse gases, Brazil needs to step up its actions in order to counteract deforestation and climate change. Moreover, this is an international issue that the rest of the world cannot sit idly by and wait for Brazil to join in and do its share in coping with the problem.

Recent Flooding a Wake-up Call to Climate Change
Increasingly severe weather irregularities are making Brazil’s environmental issues of more pressing importance to national and global policies. The existence of climate change no longer appears to be much of a debate for Brazil, in light of the unusual and frightfully destructive flooding in the north this May that killed forty-four people and left more than 180,000 homeless. Read more ..

Exiting Iraq

Inside the Agreement Governing the Exit from Iraq

June 29th 2009

Iraq - Iraq-US SOFA Signing

According to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), the U.S. military will complete its withdrawal from Iraqi cities on June 30, 2009. The redeployments have both real and symbolic importance, and will mark a milestone in the Obama administration's cautious drawdown of Washington's military commitment. Nonetheless, the U.S. military will continue to play a vital role in consolidating and extending security gains throughout the country, particularly in the rural provinces.

The SOFA was approved by Iraq's cabinet, parliament, and presidential council during November and December 2008 and is supposed to be ratified in a national referendum by July 30, 2009, a date that may be allowed to slip to coincide with the January 2010 national elections. Read more ..

Iran's Voter Revolt

Iran Regime Propped Up by 5000 German Firms Mostly Selling Advanced Technology

June 29th 2009

Iran - Iran Protestor with Cell Phone

This week, news reports suggest that the Iranian regime is using technology obtained from Siemens, the German energy and engineering giant, and its partner Nokia to crack down on internet access, cell phone use, and Twitter accounts of protesters and dissidents. This disclosure highlights once again German technology's critical role in furthering the regime's activities -- and ultimately its survival. Despite some progress over the past several years, the German government remains lax in enforcing existing sanctions against Iran, and Germany remains Iran's most important trading partner in the West.

Ineffective "Discouragement Strategy"

As U.S. and international attention has focused on Iran's troubling behavior and its violation of UN Security Council resolutions, German chancellor Angela Merkel has attempted to tighten the screws on the flourishing German-Iranian economic relationship. In 2008, Merkel introduced a so-called discouragement strategy -- an approach that does not include financial or political penalties, and instead relies solely on moral persuasion -- to try and persuade German companies not to do business with Iran. Merkel adopted this strategy in the wake of reports that Hartmut Schauerte, a member of parliament and state secretary for the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, improperly peddled his influence to secure a deal worth more than 100 million euros for a company in his electoral district to build three plants in Iran for compressed natural gas production. Read more ..

Inside Central America

Venezuela's Chavez Threatens Military Intervention following Coup in Honduras

June 29th 2009

Latin American Topics - Honduran Troops Invade President's Residence

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has threatened to intervene on the North American continent following a military coup in Honduras, just two hours by airliner from Miami. President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras was ousted from power and forcibly taken to Costa Rica when members of the country’s armed forces stormed the national palace and removed him in his pajamas. As for President Chavez, he said that there are reports that his ambassador to Honduras was beaten and left on the side of the road, and that if his ambassador has been killed or his embassy violated "that military junta would be entering a de facto state of war. We would have to act militarily ... I have put the armed forces of Venezuela on alert."

The Congress of Honduras removed President Manuel Zelaya from office, having accused him of “numerous violations” of the Central American country’s constitution, as well as other laws and court findings. Zelaya, an ally of President Chavez, was arrested during the early morning hours on June 28 by Honduras’ armed forces and taken under guard to Costa Rica where he is currently in exile. Roberto Micheletti, who had been president of the national legislature, was named interim president. The Congress published what was purported to be a June 25 letter from Zelaya announcing his “irrevocable” decision to resign. Armored vehicles and soldiers are guarding strategic points throughout the capital city, and radio and televisions blacked out, in scenes reminiscent of Latin America of the past. The capital remains quiet, even while there were protests at the national palace with President Zelaya’s detractors outnumbering his supporters. Read more ..

Iran's Voter Revolt

Saudi Media Take the Lead Against Iran's Regime

June 29th 2009

Iran - Iran Election Protest

Most commentary on the regional reaction to Iran's postelection strife divides Arabs into pro-Iranian and pro-American camps, a simplistic division that misses a key distinction. At the official or semiofficial level, Arab reaction to Iran's current travail is divided into three, not two, main parts: the usual handful of pro-Iranian-government actors (Syria, Hizballah, and Qatar); the surprisingly strident anti-Iranian-government stance from Saudi Arabia; and the large camp of cautious bystanders, including major actors like Egypt, which harbors a serious grudge against Tehran.

Equally noteworthy is that caution, rather than reflexive support for either Iran or the street demonstrators, is also the watchword among major Arab opposition movements, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood and its Hamas offshoot. So far, at the popular level, the dominant feature appears to be -- at least from the outside -- a lack of great activity or even interest, rather than the gathering storm of popular mobilization that some commentators expected.

Saudi-Led Media Charge against Tehran

Apart from Iran's friends in Damascus and Doha, Arab governments have generally avoided direct comment on Iran's internal affairs. The kings, emirs, presidents, and their official representatives have mostly kept silent, endorsing neither Iran's official version of the election nor the popular protests against it. But an analysis of the state-controlled or state-influenced media in these countries, which are much more vocal, is revealing. Read more ..

Ten Years Spent Planning for a North Korean Missile But Not for an Iran Oil Interruption

June 29th 2009
Reading Edwin Black's stunning detailed history of America's ten-year race to prepare for a potential North Korean missile launch toward out shores, and Iran's partnership as tester-in-chief (see North Korea Missile Threat Against Hawaii and Alaska Has Been Expected for Ten Years—Iran Regime a Full Partner Page One, June 22, 2009), I went further. The article stated the coverage was inspired by the research on the book The Plan. I read Black's book and was amazed and angered. How is it that our country has been working 24x7 and spending billions to prepare for a North Korean missile that was only faintly suggested in the late nineties, but do nothing for a generation preparing for an oil interuption threatened every day by Iran and its cohorts? Since the Oil Shock of the 1970s, we have known that our country and indeed the Western World is at the mercy of oil from the Persian Gulf. If Iran blocks the Strait of Hormuz, 20 percent of America's oil will stop and the nation has no contingency plan to deal with it. Iran is now more unstable than ever. North Korea is now more bellicose than ever. The threat from North Korea, the threat from international terrorism, our addiction to oil, and our vulberability to Persian crude--it is all inter-related. I wonder why we spent so much of our national effort to build a base on on distant frozen Shemya Island when all we needed to do was switch to electric cars.

Inside Africa

Kenya's Grim Squalor Seethes Beside Opulence and Corruption

June 29th 2009

Kenya Topics - Kenya Poverty

From where I write at the Kenyan Coast, where I am working for a few days, I am within walking distance of what when it is finished will be a show-piece golf resort, unmatched elsewhere in Africa, with supermarket, airport, luxury homes with swimming pools, 36-hole course and a long etcetera of facilities which might be the envy of the Gulf sheikhs. In shaming contrast, a few miles towards the interior lies the poorest political constituency of the whole of Kenya, Ganze. Here peasants literally scrape out a living with their primitive hoes under a blistering sun and famine is a frequent visitor. Here too, it is rare for a child to complete even primary education, healthcare is at its most basic, and people sleep on a wooden frame covered with skins which passes for a bed.

The golf resort targets the international elite, and when construction was first started the local people, squatters on what they consider their ancestral land, broke down the wall. As a sop they have been offered jobs on this enormous construction site, at a rate of around two dollars a day to cover all the expenses of their often very large families. They may protest at the working conditions, only to find their job offered to someone else in the long line of local unemployed.

This is the crisis Kenya and most sub-Saharan African states are undergoing: the seemingly unbridgeable gap between very rich and very poor. Nearly forty years ago, a famous political activist, J.M. Kariuki, whose murder in strange circumstances has never been explained called Kenya a country of ten millionaires and ten million beggars. Read more ..

Surge Against Hamas

Raising Funds for Gaza in the US: Crossing a Line?

June 29th 2009

Contributors / Staff - Abraham Foxman Color cropped
Abraham H. Foxman

A British Member of Parliament, George Galloway, has been actively courting support in the United States for a “humanitarian” convoy to provide cash and vehicles to representatives of Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist organization that controls Gaza.

The Viva Palestina convoy, led by Galloway, a member of the anti-Zionist “Respect Party” in the British Parliament, donated approximately $1.5 million and more than 100 vehicles to Hamas in March 2009. At a press conference in Gaza announcing the donations, Galloway said: “We are giving you now 100 vehicles and all of their contents, and we make no apology for what I am about to say. We are giving them to the elected government of Palestine.”

Although the European Viva Palestina convoy was promoted as an effort to show solidarity with the Gazan people and to deliver humanitarian aid, the donation of cash and supplies directly to Hamas, a group that engages in terror operations against Israeli civilians and is committed to the destruction of the Jewish state of Israel, defined the exercise as a show of solidarity with Palestinian terrorism.

Since the convoy returned from Gaza, Galloway has gone on two speaking tours around the U.S. in April and May to promote Viva Palestina. During his speeches, which attracted hundreds of attendees, Galloway regularly defended Hamas, describing it as a liberation movement that “just wants to liberate its tiny piece of land from illegal and violent military occupation.” He called Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and imprisoned Palestinian terrorist Marwan Barghouti “the greatest Arab leaders,” while referring to Israel’s newly elected government as “killers” and “fascists.” He claimed that “Zionism has poisoned the well” and has “distorted the face of Jewish people.” Read more ..

Book Reviews

Rethink Should Have Been Rethought

June 29th 2009

Book Covers - Rethink: A Business Manifesto for Cutting Costs and Boosting Innovation

Rethink: A Business Manifesto for Cutting Costs and Boosting Innovation. Ric Merrifield. FT Press. 240 pages.

Maybe I'm taking a cheap shot here, though I don't mean to. But a book entitled Rethink invites every wise-guy and a well-intentioned reviewer to apply the implied invitation to this endeavor as well.

Merrifield, a Microsoft business scientist (cool title!), presents a series of examples of companies that either were or were not successful in analyzing what he calls the ''hows'' of their business in an effort to discover the true nature of their enterprises. He cites McDonald's, which we may think is in the fast-food business but is really engaged in real estate acquisition and development, according to Merrifield. They identify a location, buy the land, develop the business and then sell it to a franchisee. The food (such as it is) is just the ''how'' not the ``what.''

Amazon.com figured out that it had the infrastructure to be more than a seller of books, then realized that its capacity was so massive, it could be ''rented'' by outside parties, generating more revenue. That was a good thing, obviously, but on the other hand, Merrifield also cites Office Depot which, he writes, fell into the ''how trap'' and neglected the ''what'' of their business by focusing on cost-cutting, labor reductions and other supposed efficiencies at the expense of the attributes that were most meaningful to their customers, including experience and expertise from their employees, in particular. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Party of "No" To Bad Ideas--Especially Really Big Ones

June 29th 2009

Contributors / Staff - Armstrong Williams Headshot
Armstrong Williams

In recent months, Democrats too often refer to the Republican Party as the party of “No;” especially no ideas. This sobriquet became the mantra of Democrats after the Republican members of Congress said “no” to the $750 billion unfunded stimulus package. Democrats claimed that Republicans presented no alternative ideas to alleviate the current economic crisis. This is incorrect. The Republicans presented a number of fiscally prudent ideas, but they were rejected by Congressional Democrats who continue to propose and pass fiscally improvident legislation. Given the fiscal irresponsibility of this legislation which adds to a record peace time deficit, Republicans in Congress have a duty to say “no” to these bad ideas. However, if Democrats care to jettison partisanship, there are a number of good Republican ideas to help the economy. 

First, a tax decrease or a direct distribution of federal money to taxpayers is a more efficient way to stimulate the economy than a hastily compiled $750 billion stimulus spending package.  Less than 20 percent of the present stimulus package will be spent in 2009 when the stimulus is most needed. 

On the other hand, $750 billion distributed directly to 300 million Americans as $2,500 cash would result in a much greater percentage of the money being spent in 2009.   Republicans proposed tax cuts and direct payments but the Democrats said no.  Republican should be proud to have been the party of “No” to the Democrat’s anemic stimulus spending idea. Read more ..

Traveler's Edge

Can Mathematics Overcome Jet Lag?

June 29th 2009

Travel - Jet Lag

We all know what jet lag feels like. But is it really. Doctors tell us a major cause of jet lag is the desynchronization of the body’s internal clock and the local environment when a person travels across several time zones. Symptoms include trouble sleeping at night and trouble staying awake during the day.

Now reducing jet lag is the aim of a new mathematical methodology and software program developed by researchers at the University of Michigan and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

The new methodology and software program helps users resynchronize their internal clocks with the local time using light cues. The software program gives users exact times of the day when they should apply countermeasures such as bright light to intervene in the normal course of jet lag.

The findings were published in the June 19 issue of PLoS Computational Biology.

“This work shows how interventions can cut by half the number of days needed to adjust to a new time zone,” says Daniel Forger, an assistant professor of mathematics and a research assistant professor in the Department of Computational Medicine and Biology at the U-M Medical School. Forger is an author of the paper. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Facing the Movements of Our World

June 26th 2009

Contributors / Staff - Micah Halpern headshot
Micah Halpern

Good movements or bad movements, ideological movements or religious movements, self help movements or mass demonstration movements—every movement needs an iconic leader; more precisely, every movement needs a face.

Americans join the army because Uncle Sam asks us to. Americans slim down because Tommy Lasorda, Valerie Bertinelli or Oprah asks us to. Our leaders shape our world by shaping our ideas.

We cannot understand Islamic terror, so we focus on Osama bin Laden. We cannot understand the complex tribal balance between Arab groups, so we focus on Saddam Hussein. We cannot understand Hezbollah, so we focus on Nasrallah. We cannot understand the thirst for freedom, so we focus on twenty-six year old Neda Agha-Soltan lying dead in the street. We cannot understand a government so willing to strip away the freedoms of its citizens, so we focus on Mir Hussein Mousavi.

We cannot understand; even our supreme leader, our president, does not completely understand, but we should try. The power of the events now unfolding in Iran has revealed the true Iran. The curtain has been lifted. We must allow the reality of life, governance, and religious control in Iran to take hold in our minds and in the minds of our leaders, decision makers, and the faces we look up to and follow.

The execution of Neda, shot through the heart by Iranian secret security sniper fire has outraged the world. Neda's death is proof positive that the leadership of Iran is not about to reform or liberalize. As that reality sinks in, we must also realize that no matter whom the elected face of government in Iran belongs to, nothing will change. Read more ..

North Korea's Nukes

North Korea Missile Threat Against Hawaii and Alaska Has Been Expected for Ten Years—Iran Regime a Full Partner

June 22nd 2009

Korea Topics - Gates Inspecting Missile
Defense Sec. Gates Inspects Alaska Silos

This continuing coverage of America’s oil crisis arises from the The Plan: How to Save America When the Oil Stops—or the Day Before (Dialog Press). Buy it here.

In a frantic race with high winds, bone-chilling ice storms and rattled political nerves, the American defense establishment has been rushing to meet the threat now faced by Hawaii, Guam, Alaska and possibly the West Coast of the United States mainland—an advanced North Korean Taepodong-2 missile. The now-contested regime of Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been a full partner in the development.

Bellicose and prone to tantrums, North Korea’s bizarre strong man Kim Jong-Il has ordered a missile test of the new advanced Taepodong-2 missile, apparently in the direction of U.S. territory. Hawaii, Guam and Alaska are in the crosshairs. The defense establishment is convinced the decisive moment will once again come provocatively on America’s national holiday, July 4. This moment has been coming for more than a decade, and the Pentagon, North Korea and Iran have been preparing for it.

Alarm first sounded in 1999 when American defense officials realized that the Taepodong 1 missile, which doubled as an Iranian Shabab, was just the first phase of a decade-plus program by North Korea and Iran to develop an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). Named for the Taepodong village where it is developed, the long-range Tae-pondong-1 was capable of 2,000 km, enough to threaten its neighbors. But the new Taepodong-2 could achieve double that range, more than 4,000 km—most of the way to Hawaii—and was, therefore, approaching the status of ICBM. With the right wind conditions, this newer missile when further developed could reach the outer territories of the United States. If armed with a reduced-weight payload, and favorable weather conditions, a properly guided TD-2 could reach the United States, perhaps far inland, American defense planners feared. Read more ..

Edge of Crime

The Montenegro Connection: Love, Tobacco, and the Mafia

June 22nd 2009

Investigation - Montenegro Cigarette Destruction
Montenegrin Customs Officer Destroys Smuggled Cigarettes

“My little cat... I'm going crazy without you.... You have repeatedly betrayed me, I think.... Little cat, when are you coming? ... I love you, little cat.”

On Jan. 4, 2001, Dusanka Pesic Jeknic, representative of the Montenegrin trade mission in Milan, Italy, was speaking on the phone at her home in the southwest of the city. Milo Djukanovic, at that time president of Montenegro, was calling from the capital Podgorica. Billions of people around the world had just hailed the New Millennium. Dusanka, nicknamed “Duska,” the beautiful 41-year-old widow of the late foreign minister of Montenegro, was alone, far from her country. And she spoke out freely about everything: love, tobacco, and crime.

Eight years after Jeknic's loving conversation with her president, transcripts of her phone calls, wiretapped by the Italian police for 20 months, are attached to hundreds of thousands of court records filed by the prosecutor's office in Bari, in southern Italy. Read more ..

North Korea's Nukes

China Holds the Key to the North Korea Problem

June 22nd 2009

Asia Topics - Kim Jong-il
Kim Jong-il and Hu Jintao

As the international community struggles to respond effectively to the missile tests recently launched by the North Korean government, critics have blamed the Security Council of the United Nations for failing to deter aggression and preserve world peace. That blame is misplaced. In this case, responsibility for controlling North Korea, and the ability to do so, falls squarely on China.

The way that the United Nations was originally designed explains why, today, China alone has the leverage needed to quell North Korea's nuclear ambitions. In failing to confront North Korea's decision to move the world closer to nuclear conflict, the Security Council is merely respecting the original intentions of its founders to allow each great power a comprehensive veto over any international action that might precipitate a world war. Read more ..

Edge on Human Trafficking

Emancipation Anniverary Means Nothing to Thousands of Modern Day Sex Slaves

June 22nd 2009

Crime Topics - Sex Slave Motif2

Thousands of young women have been enslaved in Europe and the US because of permissive Western attitudes.

Nothing illustrates the moral schizophrenia of our age and in America than two June events. June 19th marks the anniversary of the effective emancipation of African-American slaves in 1865. The Senate has passed a resolution formally apologising for the "fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery".

But on June 16, the State Department released its Trafficking in Persons Report 2009. This dismal document estimates that there are still over 12.3 million adults and children in forced labor, bonded labor, and commercial sexual servitude at any given time in the world. About 1.4 million of these are victims of commercial sexual servitude. Even President Obama has acknowledged that slavery still exists in the US: "Sadly, there are thousands who are trapped in various forms of enslavement, here in our country… oftentimes young women who are caught up in prostitution... It is a debasement of our common humanity".

According to John R. Miller, former US ambassador at large on modern day slavery, as many as 17,500 slaves may enter the United States every year. As elsewhere, contemporary American slaves work in brothels, massage parlors, and other sex businesses, or as domestic servants. Read more ..

Iran's Voter Revolt

Dark Plans Emerge from Mullah War Room to Suppress Iranian Voter Revolt

June 22nd 2009

Iran - Iran Election

Why did the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei decide to suppress demonstrations and not order a reorganization of new elections to solve the crisis? What is the analysis inside the Khamanei/Ahmadinijad “war room?” Based on several assessments, it appears that the regime feels the protest movement is too wide and the regime is too determined not to allow it to expand further.

The ayatollahs in charge of the “revolution” and the top commanders of the Revolutionary Guards as well as their financial operatives fear a popular shift inside Iran’s population along the magnitude of East Europe’s revolution against Soviet rule. The most cataclysmic parallel would be with the fall of Romanian communist dictatorship under Ceausescu.

Even a change a la Gorbachev is too dangerous for the elite that ruled Iran with an iron fist for three decades. Hence, after a minute calculus, the top mullahs and their militia barons have decided not to open Pandora’s Box to bring reform or democracy to their own world.  And, the world should expect them to use all the power at their disposal to do away with the demonstrations and its leaders.

But how will the Khomeinist “war room” break up the uprising? What is their plan? Read more ..

Iran's Voter Revolt

Arab Regimes Won't Miss Iran's Ayatollahs

June 22nd 2009

Iran - Iran Election Protest

Many Arab governments, including the Palestinian Authority, are quietly hoping that the latest crisis in Iran will mark the beginning of the end of the radical regime of the ayatollahs and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Frustrated with Teheran's long-standing policy of meddling in their internal affairs, representatives of the relatively moderate, pro-Western governments in Ramallah, Cairo, Beirut, Riyadh and other Arab capitals are hoping that regime change in Iran would undermine radical Islamic groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah.

These proxy groups, together with Syria - Iran's strategic ally and facilitator in the Arab world - have long been viewed as a main source of instability in the Middle East.
Yet the Arab heads of state and their government officials appear to be doing their utmost to downplay the Iran crisis. They are obviously concerned that their constituents would follow suit and demand reforms and free elections.

Invoking Palestinian terminology, Arab editors and columnists have been describing the anti-government protests in Iran as an intifada. "The pro-Iran camp in the Arab world is very worried," said Abdel Rahman Rashed in an op-ed in the London-based Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat. "It's natural for Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other pro-Iran groups to be afraid because their existence depends solely on the radical regime in Iran. If anything bad happens to this regime, they will suffer even more." Read more ..

Muslim World Elections

Morocco Proves a Muslim Nation's Elections Can be Free and Fair

June 22nd 2009

Arab Topics - Morocco election

It is 131 degrees Fahrenheit in Marrakesh, Morocco, yet a slow but steady stream of voters--many of whom are women--enter the schoolyard to cast their ballots at the polling stations for the municipal elections.

On June 12, 2009, 1,503 communities chose their representatives in orderly, transparent elections, according to Ahmed Herzenni, chairman of Morocco's human rights watchdog, CCDH. His opinion was shared by more than 150 foreign observers, including the International Strategic Studies Association from Washington, D.C., and the New York-based American Center for Democracy (ACD).

Unlike the Soviet-style election in April that led to the reelection of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algeria, Morocco's eastern neighbor, or the controversial and violent presidential election in Iran, Morocco's election was "fair and free." Read more ..

Iran's Voter Revolt

Austrian Legislator Accuses Ahmadinejad of Role in 1989 Vienna Death Squad

June 22nd 2009

Iran - Ahmadinejad pointing

Austrian Green Party security spokesman Peter Pilz alleged today that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was part of a death squad that killed three Kurds in Austria on July 13, 1989.

According to Pilz, Ahmadinejad had been involved in the killings in Vienna and may have actually shot one of the trio. "I have no doubt he was involved.”

New eye-witnesses have come forward identifying Ahmadinejad as being involved in the assassination of Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran chief Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, his deputy Abdullah Ghaderi-Azar and Austria-born Fadel Rasoul.

The Austrian Times reports that Pilz claimed the involvement of two Iranian teams in the assassinations: a negotiations team and an execution team. Pilz said Ahmadinejad had been responsible for gathering and preparing the weapons used and had been a member of the execution team. Read more ..

Edge on Taliban Terror

Pakistani Taliban Issue Death Threats Against Christians and Shia Muslims

June 22nd 2009

Islamic Topics - Taliban executioner

The Pakistani Taliban have issued letters to Christians and Shia Muslims (a minority sect) across the country threatening them with death should they not conform to the Taliban's Sunni Islam.

On June 10, a letter was sent to Rabita Manzil, of the National Catholic Office for Social Communications in Lahore, the second biggest city of Pakistan. It was given to a Christian woman, who lives near the office, by two masked men. The letter stated “We know you are Christian. We warn you to leave this area, embrace Islam, pay 1,500,000 rupees (US$18,500) as jizya, or be ready to die in a suicide attack.”

Christians have received similar threats in various parts of the country as fighting between government troops and the Taliban militants continues to rage in the country's northwest. Sacred Heart Cathedral, several Catholic schools in Lahore, and various pastors have received threatening notes telling them to convert to Islam. Moreover, Peshawar Bishop Mano Rumalshah of the Anglican Church of Pakistan said the churches in his diocese continue to receive threatening letters which say either become a Muslim, leave, or be killed. Read more ..

Pakistan on the Edge

Leadership Lessons Imran Khan Forgot

June 22nd 2009

Asia Topics - Imran Khan
Imran Khan

Pakistan desperately needs leadership. Imran Khan does not and cannot provide it.

Back in the mists of history (the mid-1990s), when the former cricket star used his popularity to found the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Pakistan Movement for Justice) Party, he seemed to have what it would take: a vision. Independence of outlook and (what is more) pocketbook, popularity, and a heart for investment and reform.

It was not hard to imagine him repeating his triumph at the center of a team leading Pakistan to triumph. Khan, a man with a colorful (in so many ways) personality who united the country behind his athletic achievements—it seemed a small leap to imagine him uniting the country behind his ideas. Given (pardon the pun), a sporting chance, he might have done it. Indeed, he might have taken valuable lessons from his spectacular cricket career about how to lead and how to succeed.

He did not.

Edge of Solar Energy

U.S. Air Force Nixes Solar Energy Project Near Area 51 that Can Energize 50,000 Homes

June 22nd 2009

Energy Topics - SolarReserve Project

Department of Defense requirements have apparently thrown a shadow over a major advanced solar energy project in Nevada in one of the sunniest tracts in America. The ambitious project would have featured a field of specialized mirrors called heliostats for concentrating solar rays, a molten-salt storage facility, as well as a 600-foot power tower. The California-based firm SolarReserve had proposed the construction of $700 million solar/thermal power plant that would have covered two square miles in the empty desert near Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. The project was sited near a defunct mining operation allowing it to connect the solar-powered turbines to the mine's former transmission lines. The location is also not far from the storied region known as Area 51.

US Air Force Colonel Howard D. Belote, commander of Nellis AFB said that this plan will simply not fly and urged the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management to clip its wings. Belote added that the project would compromise classified operations at a training range and would interfere with radar. The bureau owns most of Nevada, and controls more than 20 million acres of land with wind energy potential and more than 30 million acres with solar potential. Read more ..

Edge of the Seas

Deep Diving Robot Brings the Ocean's Bottom Ever Closer

June 22nd 2009

Science - Nereus Submarine

Prior to the test run of a new robotic vehicle last month, underwater research vehicles operated no deeper than 6,000 meters. Nereus changed that.

The robotic craft, developed and operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, dove to 10,902 meters in the western Pacific, pushing the frontiers of exploration into unknown depths, says Andy Bowen, project manager for the Nereus Robot Development Program.

"Nereus is a tool which we hope the scientific community will use to make important discoveries about that final 4,000 meters of the ocean," he says.

Bowen says the hybrid design allows Nereus to be operated remotely while tethered to its mother ship or to run as a free-swimming craft controlled by onboard computers. Read more ..

Book Review

Scholarly Study of Spies Names a lot of Names

June 22nd 2009

Book Covers - Spies book cover

Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev. Yale University Press, 2009. 794 pages.

The Haynes/Klehr/Vassiliev (hereafter Haynes) volume contains a great deal of highly valuable scholarship within a massive tome consisting of over 40 pages of prefatory matter, 550 pages of main text and 90 pages of footnotes. Despite raising massive and extremely troubling methodological, historiographical and, sometimes, judgmental questions, it is unquestionably a major contribution. In general, this reviewer finds it convincing, and certainly a book which anyone interested in the post-World War II Red Scare cannot ignore.

Some disclosure is required here: I have a very slight acquaintance with co-author Harvey Klehr, who recently did me a great kindness by loaning me some research materials, even though he surely knew that my political views and scholarship are probably often at odds with his. I also have a very modest, but less slight, acquaintanceship with Ellen Schrecker, perhaps the most prominent historian of the post-World War II Red Scare, with whom Klehr and Haynes have been involved in a sort of academic cold war for many years.

In an earlier joint book, Early Cold War Spies (Cambridge University Press, 2006), which in general I find quite reliable, Klehr and Haynes let their ideological bias and personal pique explode--rather than “peak” through--when (on page 22) they ridiculously declared that Schrecker’s leading study Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America, Princeton University Press, 1999, was a “broad academic denunciation of any form of opposition to communism,” which are all “conflate[d]” with “McCarthyism.” My own published views and interpretations are sometimes “conflated” with Schrecker’s and are unquestionably far closer to hers than those of Haynes and Klehr, who have written about half-dozen studies of Russian espionage in pre-Cold War America and are certainly the pre-eminent authorities on the subject.  Read more ..

Missing the Mark on Rules for Obama and Russia's Nukes

June 22nd 2009

Andrei Shoumikhin and Baker Spring are to be congratulated for provided an interesting and thought provoking article on the prospects for successful arms control negotiations with Russia (Eight Rules Obama Must Observe in Confronting a Nuclear Russia, Opinion, June 15th 2009).

It is unfortunate that the example they used to justify Rule #7 (The US should seek treaties that are enforceable) missed the mark.  The failure of the US Navy to maintain parity with the British Empire after the Washington Treaty had nothing to do with parties not honoring the terms of the Treaty, or the lack of enforcement mechanisms.  

It is no coincidence that the Washington Treaty did not quantitatively limit ships other than Capital Ships and Aircraft carriers – at that time at least three of the signatories did not accept the extension of the 5-5-3-1.67-1.67 ratio to smaller warships, and it is therefore no surprise that they continued to build to meet their perceived requirements.  In contrast, the USN fell behind because the US Government failed to make adequate provision for warship construction during the 1920s.  This was a domestic political issue that cannot be attributed to any weaknesses in the Washington Treaty or its enforcement mechanisms, or limitations imposed by that Treaty.

It is true that all of the signatories failed to comply with specific provisions of the Washington Treaty – including the United States whose carriers Lexington and Saratoga were clearly non-compliant with the terms of the Treaty – and it is also true that there were no effective compliance mechanisms to remedy this.  It is difficult, however, to identify any strategically significant advantages that were obtained by any of the powers as a result of this non-compliance. Read more ..

Obama Deserves a B Minus for his Cairo speech

June 22nd 2009

I have been involved with various projects trying to open channels of discussion with Muslims, including a trip to Islamabad with two colleagues to successfully invite then President Musharraf to publicly meet with the American Jewish leadership. I have brought Muslims to Israel and found their reactions quite encouraging. But Barak Hussein Obama’s now famous speech at Cairo University moved me and frightened me at the same time and reminded me of the need to pause before reacting.

For starters, President Obama disputed two myths that have currency in the Muslim world – and not only in the Muslim world. He said denying the Holocaust is “baseless,” “ignorant” and “hateful.” And he said that he is “aware that some question or justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. …These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.”

Both points were well thought through and well delivered and it took some courage to do so. Defending Israel’s right to exist, attacking Holocaust denial and dismissing 9/11 conspiracy theories amounts to an assault by land, sea and air on the swamp that passes for political culture in much of the Muslim world.

Moreover, the President did not move the goal posts on what Hamas must do to enter the diplomatic process – the one with the United States and the European Union. Hamas is already in the process with Arab, Muslim and other states (Russia); Mr. Obama restated the Quartet’s terms: “Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel’s right to exist.” He said straight out the U.S. “strong bonds with Israel [are] unbreakable,” and that Muslims must (and many do in private) accept that Israel (presumably in the 1967 borders) “will not go away.” 

So far, Bravo, Mr. Obama.

On the other hand, the President did not single out for praise Egypt and Jordan as states for signing peace treaties with Israel. He spoke to Muslims, not to the citizens of the various 57 Muslim states – thus entering a dialogue on the basis of the Islamist program. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, clerics in Saudi Arabia, Hamas, and the Pakistani extremists agree that the various states (based on a parochial or Arab-wide nationalism) are not only failed instruments but stand in opposition to a “true” Muslim approach – a transnational caliphate. The United States is an appropriate interlocutor for Muslim states, but not for a worldwide religious community and, in any event, must not consent on this point. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

ElBaradei and IAEA Admit Iran Poised to Have Nuclear Weapons

June 17th 2009

Iran - Ahmadinejad at Iranian nuclear plant

"My gut feeling is that Iran definitely would like to have the technology ... that would enable it to have nuclear weapons if they decided to do so." This was the latest conclusion by Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), pronounced in an interview with the BBC. He added, Iran sees nuclear weapons as an "insurance policy" against perceived threats from Israel or the United States.

ElBaradei, whose term of office is to expire in November, said in the interview that countries in possession of nuclear weapons were treated differently from others, citing the example of North Korea, which was invited to negotiations while Iraq under Saddam Hussein -- which did not have a nuclear capability -- was “pulverized.” Read more ..

Iran's Voter Revolt

How to Steal an Election in Iran

June 15th 2009

Iran - Iran Election

With Iran's presidential campaign now under the microscope the challengers to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and indeed many in the world are understandably expressing intense concern about the possibility of election fraud and manipulation of the election. How do elections work in Iran? Not only are there complaints about regime influence on the campaign, such as biased coverage by state-run television, the voting itself can be manipulated in numerous ways.

According to Iranian law, the Interior Ministry administers elections. In each ward or county, the ministry forms an executive committee that consists of the ward or county head, the local head of the National Organization for Civil Registration, the chief prosecutor or his representative, and eight respected local figures.

The Guardian Council has the duty of supervising the electoral process at each polling station and has created observation committees with more than 130,000 members. Each candidate has the right to send an observer to each fixed polling station to observe both the voting process and the ballot count. Read more ..

Iran's Voter Revolt

Iranian Election Leads to Chaos in the Streets

June 15th 2009

Iran - Iran Election Protest

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinijad claimed a 60 percent victory in this week’s elections, bit the people of Iran refuse to believe he was the real victor.

The Iranian people took the streets this weekend in protest of what many called a stolen election, while Iran's leading opposition candidate, Hossein Mousavi, called the election a "coup" and demanded the international community not recognize the official results.

According to Iranian bloggers, so convinced is the population that the election results are a fraud that they have been making the joke that “George Orwell has requested to change his book's name from 1984 to 1388." This is the year 1388 according to the Iranian calendar.

Mousavi asserts that he had been informed of his victory by the interior ministry on Friday night. That claim was first published on the website of Mohsen Makhmalbaf, a celebrated Iranian film director based in Paris and influential Mousavi supporter asked to speak on behalf of the candidate because of the clampdown on his organization in Iran. Authorities detained top Mousavi aides, including the head of his webcampaign, but many were released Sunday after being held overnight. Makhmalbaf’s website was subsequently closed down by a cyber attack.

"This semi-democratic country has taken an important step towards dictatorship," Makhmalbaf said. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

An Open Letter to President Barack Hussein Obama

June 15th 2009

Contributors / Staff - Brigitte Gabriel picture
Brigitte Gabriel

Dear Mr. President: You face difficult challenges in matters such as achieving peace in the Middle East and protecting America from the threat of radical Islam and terrorism. These are challenges that have vexed past presidents, going as far back as our second president, John Adams. I have no doubt you appreciate both the gravity of these challenges and the enormous obstacles that exist to solving them.

I also have no doubt that you and your staff understood that, no matter what you said in your speech last Thursday in Cairo, there would be those who would take issue with you. That is always the case when attempting to solve problems that are as deep and emotionally-laden as these challenges are.

I am assuming it is your sincere hope that the approach you have chosen to take, as evidenced by what I'm sure was a carefully crafted speech, will ultimately prove successful. However, it pains me to say this, Sir, but, while you said in your speech that you are a "student of history", it is abundantly clear that, in these matters, you do not know history and thus, as George Santayana noted, you are doomed to repeat it. In doing so your efforts, however well-intentioned they may be, will not produce what you profess to hope they will produce.

A wise man once said that if you start with the wrong assumptions, no matter how logical your reasoning is, you will end up with the wrong conclusion. With all due respect Mr. President, you are starting with certain assumptions that are unsupported by history and an objective study of the ideology of political Islam. Read more ..

Edge of Narco-Terrorism

Iranian, Hezbollah Presence in Latin Ameria a Growing Problem for Security

June 15th 2009

Iran - Chavez and Ahmanijad

Iran has opened six embassies in Latin America during the past five years and is promoting Islamic activities throughout the region, according to Pentagon spokesperson Donna Miles. She emphasized the Pentagon’s rising concern about the increasing presence of Iran in Latin America, and Hezbollah’s inroads in drug trafficking in Colombia, as part of an event with the National Association of Chiefs of Police.

According to Jim Kouri of the Law Enforcement Examiner, Navy Admiral James G. Stavridis told the House Armed Services Committee that he shares the concerns of Defense Secretary Robert Gates about Iranian activity in Central and South America.

"That is of concern, principally because of the connection between the government of Iran, which is a state sponsor of terrorism, and Hezbollah," Stavridis told the committee. “We see a great deal of Hezbollah activity throughout South America, in particular," he said. Read more ..

Afghanistan on the Edge

Stabilizing Iraq Provides Intelligence Lessons for Afghanistan

June 15th 2009

Asia Topics - Afghani Counter-Insurgents
Afghani counter-insurgents

After the U.S. initiation of hostilities in Iraq in 2003, Washington's focus shifted away from the conflict in Afghanistan. Until recently, U.S. policy focused on winning the war in Iraq while securing an apparent coalition victory in Afghanistan. Although this policy yielded positive results in Iraq, it led to drift and a series of security reverses in Afghanistan.

Nonetheless, despite vastly different circumstances, the United States has learned many lessons from Operation Iraqi Freedom that can be applied to Operation Enduring Freedom, particularly in the intelligence arena.

Not long ago, sectarian violence, brutal attacks with improvised explosive devices, ambushes, assassinations, and kidnappings were the norm in Iraq. This situation, however, has changed dramatically over the last eighteen months, and the frequency of these types of events has diminished significantly.

Some observers attribute the dramatic changes in security to the 2007 "surge" of U.S. military ground forces into Iraq, while others believe the Sunni Awakening, in which U.S. forces helped establish local Sunni militias, should be credited with much of the success. Both factors contributed to the remarkable turnaround in Iraq; however, the major reason for success can be traced to timely and accurate intelligence, born of new technologies and innovation, new leadership at the combat support agencies (CSAs), and new tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) derived from lessons learned on the battlefield, which enabled U.S. forces to undertake highly effective, intelligence-driven operations.  Read more ..

Are Jews From Arab Countries "Arabs of Jewish faith?"

June 15th 2009

Congratulations on the excellent article by Edwin Black (Page One June 8, 2009) dissecting what was wrong with the Obama speech in Cairo. However there was one sentence which I do find incorrect: That Jews of the Middle East and North Africa are ‘originally Arabs, but of Jewish faith’. Almost no "Mizrahi Jews," that is Jews from Arab countries, consider themselves ‘Arabs’ unless they happen to be Commmunists or anti-Zionists. This concept plays into the anti-Israel propaganda argument that there is no such thing as a Jewish people, only Arabs of the Jewish religion. No Middle Eastern Jew, asked whether he was an Arab, would have said yes, no matter how at home he felt in his environment. And for that matter, no Arab would have called his Jewish neighbour an Arab either. Jewishness and Arabness were perceived as antonyms in the sense of denoting two mutually exclusive ethnic identities, just as “Jew” and “goy” were antonyms in Eastern Europe. 

Edwin Black replies: Your observation is understandable. But my statement was correct especially in historical context. Some explanation may help. The term "Arab" derives from the word which described a person who dwelled in the Arabian Peninsula. For centuries, these people were almost entirely non-agrarian marauders and nomads of tribal character. There was no Arab national identity and no Arabs nations anywhere. The Arab Conquest or Muslim Conquest of the early seventh century brought Arabs to the far reaches of the Middle East and beyond as the Caliphate was forged by fire and sword. For nearly a half millenium prior to World War I, the Caliphate was controlled by the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire. There were, of course, no Arab nations and no Arab nationality or nationalism during these centuries leading up to twentieth century.

The despotism and backwardness of the Ottomans gave rise to the concept of "Arab Nationalism" in about 1908. Arab Nationalism was primarily driven by Christian Lebanese and Syrians influenced by French democratic thought. This group, the "Young Turks," expanded their movement to identify the Ottoman lands as not just imperial but also national, and its subjects as "citizens." In years before World War I, many nations saw a popular surge to end dynastic and ecclisiastical regimes from the Czars to the Sultans. The Young Turks defined Arab Nationalism or the Arab national identity to include all citizens of the realm, Sunni and Shia Muslims, Kurds, Christians or all denominations, Yazdi, Copts, Jews and all others. These people were to be Arab nationals first, and this identity and authority would supercede tribalism or religious grouping--just as it does throughout the Western World today. In fact, it was this Turkish national authority that asserted its right to tax Muslim pilgrims traveling to Mecca, thereby challenging the prerogatives of the Muslim Sherif. Indeed, this conflict compelled the Islamic forces of Hussein and Faisal to side with the British against the Turks in World War I under the leadership of Lawrence of Arabia. Read more ..

Muslim World Elections

Cedars Revolution Defeats Hezbollah in Election as "March 14" is Put to the Test

June 15th 2009

Lebanon Topics - Lebanon Election 2009

According to the latest polls, the so-called "March 14" coalition, which was formed in the wake of the Cedars Revolution and the Syrian withdrawal in 2005, has obtained a majority in the Lebanese Parliament, defeating the Hezbollah political and financial machine. This victory, in a very challenging local, regional and international context, is a benchmark with multiple lessons to learn. The following is a first evaluation of the results, although they will most likely be challenged by Hezbollah and their allies.

Under Threat Since 2005

Even though it was seen by the international community as the last straw, the assassination of Rafiq Hariri and his companions wasn’t the final tragedy Lebanon had to experience in 2005. The March 14 majority in parliament and the country’s executive branch were targeted for assassination, intimidation and destabilization by the Syrian-Iranian "axis." As of July of that year, politicians, journalists, MPs and simple citizens were murdered, wounded and kidnapped by the terror networks operating inside the country even after the withdrawal of Assad’s troops. Deputies Jebran Tueni, Walid Eido, Antoine Ghanem, and Pierre Gemayel--who was also a minister in the cabinet--were killed by car bombs and hit teams.


The Edge of Nuclear Energy

Five Free Market Priorities for a Nuclear Energy Renaissance

June 15th 2009

Energy Topics - Nuclear Reactors

Energy policy, especially targets for lower carbon dioxide emissions, has emerged as a priority for Congress and the Obama Administration. Unfortunately, nuclear energy seems to have been forgotten by leadership in both the legislative and executive branches of government.

First, the President's budget had almost nothing related to advancing nuclear energy. Then Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Edward Markey (D-MA) released their American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, which would enact numerous misguided environmental provisions, including a costly carbon dioxide cap-and-trade program, but offers virtually nothing regarding nuclear energy. This is extremely problematic given the fact that emissions-free nuclear energy could help meet both congressional and Administration energy policy objectives for clean, affordable, domestic energy. Read more ..

Edge of the Ecosystem

Why are Bats Dying and What Does it Mean?

June 15th 2009

Energy / Environment - Bats Found Dead
Bats Found Dead in a Cave

Three years ago, a few hundred bats were found dead in hibernating caves in the northeastern state of New York. The event barely registered for some scientists. By the following winter, the death toll had risen to a few thousand bats, sparking concern among some experts. This year, the death toll could near a million, and has set off an alarm among scientists and farmers. The dramatic reduction in the bat population and and its potential extinction could have extensive health, economic and environmental effects.

Now hundreds of thousands of bats have died in the northeastern region of the United States. According to some experts, the death toll is close to a million. The bats are succumbing to a disease called White Nose Syndrome, with a white fungus appearing on the nose, ears and wings of the bats.

"It is really unknown exactly what is causing the condition but in addition to the white nose by mid-winter these animals have lost most of their body fat," said Tom Kunz, an authority on bats at Boston University. Read more ..

Edge of Africa

Cape Verde's Largest Island Struggles to Balance Tourism, Development

June 15th 2009

Travel - Cape Verde
Cape Verde

With a growing tourist industry sweeping the islands of Cape Verde, the nation faces a quandary over how to preserve its tradition and culture while maximizing the potential windfall from the spectacular natural beauty of the remote African archipelago.

Guide Joao Monteiro steps lightly amidst the ruins of a 16th century fort, on a hill overlooking the town of Cidade Velha on the southern coast of the Cape Verdean island of Santiago. The impressive stone walls of the structure, he explains, have recently been rebuilt with financial support from the Spanish government, with the hopes of bringing more tourists to the town.

Cidade Velha, founded by the Portuguese in 1462, is the oldest European settlement in the tropics. But on this day at the fort, painstakingly reconstructed stone by stone by Spanish archaeologists with the help of the local population, few visitors are to be found. Monteiro says tourism on Santiago is not growing at the rate of other Cape Verdean islands.


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