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Archive for July 2012

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The 2012 Vote

Let Americans Vote

July 31st 2012

us voters

Our democracy is under attack from within. Republicans (and it seems to be just Republicans) appear determined to deny citizens their constitutional right to vote. Oddly enough, those whose rights are being curtailed are disproportionately Democratic. The GOP view seems to be, “If you can’t win fair and square, change the rules — even cheat.”

Since 2010, 16 states have passed restrictions that could affect Election 2012. The abuses of democracy come in several forms. Ohio and Florida, among others, reduced early voting just as more and more citizens were availing themselves of that opportunity. Both states cut the number of early-voting days almost in half. Why? Florida’s former Republican chairman swore in court documents that suppressing the African-American vote was discussed by officials.

Perhaps the most insidious weapon in the arsenal of those seeking to undermine the legitimacy of our elections is so-called “voter ID laws,” which require citizens to show government-issued (usually photo) identification in order to cast a ballot. Read more ..

Healthcare on Edge

The Cost of Care for Colorado's Victims

July 31st 2012

Obamacare Protest

One of the reasons Americans seem so willing to tolerate the fact that 50 million of us are uninsured and almost 30 million more of us are underinsured is that most of us who have coverage assume we are OK. That nothing truly catastrophic will happen to us, and that, even if it did, our insurance policies will pay our bills and keep us whole.

Who would think that a decision to go see a movie on a Friday night could change our lives — and the lives of our families — forever? That we or a loved one, even with what we believed was decent coverage, might become a victim of violence that could leave us not only disabled for life but also potentially bankrupt and homeless?

That random act of violence in Aurora, Colo. earlier this month could have happened anywhere in America, of course — or in any other country, for that matter — but among the world’s developed nations, we live in the only one where the families of some of the injured would have to face begging for money to pay the doctors and hospitals and keep the sheriff and his foreclosure papers at bay. Talk about American exceptionalism. This is one area where, sadly, we truly are unique. Read more ..

The Race for Smart Grid

One Private US Company Powers 60 Million

July 31st 2012

rural electric lines

Every day, as dusk falls over the United States, millions of street lights blink on in towns and cities across the country. These quiet moments require a vast, unseen balancing act, because electricity demand and supply must be matched every second. Perhaps no one carries more responsibility for getting this balance right than PJM Interconnection, a private company which manages the flow of electricity to 60 million customers in 13 mid-Atlantic U.S. states.

As one of the oldest businesses of its kind, PJM often advises neighboring regions or developing nations on how to manage complex energy-transmission systems. Its success is of special note in a week when a series of power black-outs have brought much of India to a standstill. PJM's control center, in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, is like a traffic officer for the region's electric power grid. Every day, it ensures that more than 1,600 power plants share more than 100,000 kilometers of transmission lines fairly, efficiently and reliably.

To do this, PJM runs an electricity marketplace where power plants declare the lowest price for which they would generate power the next day. Based on these prices and ever-changing demand and transmission line sizes, PJM tells each power plant exactly when to turn on or off. “We’re looking in at one of the two PJM control rooms,” says Mike Bryson, PJM’s director of operations. "They’re both staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If one of the rooms is disabled, the other can operate independently.” Read more ..

Mali on Edge

Islamist Group Executes Two in Northern Mali

July 31st 2012


Islamist militants in northern Mali say they have executed a man and a woman for alleged adultery. Sanda ould Bouamama, a spokesman for militant group Ansar Dine, said the group carried out the executions Sunday in Aguelhok, a small town in Mali's Kidal region. Bouamama said the man and woman received, in his words, "the punishment called for under Islam: death." The French news agency AFP reports the couple was placed in two holes and stoned to death in front of some 200 people in the center of Aguelhok.

Islamist groups and Tuareg separatists seized control of northern Mali in April, after renegade soldiers toppled the government in Mali's capital, Bamako. The al-Qaida-linked Islamists have since taken full control of the north and imposed a strict version of Islamic law, despite protests from much of the population. On Sunday, Mali's interim President Dioncounda Traore announced plans to overhaul his transitional government and request foreign help in an an effort to retake the north. Read more ..

Afganistan on Edge

Millions of Dollars in U.S. Aid Wasted in Afghanistan

July 31st 2012

Afganistan construction

In the Nangarhar province near Afghanistan’s eastern border sits an abandoned police base, built with $4.5 million of U.S. taxpayer dollars and completed just 13 months ago. The base, known as Lal Por 2, is badly needed but remains empty because it lacks any viable water supply. No efforts are underway to add one.

A neighboring base on the border, also built with U.S. funds, has some Afghan police, but lacks a fully-functioning septic system or air conditioning. Those shortcomings, along with drainage problems in the main buildings, put the base at risk for abandonment as well, according to a new report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

John Sopko, a former deputy director at Homeland Security and prosecutor who just filled the inspector general role July 2, says in his quarterly report published Monday that these two bases are prime examples of rampant waste throughout the Afghan reconstruction effort. Costing a total of $19 million, the bases, along with two others in the Nangahar province facing their own problems, are meant to give Afghan police a watchful eye along the nation’s militarily-significant border with Pakistan. Read more ..

Broken Government

GOP Leaders Yank One-Year Farm Bill

July 31st 2012

wheat fields

House Republicans on Tuesday ended their attempt to vote on a one-year farm bill, opting to move forward with a measure that would only provide drought aid to farmers. The one-year bill was set to come up before the House Rules Commitee on Tuesday night but was removed from the agenda just before the meeting.

The House GOP is planning to take up a standalone drought bill under suspension of rules later this week, according to Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.). House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) urged his colleagues to vote for the limited disaster bill when it comes up for a vote on Thursday.

“My priority remains to get a five-year farm bill on the books and put those policies in place, but the most pressing business before us is to provide disaster assistance to those producers impacted by the drought conditions who are currently exposed," he said. "Beyond that, I will continue to work with my leadership, Ranking Member Peterson and our members to determine the best path forward." Read more ..

Broken Government

Reid, Boehner Announce Deal to Avoid Government Shutdown

July 31st 2012

US Capital Day

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced on Tuesday an agreement to avoid a government shutdown shortly before the November election. Reid said President Obama has also agreed to the deal.

“This agreement reached between the Senate, the House and the White House provides stability for the coming months, when we will have to resolve critical issues that directly affect middle class families," Reid said in a statement. "I hope that we can face the challenges ahead in the same spirit of compromise.”
The continuing resolution will extend government funding for six months after it runs out Oct. 1. The government will be funded at $1.047 trillion, the top-line spending level for 2012. While 2012 spending was set at $1.043 trillion under the August 2011 Budget Control Act, the actual rate is expected to be closer to $1.047 trillion. That also is the number set for 2013 spending. Read more ..

Healthcare on Edge

Uganda Battles to Contain Ebola Outbreak

July 31st 2012

Victims of LRA

 Uganda is battling yet another outbreak of the Ebola virus, with 14 deaths reported so far and a number of people in quarantine. Ugandan newspapers are filled once again with images of hazmat suits and hospital beds, as the country is rocked by a new outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.

Addressing journalists on Monday, Minister of Health Christine Ondoa said there was no cause for alarm. She said the ministry, working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, had managed to contain the virus. But in an address to the nation the same day, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni urged people to avoid all physical contact, including shaking hands.

Although most of the cases come from western Uganda, some have also been reported in the capital, Kampala. The city’s main hospital has set up an isolation ward for those suspected of being infected, while a number of people in western Uganda have been placed in quarantine.

This is not the first time Ebola has gripped the country. Thirty-seven people died in the last outbreak in 2007, and an epidemic in 2000 killed nearly 200. Symptoms of the hemorrhagic fever include diarrhea and vomiting.

Denis Lwamafa of the Ministry of Health says Uganda has improved its ability to detect and diagnose Ebola. “Uganda now is probably at the forefront, in terms of handling viral hemorrhagic fevers, on the continent of Africa," says Lwamafa. "So this is now an indigenous local capacity of which we must take note. We’ve been able to elevate the level of proficiency in diagnosing even these highly infectious organisms here in Uganda, and I would like to report that the diagnosis of the Ebola virus was done here.” He adds that although the disease does occur in neighboring countries as well, it is not always detected. Read more ..

The Race for Smart Grid

Half of India Suffers Massive Power Outage

July 31st 2012

India Street Scene

India suffered a second day of a massive power breakdown that affected nearly half the country on Tuesday. India experienced its worst-ever power crisis, leaving more than 650 million people without electricity.  India's transport system screeched to a halt for a second day, as trains stopped and traffic signals stalled -- stranding passengers and drivers.

Three electricity grids failed Tuesday, with power cut from as far north as Kashmir to the eastern state of Assam.  The lights went out in major cities like the capital New Delhi and the eastern city of Kolkata shortly after 1 p.m. local time. It was the second day that India suffered a blackout - but this time it hit a far larger part of the country. On Monday, an outage affected seven northern states, leaving more than 300 million people without electricity for nearly ten hours. On Tuesday, more than a dozen states were hit. Read more ..

Defense on Edge

The Problem with Predicting Defense Jobs and Sequestration

July 31st 2012

military convoy

As the threat of sequestration has grown closer, the level of noise surrounding the looming budget cuts has only grown louder. Last week, the volume reached a new level with the issue of a report prepared on the projected economic costs.

The report was prepared on behalf of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) by Stephen Fuller, a professor at George Mason University, and Chmura Economics & Analytics, a consulting company. It painted a particularly dismal picture of the jobs impact of the defense portion of the potential cuts.  “A total of 1,090,359 jobs with a total labor income of $46.5 billion would be lost due to DOD budget cuts in FY 2012-FY 2013.” It then broke down the figures on a state by state basis, noting that such key election battleground state like Virginia and Florida would experience severe job losses (136,191 and 41,905) at a time of already worrisome unemployment.

The report landed like a bombshell. A range of newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post, directly quoted the report’s jobs findings, while cable and online networks such as CNN and Fox News also devoted significant coverage to the mind-boggling numbers.  Similarly, policy leaders on both left and right cited it. For instance, both New Hampshire Senators Kelly Ayotte (R) and Jeanne Shaheen (D). And in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, timed the day following the report’s release, senior defense industry executives echoed the report’s apocalyptic numbers, which furthered its spread and assumption as fact. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Chicago Jihadi Pleads Guilty

July 31st 2012

FBI dudes

A homegrown, radical Islamist from Chicago pleaded guilty on Monday to planning a trip to Somalia in 2010 specifically to help a terrorist organization in its fight against Somali government forces. He also toyed with the idea of going to Afghanistan to kill American soldiers.

Shaker Masri pleaded guilty to intentionally trying to help provide material support to Al Shabaab, a designated foreign terrorist organization, knowing that the group was engaged in international terrorism. The guilty plea resolves all charges that have been pending since Masri was arrested as he was preparing to leave the United States in August 2010.

The 28-year-old U.S. citizen lived in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood, and will remain in federal custody awaiting sentencing, which U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman scheduled for Oct. 16, 2012. Masri’s plea agreement calls for a sentence of nine years and 10 months. Attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization also carries a $250,000 fine in addition to the prison time. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Mitt Romney Captures Jerusalem

July 31st 2012

Romney in Jerusalem 7-31-12

Speaking to an often-cheering group of about 400 people in Jerusalem, Governor Mitt Romney gave a speech less notable for what he said that for the fact that the audience believed he was sincere in saying it. At a beautiful outdoor setting with the Old City in the background, Romney declared his strong support for Israel, using phrases often heard from American presidents. He also proclaimed his view that Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital. The difference, of course, is that those listening were less inclined to think that when President Barack Obama said similar things to AIPAC meetings he was describing his own views and policies.

Clearly, Romney was restrained by the American principle that partisan politics stops at the water’s edge, that no politician should criticize a president or U.S. government while abroad. Thus, Obama’s name—or even his specific policies—was never explicitly mentioned. What Romney did do, however, was to scatter among the assertions of U.S. support for Israel’s security and a strong belief in a U.S.-Israel alliance some subtle references that many viewers and much of the mass media are likely to miss. Here are the key ones, which give some hints about Romney’s future campaign and possibly his presidency: Read more ..

The Medical Edge

DARPA's Blue Angel - Pentagon Prepares Vaccines by Millions against Future Global Flu

July 31st 2012

blood test

The Pentagon’s DARPA lab has announced a milestone, but it doesn’t involve drones or death missiles. Scientists at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency say they’ve produced 10 million doses of an influenza vaccine in only one month’s time.

In a press release out of the agency’s office this week, scientists with DARPA say they’ve reach an important step in being able to combat a flu pandemic that might someday decimate the Earth’s population. By working with the Medicago Inc. vaccine company, the Pentagon’s cutting edge research lab says that they’ve used a massive harvest of tobacco plants to help produce a plethora of flu-fighting vaccines.

“Testing confirmed that a single dose of the H1N1 VLP influenza vaccine candidate induced protective levels of hemagglutinin antibodies in an animal model when combined with a standard aluminum adjuvant,” the agency writes, while still noting, though, that “The equivalent dose required to protect humans from natural disease can only be determined by future, prospective clinical trials.”

Researchers have before relied on using chicken eggs to harvest compounds to use in influenza vaccines. With a future outbreak requiring scientists to step up with a solution as soon as possible, though, they’ve turned to tobacco plants to help produce the vaccines. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Israeli Police Intercept 16-Year-Old Before Apparent Suicide Attack Bid

July 31st 2012

Hamas head

A 16 year old boy was arrested near the Kerem Shalom kibbutz recently in connection with a planned suicide attack against Israeli Jews. According to Israeli Police, the Palestinian boy jumped over a border fence and walked for two days, from Gaza into Israel. Israeli soldiers with the IDF’s Golani Brigade spotted the boy, with a large axe, as he approached a kibbutz, and arrested him.  He was taken to a hospital in Soroka for medical treatment, and it was during his time there that more information was gathered about his intentions. While speaking to a nurse in Arabic, the boy informed her that he had come to Israel to kill Jews and had brought the axe as protection against dogs and other animals that might try to harm him on his journey. According to Israeli’s Channel 2 News, the boy is not believed to be affiliated with any terrorist group, and he has been charged with “armed infiltration” in district court.

Mohammed Jibrin, who is representing the 16 year old in court, says his client is innocent and is not linked to any terror organization. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Damaging Intelligence Leaks Apparently Don't Concern Obama White House

July 30th 2012

Rep Mike Rogers
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI)

What many intelligence, military and law enforcement officials believe is an out-and-out scandal and one of the most important issues facing this nation -- the intentional leaking of classified intelligence for political purposes -- received short shrift by members of the news media on Sunday's national news shows.

National security and homeland security officials in the Obama administration should be outraged at the number of incidents in which "secrets are thrown around like confetti at a parade," according to an intelligence source who spoker on the condition of anonymity.

"There are significant questions about the role of the White House with regard to the widespread disclosure of sensitive national security information," said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) on July 29. Rogers serves as the Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The Committee is the House’s primary panel responsible for authorizing the funding for and overseeing the execution of the intelligence activities of the various intelligence agencies or the intelligence-gathering components of the military and federal law enforcement. Read more ..

Mexico on Edge

Mexico's Miners Organize to Fight Unsafe Conditions and Child Labor

July 30th 2012

mexican miner

In February 2006, as the presidential election campaign unfolded in Mexico, an explosion at a Grupo Mexico coal mine in the northern border state of Coahuila ominously presaged what would turn out to be a tumultuous year in the country’s history. Although relatives of the Pasta de Conchos miners demanded the recovery of the bodies of loved ones who died in the methane gas blast, the remains of 63 of the 65 men who perished stayed trapped underground.

Now, more than six years later and at a time when Mexico is undergoing yet another conflict-ridden presidential transition, miners keep prematurely joining their brothers in the tombs of coal-rich Coahuila. Last week, sadness gripped the town of Palau, as thousands of people buried seven miners who were killed in a July 25 methane gas explosion in a nearby coal pit located in the municipality of Muzquiz.

“Palau is in mourning,” said Amalia Gutierrez Romo, neighbor of two miners killed on July 25. “We ask the authorities to pay more attention to our region. We don't have other sources of employment and safety in the mines is increasingly lacking,” Gutierrez was quoted. “Our husbands, sons and fathers all go to work every day with the blessing of God, but we don’t know if they will return home.” Read more ..

Broken Government

Clinton Slams House GOP Letter Suggesting Aide Has Islamist Ties

July 30th 2012

Hilary Clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday slammed House Republicans who suggested one of her top aides has links to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement, saying there is “no place in our politics” for such “assaults.”

Clinton was marking the release of the State Department's annual report on religious freedom around the world when she was asked to comment about the allegations against her deputy chief of staff, Huma Abedin. Five House Republicans have asked the State Department's deputy inspector general to probe Abedin's alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, a request that has been condemned by some leaders of their own party.

“Leaders have to be active in stepping in and sending messages about protecting the diversity within their countries,” Clinton said at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “We did see some of that in our own country. We saw Republicans stepping up and standing up against the kind of assaults that really have no place in our politics.”
Clinton has mostly kept silent about the allegations, although State Department spokesman Philippe Reines has previously denounced them as "nothing but vicious and disgusting lies,” adding that “anyone who traffics in them should be ashamed of themselves.”

The House members who made the allegations — Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) — have doubled down, accusing the media of focusing solely on Abedin instead of the broader risk of Islamist infiltration of government. The remarks have been criticized by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who took to the Senate floor to denounce the accusations as "specious and degrading attacks." Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Lech Walesa All But Endorses Mitt Romney

July 30th 2012

Lech Walesa

Polish human rights icon and former President Lech Walesa all but endorsed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Monday, urging him to “be successful.” “I wish you to be successful because this success is needed to the United States, of course, but to Europe and the rest of the world, too,” the Nobel Peace Prize laureate was heard telling Romney when the press was allowed in on the tail end of their meeting. “Gov. Romney, get your success – be successful!"

Walesa made the remarks at the start of Romney's two-day trip to Poland, where he also met with Prime Minister Donald Tusk on Monday and was scheduled to visit memorials to the Poles who fought in World War II and the Solidarnosc — or Solidarity — anti-communist trade-union movement that Walesa led in the 1980s. Romney has sought to portray himself as a stronger ally than President Obama when it comes to defending central and eastern Europe against Russia.

Walesa's remarks follow a series of tiffs with Obama. Walesa skipped a meeting of national leaders with Obama organized by Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski during the president's trip to Poland in May 2011.
“I won't meet him,” Walesa told reporters at the time. “It doesn't suit me.”

One year later, the White House refused to allow Walesa to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously honored to Jan Karski, a member of the Polish underground during World War II, deeming Walesa “too political.” While awarding the medal, Obama compounded Polish anger by referring to a “Polish death camp” instead of a Nazi death camp in Poland. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Swing States Give Obama the Edge

July 30th 2012

Obama Campaign 2012

President Obama has an overall edge in the 12 decisive battleground states that is measurably greater than his advantage in national polling. The dynamic, which may reflect a combination of lower swing-state unemployment rates and demographic advantages for the president, is causing stirrings of unease among Republicans, even as they emphasize that it is important not to read too much into the state of the race right now.

“Obama is concentrating his considerable early resources and messaging in the swing states, and it’s had an impact,” said Mark McKinnon, who served as a media adviser for President George W. Bush’s presidential campaigns.

But McKinnon added that Republican candidate Mitt Romney was “raising and saving his money to ensure he won’t be out-punched in the final rounds.” The crucial battleground states number about a dozen: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Business Owners Battle Obamacare for Religious Freedom

July 30th 2012

Obamacare Protest

Two days from now, employers across America will become vulnerable to crushing government penalties for exercising their religious freedom. This isn’t exactly what lawmakers advertised when they pushed Obamacare, but it is part of the Obama Administration’s agenda—forcing nearly all employers to pay for abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization services.

Beginning August 1, employers must amend their health insurance offerings to include these drugs and services. And if they don’t? How about a fine of $100 per employee per day for non-compliance. This outrageous policy makes it impossible for employers to afford the fine—meaning they must change their insurance policies or stop offering health coverage to their workers.

But for many employers, offering the types of services required under the HHS mandate violates their consciences. It conflicts with their deeply held religious beliefs. And the government is telling them that doesn’t matter—what’s more, it’s telling them that their beliefs are inconsequential, and they must pay. Read more ..

Broken Economy

Why Capitalism Has an Image Problem

July 30th 2012

Frantic Wall Street denizen

Mitt Romney's résumé at Bain should be a slam dunk. He has been a successful capitalist, and capitalism is the best thing that has ever happened to the material condition of the human race. From the dawn of history until the 18th century, every society in the world was impoverished, with only the thinnest film of wealth on top. Then came capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. Everywhere that capitalism subsequently took hold, national wealth began to increase and poverty began to fall. Everywhere that capitalism didn't take hold, people remained impoverished. Everywhere that capitalism has been rejected since then, poverty has increased.

Capitalism has lifted the world out of poverty because it gives people a chance to get rich by creating value and reaping the rewards. Who better to be president of the greatest of all capitalist nations than a man who got rich by being a brilliant capitalist? Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Al Qaeda’s Arab Comeback

July 30th 2012

Bin Laden with AK

Al Qaeda has exploited the Arab Spring to create its largest safe havens and operational bases in more than a decade across the Arab world. In the 18 months since the Arab revolutions first began, al Qaeda has grown stronger, despite founder Osama bin Laden’s death and a lack of mass appeal.

Like the rest of the world, the terror organization was surprised by the revolutions that toppled dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. Its ideology of violence and jihad initially was challenged by the largely nonviolent revolutionary movements that swept across North Africa and the Middle East. But al Qaeda is adaptive, and it has exploited the chaos and turmoil of revolutionary change to create bases and new strongholds from one end of the Arab world to the other.

In North Africa, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a franchise of the global organization, has successfully aligned itself with a local extremist group in Mali named Ansar al Dine, or Defenders of the Faith, and together they have effectively taken control of the northern two thirds of Mali. Together they are destroying the Islamic heritage of the fabled city of Timbuktu, much as al Qaeda and the Taliban destroyed Afghanistan’s historical treasures in the years before 9/11. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

White House Welcomes Known Terrorist, says New York Republican

July 30th 2012

Hani Nour Eldin
The "Blind Sheikh" Omar Abdel Rahman

Obama administration minions may have violated U.S. law last month by welcoming an Egyptian with ties to terrorism to the White House in order to lobby for the release of an imprisoned terrorist known as the Blind Sheik, claimed Rep. Pete King, current chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, in a statement on July 26.

Hani Nour Eldin -- an avowed member of Gama’a al-Islamiyya listed by the State Department as terror group -- was elected along with members of Islamist groups the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists to Egypt’s parliament.

"Eldin was put through a stringent vetting process before he was given a U.S. visa to enter the U.S. and then gain admittance to the White House," claimed Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who in the past has been criticized for her laxity in matters of national security.

But, according to Rep. King, the U.S. investigators involved in his vetting either ignored Hani’s Facebook page or didn’t check it at all. On Facebook he boasts of his membership in Gama’a al-Islamiyya. U.S. immigration laws require that both Secretaries of State and Homeland Security must authorize waivers before issuing visas to members of designated federal terrorist organizations, and they must notify the appropriate members of Congress. Read more ..

Destination Edge

Nantucket Island Offers Paradise at a Price

July 30th 2012


Forty-three kilometers off the coast of the northeastern state of Massachusetts lies the island of Nantucket.

It’s the size of New York City’s Manhattan Island, but with about a million and a half fewer residents. Just 10,000 or so year-round - but at least five times that number each summer.

There’s no bridge or tunnel to the island, so you have fly or take a ferry to get there. Its isolation, and the treacherous shoals that surround it, kept Massachusetts’ early settlers away and the landscape wild.

Nantucket was once the biggest and busiest whaling port in the nation - the place from which the fictional Captain Ahab set off in search of the great white whale Moby Dick in Herman Melville’s novel. These days, Nantucket is still relatively unspoiled. It’s a peaceful place with none of the high-rise hotels, honky-tonk boardwalks, amusement parks, or shopping centers of other beachfront resorts. Read more ..

Domestic Terrorism

Violent Aryan Brotherhood Member Sentenced to Federal Prison

July 30th 2012

FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force

A member of the white-supremacist, prison-based Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT) gang was sentenced on Friday in Houston to serve 10 years in prison for his role in an aggravated assault that took place in Tomball, Texas.

David Harlow, aka “Bam Bam,” was found guilty by a federal jury on Mar. 21, 2012, of aggravated assault and conspiracy to commit racketeering aggravated assault for his role in the severe beating of a prospective ABT member. The 43-year-old Harlow was convicted of both counts and sentenced to serve three-years on count one and 10-years on count two, to run concurrently. In addition to the prison term, Harlow was fined $2,000 by U.S. District Court Judge Ewing Werlein Jr.

According to court documents, the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas is a powerful and violent race-based organization that operated inside and outside of state and federal prisons. The ABT was established in the early 1980s within the Texas prison system. The gang modeled itself after and adopted many of the precepts and writings of the original Aryan Brotherhood that was created within the California prison system during the 1960s. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

New—And Less Expensive—Direction for Terrorist Nuclear Materials Detection

July 30th 2012

Truck passing Advanced Spectroscopic Portal
Truck passing through Advanced Spectroscopic Portal

Federal officials in charge of detecting dangerous nuclear materials charted a new strategy at a House hearing on July 26, in the aftermath of the government’s failed attempt to build large, advanced radiation scanners for ports and border crossings.

Huban Gowadia, the acting director for the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, said her office will sharply increase the use of hand-held monitors, which she said are both cheaper and more reliable than the stationary scanners the government spent six years trying to develop. But she emphasized that the task of preventing the importation of dangerous nuclear materials—including those that could be fashioned into so-called “dirty bombs”—remained an “inherently difficult technical task,” and offered no near-term, comprehensive solution.

The nuclear detection office, part of the Homeland Security department, sunk $230 million into developing 13 Advanced Spectroscopic Portals that scientists and nuclear security experts assessed as a bad investment. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Locally Produced Proteins Reveal Importance

July 30th 2012

Brain Light

Several years ago, Prof. Michael Fainzilber and his group in the Biological Chemistry Department made a surprising discovery: Proteins thought to exist only near the cell nucleus could also be found in the far-off regions of the body’s longest cells—peripheral nerve cells that extend processes called axons, reaching up to a meter in length in adult humans.

These proteins, known as importins, have a well-studied role in the vicinity of the nucleus: They shuttle various molecules through the protective nuclear membrane. Fainzilber and his group showed that when a nerve cell is injured somewhere along its length, importins in the long axons hook into a sort of “railcar” mechanism, which then transports the “Help!” message from the injury site all the way to the nucleus.

These findings raised an intriguing question: How did importins get to the axons in the first place? Initial evidence suggested that one critical importin, called importin beta1, is produced locally upon injury near the site where it is needed. The problem was that years of scientific thinking on the subject indicated that proteins do not get manufactured in the axons, as investigations had turned up few of the cellular protein factories known as ribosomes there. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Breakthrough Leads to Record Efficiency for Next-Generation Solar Cells

July 29th 2012

Solar panels

Researchers from the University of Toronto (U of T) and King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST) have made a breakthrough in the development of colloidal quantum dot (CQD) films, leading to the most efficient CQD solar cell ever. The researchers, led by U of T Engineering Professor Ted Sargent, created a solar cell out of inexpensive materials that was certified at a world-record 7.0 percent efficiency.

"Previously, quantum dot solar cells have been limited by the large internal surface areas of the nanoparticles in the film, which made extracting electricity difficult," said Dr. Susanna Thon, "Our breakthrough was to use a combination of organic and inorganic chemistry to completely cover all of the exposed surfaces."

Quantum dots are semiconductors only a few nanometres in size and can be used to harvest electricity from the entire solar spectrum – including both visible and invisible wavelengths. Unlike current slow and expensive semiconductor growth techniques, CQD films can be created quickly and at low cost, similar to paint or ink. This research paves the way for solar cells that can be fabricated on flexible substrates in the same way newspapers are rapidly printed in mass quantities. Read more ..

The Olympics on Edge

Vacant Olympic Seats to Be Filled by Military, Teachers

July 29th 2012

London Olympics

The organizing committee of the London Olympic Games has said unfilled seats at competitions may go to the military, teachers and students.  There have been complaints about empty seats during the opening days of the 2012 Games. The sight of empty seats at Olympic sports venues is a sensitive issue after hundreds of thousands of people failed to get tickets in an initial public lottery. 

London Organizing Committee Chairman Sebastian Coe says tickets are being distributed to soldiers and others to fill those seats.   He said no one would object to free tickets for public servants."If the military are there, I do not think there is single person out there that thinks it is shambolic asking the military, given the way they have stepped up to the plate in the last few weeks, if they are in a rest period, whether they would like to watch sport.  I do not think it is shambolic to ask local teachers and students, that we had always planned to do this anyway, whether they want to come in and see some of that sport and this is fine.  This is not something that we should be extrapolating dramatically from the first day of an Olympic Games," he said.  Read more ..

Europe on Edge

The Radical Right in Europe

July 29th 2012

french riot police toulouse mar 2012

The rise in radical-right social and populist movements over the past ten years has been remarkable. While once these were on the political fringes, they now carry political weight in the parliaments of Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, the Netherlands, Sweden, Greece, Latvia, and Slovakia among others, as well as in the European Parliament.

These groups oppose ethnic and cultural diversity. They foment public disorder with marches and rallies to harass and intimidate Muslims and other migrants, and there is growing liaison and even coordination among them. Their street violence provokes reactions from Muslims, especially Islamists, and an escalating spiral of action and counteraction is emerging.

The radicals do not target Jews, and several even profess to be pro-Israel. The reality, though, is that their members are sometimes former neo-Nazis. It is important not to exaggerate these groups’ successes. So far, the radical right is represented in only a minority of national parliaments, and some researchers believe that their share of the vote may even have peaked in some countries. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Romney Says 'Unacceptable' for Iran to Get Nuclear Weapon

July 29th 2012

mitt romney

During a visit Sunday to Israel, the man expected to be the Republican Party nominee for U.S. president, Mitt Romney, said it is “unacceptable” for Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.

It was during an appearance with Israeli President Shimon Peres that Romney made his statement on Iran.

"We are very concerned about the development of nuclear capacity on the part of Iran and feel it is unacceptable for Iran to become a nuclear armed nation.  The threat it would pose to Israel, to the region and to the world is incomparable and unacceptable."

The former Massachusetts governor is in the middle of a trip to Britain, Israel and Poland that analysts say is intended in part to demonstrate some expertise in foreign policy. In his public comments in Israel, he did not go as far as his foreign policy adviser Dan Senor, who told reporters that, if elected president, Romney would not try to stop Israel from attacking Iran's nuclear sites. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Parts of Pennsylvania Law Overturned to Fracker Disappointment

July 29th 2012

Fracking gas well

Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court overturned parts of the state’s controversial Act 13 on Thursday, returning zoning authority over natural gas drilling to the municipalities and townships that had contested the five-month-old law. It was reported last month that local governments had banded together to challenge Act 13, a state law that overrides municipal zoning jurisdiction. Under the law, companies that use a drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing – commonly known as fracking – to tap gas deposits in shale would have been free to drill even in areas where local officials had voted against wells.

The court declared the act’s zoning sections “unconstitutional, null and void,” throwing out parts of the law that allowed the state to supersede local zoning authority and waive well-spacing requirements. Dan Pelligrini, the court’s president judge, wrote on behalf of the majority that Act 13 “violates substantive due process because it does not protect the interests of neighboring property owners from harm, alters the character of neighborhoods and makes irrational classifications.” Governor Tom Corbett, who supported and signed the law in February, announced Friday that his office would appeal the ruling to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Read more ..

The Safety Edge

Landmark Worker Death Case Continues Against UCLA Chemistry Professor

July 29th 2012

nurse w/stethoscope

Sheri Sangji is on fire.

The 23-year-old research associate, a Pomona College graduate raised in Pakistan, has accidentally pulled the plunger out of a syringe while conducting an experiment in the Molecular Sciences Building at UCLA. The syringe contains a solution that combusts upon contact with air. The solution spills onto Sangji’s hands and torso, and she is instantly aflame. She isn’t wearing a lab coat; no one told her she has to. Her synthetic rubber gloves provide no protection as the fire burns through her hands to the tendons. She inhales toxic, superheated gases given off by her burning polyester sweater, a process that accelerates as she runs and screams.

It’s December 29, 2008, mid-afternoon. The UCLA campus is mostly quiet for the holidays, but chemistry professor Patrick Harran’s team is working. Harran is in his office, one floor up from Room 4221, where at his direction Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji has been trying to produce a chemical that holds promise as an appetite suppressant. She is unsupervised. Read more ..

Israel and Lebanon

Israeli Security to Upgrade Intelligence Gathering

July 29th 2012

X band radar

With the Hezbollah terrorist group being used as a proxy paramilitary by Iran, Israeli security forces are planning to upgrade their border defense with a new system that officials claim will dramatically increase the effectiveness of Israel's intelligence-gathering capabilities on its border with Lebanon, a source said yesterday.

A report from the Israeli source claims that the early warning Multi-Sensor System (MSS) possesses the most sophisticated technology available. Israeli officials plan to install a number of hi-tech, electro-optic cameras as well as radar units that enable systems operators to quickly create visual and audio intelligence throughout both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border.

The system is scheduled to be installed and operational in a few months. The intelligence-gathering equipment will be operated by specially-trained personnel at army outposts along the border, the Israeli source said. The Israel-Lebanon border has not been subjected to hostility since July 2006, when Hezbollah terrorists showered Israeli cities and communities with thousands of rockets during a 33 day period forcing the Israeli military to strike back. Read more ..

Broken Government

Helping Workers RAISE Themselves

July 29th 2012


“I want every man to have the chance . . . in which he can better his condition; when he may look forward and hope to be a hired laborer this year and the next, work for himself afterwards, and finally to hire men to work for him. That is the true system.”
 — Abraham Lincoln

How better to encourage Lincoln’s “true system” of upward mobility than by allowing hard-working employees to receive pay raises and spot bonuses when they deserve them? That, in a nutshell, is the philosophy behind the RAISE (Rewarding Achievement and Incentivizing Successful Employees) Act. It would lift the restrictions that bar employers subject to collective-bargaining agreements from rewarding their best workers with pay increases or bonuses based solely on merit.

That’s right. Federal labor law — specifically, the National Labor Relations Act — actually prohibits employers from rewarding employees in this manner without permission from union officials. The Heritage Foundation’s labor expert James Sherk explains:
Most Americans know that unions set a floor for workers’ wages: An employer may not pay individual union members less than the amount bargained for by the union. Few Americans know that unions also set a ceiling for workers’ wages: Businesses may also not pay individual workers more than the amount for which their union bargained.

Unions are exclusive bargaining representatives. They represent all employees in a bargaining unit as a group, and they negotiate a collective contract that applies to all workers. Employers may not pay individuals more than the contract allows without first negotiating such an increase with the union. Read more ..

NATO on Edge

NATO Should Improve Relations with Its Southern Neighbors

July 29th 2012


In light of the uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa, the continued threat in the region from al-Qaeda, and the nuclear threat and state-sponsored terrorism from Iran, many in NATO have rightly decided to place a renewed focus on working with regional partners on its periphery. NATO already has structures in place to better cooperate with partners in this part of the world, but little has been done to enhance these relationships.

NATO and Its Southern Periphery
NATO’s 2010 Strategic Concept states that cooperative security is one of the alliance’s three essential core tasks. NATO carries out its cooperative security task with its southern partners through two mechanisms: the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.

The Mediterranean Dialogue . Launched in 1994, the Mediterranean Dialogue forms the basis of NATO’s relations with its Mediterranean partners, which include Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia. Although these talks are normally done on a bilateral basis (“NATO+1”), on occasion this forum meets as “NATO+7,” placing Israel at the same table as some of its regional neighbors, where it would not otherwise be. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Republican Ad Features Jewish Democrat’s “Buyer’s Remorse” over Obama

July 29th 2012

The GOP has launched a $6.5 million media blitz to convince habitual Democrats in the U.S. Jewish community to cast their ballots this November against President Obama. Targeting key areas of Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, the campaign by the Republican Jewish Coalition hopes to garner enough votes from those states to tip the electoral advantage to Republican hopeful Mitt Romney.

The ad campaign features a video and an accompanying website that allows contributors to upload their own videos expressing their concerns about President Obama and his policies towards the state of Israel. A YouTube video appearing on the site features voter Michael Goldstein, who comments on his disillusion with the incumbent president despite having voted for him. Based on a 25-minute interview, the video featuring Goldstein gave him an opportunity to recount his own buyer’s remorse. Goldstein is identified as: “Democrat. Jewish. Voted for Obama.”

Said Goldstein, “I was a big Obama supporter. I had a fundraiser in my home, gave money to his campaign. I really believed in him and believed in what he stood for. When he gave the speech about the ‘67 borders, it was nothing that had come up in his campaign originally. That really changed my mind about him. When he had the prime minister of Israel, [Benjamin] Netanyahu, to the White House … he was disrespectful to him to the point that I’d never seen.” Read more ..

Defense on Edge

The Gusher of National Security Leaks--Who Done It?

July 29th 2012

Bin Laden with AK

No intellectually honest individual could examine the vast array of evidence and believe there has not been a spate of high-level national security leaks over the past months.
Intimate details of the SEAL team raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan have been consumed by millions of Americans watching cable television and reading newspapers, and, soon enough, it will be seen in Hollywood films. Folks around the world now know, without a doubt, that Americans coupled with Israelis have been waging silent cyber warfare against the Iranians, infecting Iranian computers with crippling viruses that have, by some estimates, slightly set back the mullahs' march toward achieving nuclear capability.
And readers of the New York Times now know that President Barack Obama keeps close tabs on the terrorist "kill list," even deciding which terrorist will next be targeted by the fine men and women of America's armed services. That sensitive information has been passed along from sources in the know to members of the media is without dispute a fact -- it is perhaps the least disputed fact of the questions currently being considered regarding the leaks. Read more ..

Inside New Mexico

New Mexico's Pecan Growers Face Uncertain Times with Aplomb

July 29th 2012


Observant travelers on New Mexico Highway 28 that passes through the immense, shady corridor of the Stahmann Farms pecan orchard in Dona Ana County will notice something is not the same. “Closed” signs now hang on the large white building off to the side of the road that was once the popular Stahmann’s Country Store, a place where shoppers could encounter not only a tasty bite of pecan candy but learn about southern New Mexico’s agricultural history as well.

Two months ago, the reality of the establishment’s pending closure was gnawing at Eva Valerio, then Stahmann’s Country Store manager.

“It’s starting to hit me. It’s an emotional roller coaster. It’s sad to see it go down,” Valerio told Frontera NorteSur, as the last customers strolled in on Memorial Day weekend to get a few final scoops of pecan ice cream or perhaps a bargain on the rapidly diminishing furnishings and office supplies for sale. “I’m going to miss a lot of the customers. We’ve built a lot of personal relationships,” Valerio said.

A second Stahmann’s store, on the historic Mesilla Plaza, was closed on May 6, Valerio said. According to the longtime New Mexican, 35 to 40 employees in the two outlets were impacted by the business decision, with a dozen or so quickly assigned new jobs within non-retail parts of Stahmann’s operation Read more ..

The Digital Edge

California's 'Silicon Beach' Draws Tech Start-Ups

July 28th 2012


California's Silicon Valley, near San Francisco, is world famous as a haven for technology companies, including giants like Google and Facebook. Many young entrepreneurs are bypassing Silicon Valley, though, to start their companies in an area called Silicon Beach.

On the west side of Los Angeles, people from around the world come for the beach, year-round sunshine and warm weather. This also is where Gregg Spiridellis and his brother operate the online comedy and e-card company, JibJab. 

“We are two blocks from the beach. It’s 72 degrees [i.e., about 22 degrees Celsius] and sunny every single day,” said Spiridellis.

Tech companies crop up
Spiridellis moved his company 10 years ago from New York to the beach in Los Angeles, after the dot.com crash almost wiped out his company. The move gave new life to his business. “When we first moved out to L.A., there was no technology community. We did not move to Los Angeles for technology in 2002; we moved to artists for creative talent,” he said. Read more ..

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