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America on Edge

Deadly Ricin Found in Poison Letter to Congress

April 16th 2013


U.S. congressional officials say a letter sent to Republican Senator Roger Wicker ((of the southern state of Mississippi)) has tested positive for the deadly poison ricin. The letter was found at a facility that handles mail going to the U.S. Capitol. Officials say it tested positive for ricin in three separate tests. It is not likely the letter ever reached Senator Wicker's office.

Ricin is highly poisonous. Just a tiny drop can kill an adult. It is found naturally in castor beans. The April 16 discovery evoked memories of the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, when mail laced with anthrax appeared in post offices, newsrooms and U.S. congressional offices. Five people died and several others were made ill. The FBI attributed the attack to a government scientist who killed himself in 2008. Read more ..

Boston Massacre

Los Angeles, Other Cities, See Heightened Security after Boston Bombing

April 16th 2013

FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force

Authorities in major American cities have stepped up security precautions after Monday's deadly blasts in Boston.  Two explosions at the Boston Marathon killed at least three people and injured scores of others.

Los Angeles police posted additional officers at transit hubs and in other public places.  They say there is no indication the Boston explosions suggest a threat to Los Angeles, but that they implemented the actions to reassure residents.  Police in New York, Washington, Las Vegas, Detroit and Atlanta say they are monitoring events closely.

Law enforcement agencies have converged on Boston and Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley says help has come from many places. “Police and medical personnel from across the region have sent dozens, maybe even hundreds, of volunteers to help us here in Boston," said Conley. "That's what Americans do in times of crisis.  We come together and we help one another.” Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

New York Goes on Alert After Boston Bombs

April 15th 2013

NYPD and flag

The area surrounding the Boston Marathon is on lockdown following two explosions near the finish line, one from inside a building and a second explosion emanating from an outside trash can, according to a police source on Monday.

The blasts occurred at about 2:55 p.m., according to Boston Police Department officials, on Monday. There are no reports of possible suspects involved or if the double-blast was an accident, they said. The Marathon was held on what was designated Patriot Day by the Boston city government.

In New York City, the NYPD's headquarters at One Police Plaza are now on high-alert as a result of the Boston explosions, Det. Morris Schenk stated. "Terrorist attacks do not occur in a vacuum. They require planning and preparation, such as the acquisition of certain materials or training in targeted activities. Terrorist operatives will try to obtain these in the private sector, from businesses both inside and outside of New York City's geographic boundaries," according to a statement from the NYPD's counterterrorism section. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Broadcasters May Turn to Congress to Kill Web TV Service

April 15th 2013


Television broadcasters are considering whether to ask for help from lawmakers in their bid to shut down Internet video service Aereo.

"We're just beginning to explore all of our options," one broadcasting industry representative who requested anonymity said. "Certainly, legislation and [Federal Communications Commission] action are something we're looking at."

Aereo uses tiny antennas to pick up free over-the-air broadcast television signals and then transmits the video to its customers over the Internet. Customers pay a monthly fee to rent access to an antenna, which allows them to record and watch network television on their mobile devices and computers. Coupled with other online video services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, Aereo could encourage more customers to drop their expensive cable packages. Read more ..

Venezuela on Edge

Venezuelans Vote for Chavez Successor

April 14th 2013

Hugo Chavez

In Venezuela, polls are closing in the presidential election to replace the late Hugo Chavez.  Voters are choosing between Chavez's handpicked successor, who has vowed to continue the country's socialist policies, or Henrique Capriles, who favors more private-market friendly policies. The first official results are expected late Sunday. 

Early on this election day the voting lines were shorter than expected in some parts of Caracas.  Nicolas Maduro, the successor to the popular Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer last month, is counting on a high turnout by the poor to continue the Socialist Party's rule in Venezuela. 

Acting President Maduro has casting himself as his mentor's "son" during the campaign, and has promised to continue oil-funded policies that cut poverty from 50 to 29 percent with popular health, education and food programs. Maria Ortega said she voted for Maduro because that is what President Chavez wanted.  Read more ..

Israel's Next Northern War

Israel Shoots Back Into Syria After Attack on Soldiers

April 13th 2013

Israeli tank IDF photo

An Israeli border artillery battery fired into war-torn Syria on Friday night after either Assad regime troops or Islamist rebels fired gunshots and mortar shells at soldiers on the Israeli-occupied section of the Golan Heights. No soldiers were injured and no damage was caused. IDF soldiers responded with artillery fire towards the source of the shooting, according to the IDF. The statement said “a direct hit was identified” and that the army had informed U.N. authorities about the incident.

Last week, Moshe Yaalon, Israel's minister of defense warned Syria and other nations in the region that Israel would retaliate against any nation of terrorist group that attacks its territory. The warning followed attacks from Gaza and a Syrian mortal shell blast and small-arms fire on the Golan Heights. “We shall not allow in any form the establishment of a routine of sporadic firing at our civilians or our forces,” Yaalon is quoted as saying on April 3. Read more ..

Broken Banking

India Says It Will Investigate Offshore Leaks Revelations

April 13th 2013

Population Boom

Two members of India’s Parliament, the world’s largest producer of cut roses and other major business owners are among hundreds from the subcontinent linked to offshore companies revealed in files obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

After The Indian Express published the revelations of dealings in countries commonly used as tax havens, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram announced an investigation. “We have taken note of the names,” he said at a press conference, “and inquiries have been put in motion." The disclosure also shines new light on characters caught up in two local scandals that have been likened to Watergate and Enron.


North Korea's Nukes

Kerry Presses China to Help Rid North Korea of Nukes

April 13th 2013

North Korean Missile

Secretary of State John Kerry is in China, asking the country's leaders for their help in easing tensions with a bellicose North Korea. Kerry is meeting with Chinese leaders, including its president and premier, to ask them to act as a diplomatic bridge with North Korea, which has been ramping up aggressive rhetoric and is threatening to test a mid-range missile any day. After a meeting with China's top diplomat, State Councilor Yang Jiechi, the two countries agreed that the Korean Peninsula must be denuclearized, according to Reuters.

"We are able, the United States and China, to underscore our joint commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in a peaceful manner," Kerry told reporters while standing next to Yang. China is the only country in the world with any real influence over the country, as it supplies much of its food and fuel and is North Korea's only real trade partner. But while China and the U.S. both want to avoid direct conflict, Chinese authorities care more about long-term stability of the North Korean regime and often overlook short-term saber-rattling. They're also suspicious of U.S. military activity in that area. Read more ..

Iran and America

Formerly Banned Iranian Group Opens Office Near White House

April 12th 2013

Iran Election Protest

Until not long ago the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO) was on the list of the U.S. State Department's terrorist organizations. On April 11, that seemed like a distant memory as the group celebrated the opening of its Washington office just a block away from the White House, with tea and Iranian snacks.

The opening of the office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an umbrella group dominated by the MKO (aka the People's Mujahedin of Iran), was attended by several former U.S. officials, NCRI members, and their legal team, who described it as a "great day" for the Iranian people, for democracy in Iran, and for the values the United States cherishes.

The group's U.S. representative, Soona Samsami, a petite woman wearing a blue head scarf and a blue suit, referred to the NCRI as "Iran's main opposition movement" and said that the opening of the office came at a crucial moment in Iran's history. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syria's al-Nusra Front Pledges Allegiance to Al-Qaeda

April 11th 2013

Syrian Jihadis

Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) declared a merger with Mohammad al-Julani's Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) or the al-Nusra Front, a Syrian Salafi rebel group. Both groups, with the urging of al-Qaeda central leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, seek to make an Islamic state across the region.

The string of back and forth messaging from the different al-Qaeda affiliates points to an interesting dynamic brewing among them. The first message came from AQI's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who proclaimed the merger of AQI and JN under the name and banner of "The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant." JN's leader, al-Julani, responded via the group's official Twitter account two days later, confirming that AQI was instrumental in setting up JN, but he pledged his group's allegiance directly to the more senior al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. As The Long War Journal suggests, the AQI announcement surprised al-Julani who believed it was premature. Al-Julani further suggested that the "Front's banner will remain as-is, without changing anything." Read more ..

Turkey and Israel

Turkish PM Delays Visit to Gaza

April 10th 2013

Obama and Erdogan

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has decided to postpone his much-publicized visit to Gaza, planned for this month.

The Turkish leader reportedly changed his scheduled at the request of the U.S. President Barack Obama, who pressured Erdogan to stay out of the region for the time being.

“I imagine the visit will take place following my meeting with President Obama in Washington next month,” Erdogan told reporters.

The U.S. government politely warned the Turkish prime minister two weeks ago against visiting Gaza, with a statement noting the Obama administration’s “opposition to engagement with Hamas.” State Department acting deputy spokesperson Patrick Ventrell underscored in a briefing at the time that Washington’s stand on Gaza’s terrorist rulers has “not changed.” Read more ..

The Edge of Terror

Cyprus Court Convicts Hezbollah Operative: Next Steps

April 9th 2013


On March 21, a Cypriot criminal court convicted dual Lebanese Swedish citizen Hossam Taleb Yaacoub of helping to plan attacks against Israeli tourists on the island last July. In their eighty-page decision, the judges rejected Yaacoub's defense that he collected information for Hezbollah but did not know what it would be used for; the court ruled there could be no "innocent explanation" of his actions. The decision is particularly important for European officials because the evidence has undergone full judicial scrutiny and cross-examination; the public airing of the evidence makes the conviction especially compelling. The decision also comes on the heels of Bulgaria's investigation into the July bus bombing that killed five Israelis and a local in Burgas. Authorities concluded that two of the three suspects were men with Canadian and Australian passports who "belonged to the military formation of Hezbollah." Read more ..

Significant Lives

Former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher Passes into History

April 8th 2013

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan

Former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has died "peacefully" at the age of 87 after suffering a stroke, according to her family. Current Prime Minister David Cameron called her a "great Briton," while Queen Elizabeth conveyed her sadness at the death of the former leader. Foreign Minister William Hague spoke of Thatcher as a “remarkable” leader who “saved” the United Kingdom and gave hope to the peoples behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War.

Thatcher was born in 1925 in Grantham, Lincolnshire, that daughter of a grocer and local alderman. She was married to businessman Dennis Thatcher with whom she had two children. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

India Wants Access to Natural Gas Produced in America

April 8th 2013

Click to select Image

India is urging the United States to green-light natural gas exports to the energy-thirsty nation of 1.2 billion people, arguing it would be an economic benefit to both nations.

Nirupama Rao, India’s ambassador to the U.S., makes the case in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that arrives as the U.S. Energy Department weighs an array of industry export applications.

“For the U.S. it would help create thousands of jobs and an expanded revenue stream for the federal government. For India, it would provide a steady, reliable supply of clean energy that will help reduce our crude oil imports from the Middle East and provide reliable energy to a greater share of our population,” Rao writes.

Proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports to nations that lack formal free-trade deals with the U.S. (including India) face extra vetting by regulators. Rao argues the case for exports is strong.

“For both countries, which are committed to environmental sustainability, increasing the use and transport of LNG globally will help put into greater use one of the cleanest energy sources in the world,” her column states. Read more ..

Nigeria on Edge

Nigerian Presidential Commission to Discuss Boko Haram Amnesty

April 7th 2013

Boko Haram

Possible measures that would grant amnesty to members of the militant group Boko Haram are to be reviewed this week by a commission established by Nigeria's president, Goodluck Jonathan.

Barrister Solomon Dalong, a leading member of the Boko Haram Commission, says Nigeria has granted amnesty to several groups as part of efforts by previous governments to end violence and stabilize the country.

“It is a solution being brought in to assist a perennial problem that escalates on daily basis.  Simply put, we are trying to solve the problem in our own way.” Dalong dismissed suggestions that granting amnesty to members of Boko Haram is a bad precedent that will encourage people to take up arms against the government, terrorize citizens, and threaten the country’s investment potential.

“What is the basis of people carrying arms against the Nigerian state?  We must go back and look at it.  And that is one of the reasons why this committee that is going to handle the issue of amnesty should also be given time, to take a look at some of the remote causes and the fundamental issues that has generated this type of problem,” said Dalong. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Jordan Doubles Border Force as Syrian Rebels Advance

April 6th 2013

King Abdullah

Syrian rebels say they have overrun an army garrison that defends the main southern border crossing with Jordan on Friday and vowed to press on to take control of the major transit route.

Fighters from the Free Syrian Army said on Friday that they captured the Um al-Mayathen post on the main Damascus-Jordan highway in heavy fighting overnight that ended a more than week-long siege. Dozens died in the clashes, they added.

"It [the garrison] is a major defence and now we will lay siege to the border crossing and cut their [the government's] supply lines," Abu Omar, commander of the Lions of the Sunna Brigade, told the Reuters news agency by phone. Confirming the development, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said: "Rebel fighters took control of the Um al-Mayathen military checkpoint ... in Deraa province in clashes with regime forces. Read more ..

Broken Government

First Key Fight in Immigration Battle: What to Name the Bill

April 5th 2013

Immigration Protest

One of the first political issues negotiators must tackle in crafting an immigration reform bill is among the most important: what to name it. It’s a decision that will bruise egos, create legacies and deeply affect subsequent messaging battles.

“Every time the bill is mentioned in the press, you either have a brand that's positive or a brand that doesn't mean anything or even hurts you,” said Frank Sharry, the executive director of the pro-immigration reform group America’s Voice.

The wrong name, he warned, could doom a good bill. “If there's not a catchy name, it gets defined by others,” he said. “I'm sure there are people on the other side trying to come up with a phrase or a word.” No one knows what the House and Senate bills now being crafted in backrooms by select groups of lawmakers will be called, but it’s possible it could be named after some of the negotiators. They include Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). Read more ..

The Darkest Edge

Groups Worry Schumer, Manchin Watering Down Gun Control Bill

April 4th 2013

Guns for sale

Gun control groups say Sens. Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) are watering down a bill that expands background checks on gun purchases. The groups say the two Democratic senators are going too far in a bid to win Republican support for gun control legislation expected to hit the Senate floor next week.

“Everyone supports background checks except for NRA leadership,” said Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, one of the advocates alarmed by the changes Schumer and Manchin are suggesting. “I think we should be tough on this deal,” he said. “If the vote fails and a legislator votes down background checks, there’s hell down to pay.”

At issue is whether to exempt private gun sales between friends and acquaintances from record-keeping requirements that now only cover licensed gun dealers. Shortly before the Easter recess, Schumer and Manchin proposed that such transactions be subject to background checks but exempt from the record-keeping rules. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Rockets, Mortars Fired at Israel's South, IAF Strikes Gaza

April 3rd 2013

Fighter Jets

Terrorists fire two rockets, four mortar shells at southern Israel, no injuries reported • Israel Air Force mounts first strike on Gaza Strip terror sites since Operation Pillar of Defense in November • Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon: Hamas is responsible.

The preschool in Sderot where a rocket fired from Gaza exploded during U.S. President Barack Obama's trip to Israel two weeks ago.

Palestinian terrorists fired two rockets at the southern Israeli city of Sderot on Wednesday morning. The rockets exploded in an open area and no injuries or damage were reported. The attacks followed strikes by the Israel Air Force against two terror targets in Gaza Strip on Tuesday night, which in turn followed mortar fire at Israel's south on Tuesday afternoon.

The Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson's Unit said, "Israeli aircraft targeted two extensive terror sites in northern Gaza Strip in response to rocket fire from Gaza Strip at Israel." The statement further said that the pilots recorded direct hits. Read more ..

Broken Government

Defense Stocks Swell as Budget Sequester is Enacted

April 3rd 2013

Click to select Image

The biggest defense companies’ share value has soared faster than the stock market since sequester spending cuts began on March 1. While the S&P is up 3.7 percent and the Dow Jones industrial average has risen 4.3 percent, Boeing has jumped 9.6 percent, Lockheed Martin is up 8.3 percent. Northrop Grumman has climbed 6.1 percent and Raytheon is up 6 percent.

The jump in contractors’ shares prices is seen as a relief rally after the protracted uncertainties of the sequester debate, but the longer term impact of the cuts is still controversial. No major defense layoffs tied to the sequester have been announced under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, despite predictions during the heat of the 2012 presidential campaign when companies pressed Congress to turn off the automatic cuts. Read more ..

South America on Edge

Paraguayan President Tours Spain and U.S. to Pierce Trade Barriers

April 2nd 2013

Paraguayan president Federico Franco

Paraguayan President Federico Franco is visiting Madrid to meet with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Also on hand will be Paraguayan Foreign Minister José Félix Fernández Estigarribia, who is arranging Franco’s second official visit to Europe. This is the third official meeting of the two leaders.

Interviewed for a nationally televised talk show in Spain, Franco told viewers that Paraguay is seeking to expand its trade relations with Spain, which had been the colonial overlord of the South American republic for more years than it has been independent. Franco pointed out ties of language and culture that united the two countries, while he also touted Paraguay as the greatest producer of clean hydroelectric power in the world. Read more ..

The North Korean Threat

South Korea Takes North Korea's Threats Seriously

April 2nd 2013

South Korean marines

South Korean President Park Geun-hye, says she is taking “very seriously” the continuing stream of threats from the North that many fear could lead to hostilities on the peninsula.

“There should be a strong response in initial combat without any political consideration” if North Korea launches a provocation against the South,” said Park during a meeting with her defense minister and senior officials of the Ministry of National Defense.

During a briefing for the president, the ministry outlined a new plan allowing the military to launch a pre-emptive strike against North Korea should an imminent nuclear or missile attack on the South be detected, including pushing forward the deployment of a “kill chain” system designed to detect, target and destroy missiles.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has vowed to expand his nuclear arsenal.

Speaking to the central committee of the workers' party Sunday, Kim laid down a “new strategic line,” saying that under no circumstances would North Korea's nuclear weapons be a bargaining chip in the political or economic arena. Read more ..

The North Korean Threat

White House Sees No Large-Scale North Korean Mobilization

April 2nd 2013

NK Military Parade Apr 2012

The White House has renewed its call for North Korea to halt provocative rhetoric, but says the United States has not detected any military mobilizations by Pyongyang to back up threats against the U.S. and South Korea. Tensions remain high amid North Korean threats against South Korea, and South Korean President Park Geun-hye's vow to make a strong military response to any attack by Pyongyang.

In recent days, the United States sent B-2 and F-22 stealth aircraft to South Korea as part of joint military exercises with its Asian ally. On Monday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said those flights were part of "prudent" and important steps to reassure allies and demonstrate resolve to Pyongyang. But he said the U.S. and its allies look closely at both North Korean rhetoric and the situation on the ground, and so far Washington has not seen any large-scale changes. Read more ..

Broken Government

Texas Gov. Perry Doubles Down Against Obamacare Expansion

April 2nd 2013

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) doubled down Monday in his opposition to expanding Medicaid under President Obama's healthcare law, even though opposing it could cost his state $90 billion. At a press conference where he was flanked by other conservatives, Perry argued expanding the health insurance program for the poor would make Texas “hostage” to the federal government. “It would benefit no one in our state to see their taxes skyrocket and our economy crushed as our budget crumbled under the weight of oppressive Medicaid costs,” Perry said at the state capitol.

States can choose whether or not to allow the federal expansion of Medicaid under the Supreme Court’s decision last year to uphold ObamaCare. Allowing the expansion, in the case of Texas, would insure 1.5 million low-income Texans and bring $90 billion in federal funding to the state over the first decade, according to estimates. Read more ..

The North Korean Threat

South Korea Warns North Korea

April 1st 2013

North Korean missiles

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye has vowed "strong retaliation" to any provocation by North Korea. "If there is any provocation against South Korea and its people, there should be a strong response in initial combat without any political considerations," President Geun-hye told the minister of defence and senior officials at a meeting on Monday after Pyongyang declared it was formally at war with Seoul. In a meeting with senior military officials and Defence Minister Kim Kwan-Jin, Park said she took the near-daily stream of bellicose threats emanating from the North "very seriously".

"I believe that we should make a strong and immediate retaliation without any other political considerations if (the North) stages any provocation against our people," she said. Park, a conservative who had advocated cautious engagement with the North during her election campaign, has taken a more hardline position since assuming office in February, shortly after the North conducted its third nuclear test. Read more ..

Inside Christianity

Christians Around the World Celebrate Easter

March 31st 2013

Pope Francis1 March 2013

Pope Francis celebrated his first Easter Mass in Saint Peter’s Square attended by a huge crowd. In his Urbi et Orbi (to the city and the world) message and blessing, he called for peace in the world. Tens of thousands turned out for the first Easter Mass celebrated by Pope Francis, in a square beautifully adorned by multi-colored flowers and shrubs.

A procession of cardinals and priests filed out of Saint Peter's basilica at the start of the service. Pope Francis was among them dressed in simple white vestments. The icon of the resurrected Jesus was unveiled and the pope bowed his head as the Gospel was sung in Latin.

At the end of the Mass, the pope greeted the cardinals one by one. Then he toured Saint Peter's Square in his white open-air jeep as the thousands present cheered and waved flags. Pope Francis stopped to kiss babies. In particular, he hugged a disabled child for a few moments. In his Easter message from the central balcony of the basilica, Pope Francis called for peace for the Middle East, and particularly between Israelis and Palestinians, who he hoped might willingly and courageously resume negotiations to end a conflict that has lasted all too long. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama Seeks $21 Billion in New Public Works Projects

March 30th 2013

Obama Crowd

President Barack Obama called Friday for $21 billion in public and private investment in roads, bridges and other public projects.  The president is aiming to reassure Americans that he remains focused on the economic recovery. President Obama said rebuilding infrastructure, with the help of private investment, is one of the best ways to put more Americans to work.

The president made his appeal at the port of Miami, Florida, where public and private money are paying for $2 billion in upgrades.

“There are few more important things we can do to create jobs right now and strengthen our economy over the long haul than rebuilding the infrastructure that powers our businesses and our economy - our roads, our bridges, our schools, and our ports, just like this one," said President Obama. The president wanted to show that the White House is still concentrating on the economy, despite prominent campaigns for gun control and immigration reform. Read more ..

The North Korea Threat

North Korea Readies Rockets After US Military Drills

March 29th 2013

North Korean rocket Apr 2012

North Korea put its missile units on standby on Friday, and the country's leader, Kim Jong Un, threatened to "settle accounts" after the United States flew nuclear-capable stealth bombers over the Korean peninsula as part of South Korean military drills.

Tensions in the region have been on the rise since Pyongyang's nuclear test in February, which led to additional sanctions and penalties from the United Nations.

According to the official North Korean news agency, Jong Un signed a rocket preparation plan at midnight and ordered troops on standby for a potential strike against South Korea or the United States.

The Korean leader "judged the time has come to settle accounts with the U.S. imperialists in view of the prevailing situation."  Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Thursday that the provocations were "very dangerous." "We must make clear that these provocations by the North are taken by us very seriously and we'll respond to that," he told reporters at the Pentagon. Read more ..

Broken Science

DOE Inspector General Recommends Consolidating National Labs

March 28th 2013

Test Tubes

Department of Energy Inspector General Gregory H. Friedman has told Congress that the agency should launch a program patterned on the military’s BRAC base closure program to streamline, downsize or shut some of the Energy agency's 16 national laboratories.

The agency’s chief internal watchdog is pushing to overhaul some of its nuclear and energy research labs and programs, saying that it is “highly questionable” whether a business-as-usual approach can continue in a time of budget cuts.

In an appearance before the House Science Committee’s subcommittee on oversight March 14, Friedman also called on the DOE to focus its sponsored research programs on those that could yield maximum short-term benefits. And he said the agency should concentrate its $6 billion annual environmental cleanup program on a few high-risk, high-priority sites rather than spread the effort out over dozens of sites in multiple states. Read more ..

South Africa on Edge

BRICS Raises South Africa's Profile as Economic Gateway

March 27th 2013

South Africa shopping

South Africa’s position as a gateway to Africa is a highlight of this year’s BRICS summit. Members of the BRICS bloc - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - top officials from the African Union and leaders of Africa’s regional economic communities are attending this week’s summit in Durban.

South Africa is the newest and financially weakest member of the BRICS bloc. But its membership, South African officials say, affords nations in the group a coveted gateway into Africa - and access to its economic resources, inexpensive labor and growing consumer base.

To that end, South African President Jacob Zuma said he had invited, in all, 15 African heads of state to the meeting. Among them are the new leaders of East African powerhouse Ethiopia and West Africa's economic and diplomatic hub Senegal - though both of those leaders will be representing regional organizations. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Apple Acquires Indoor WiFi Geolocation Technology

March 27th 2013

Mobile Wallet

Apple has acquired a Silicon Valley startup, WiFiSlam, which makes mapping applications for smart phones based on the triangulation of WiFi signals. The Wall Street Journal reported Apple may have paid around $20 million for the company. WiFiSlam develops technology that provides indoor tracking and similar services. Big tech companies such as Apple and Google have been racing to provide more and better map applications for users. Google's application, Google Maps, is widely accessed on Google's Android platform and rival Apple's rival iOS platform.

The startup uses a combination of methods to get better indoor locations, such as using WiFi fingerprinting, or measuring the strength of the signal to get an idea of what the materials and construction of a particular building do to WiFi signals. Read more ..

Broken Government

Obama Shifts Attention Away from Budget Woes to Immigration

March 26th 2013


The White House hopes to bolster President Obama’s political standing by shifting attention from the bruising budget battles of the last month to immigration reform and gun control. Democrats welcome the pivot after watching Obama’s standing in polls fall amid fights with Congress over the budget and the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester. They see immigration and gun reform as a better playing field for Obama that could provide political wins for the president.

“What the public wants to see right now is him achieving things, leading,” said Tad Devine, a former strategist to John Kerry and Al Gore. “For him, there's real opportunity on all these fronts, and… realistically in the next six months, he can have progress he can bring back to the American people.” Read more ..

The Cyber Edge

Draft House Judiciary Cybersecurity Bill Would Stiffen Anti-Hacking Bill

March 25th 2013

Shadowy Computer User

A draft cybersecurity bill circulating among House Judiciary Committee members would stiffen a computer hacking law used to bring charges against Internet activist Aaron Swartz.

The bill draft would tighten penalties for cyber crimes and establish a standard for when companies would have to notify consumers that their personal data has been hacked. It would also change existing law so that an attempt at a cyber crime can be punished as harshly as an actual offense.

Such measures could spark concern among advocates outraged over the death of Swartz, the 26-year-old Internet activist and computer programmer who killed himself earlier this year while facing a possible 35-year prison term for hacking. Advocates have called on Congress to make changes to what they say is a draconian law that led to too harsh a prosecution of Swartz. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syria ‘Red Line has been Crossed’ says Rep. Rogers

March 24th 2013

Syrian Chemical Weapons

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee on Sunday warned there was “mounting evidence” Syrian President Bashir al-Assad has used chemical weapons and said the red line calling for a U.S. response “has been crossed.”

“When you look at the whole body of information over the last two years, there is mounting evidence that the Assad regime has used at least a small quantity of chemical weapons throughout the course of this conflict," said Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” Rogers comments come after reports earlier this week of an unconfirmed chemical attack in Syria. President Obama, who was in Israel earlier this week during a three-day tour of the region, vowed that he would investigate the reports and said that the use of chemical weapons would be a “red line” inviting U.S. action. Such an attack would be a “game changer,” Obama added. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Pakistani Taliban Threatens Musharraf With Death

March 23rd 2013

Taliban in Pakistan

The Pakistani Taliban says it will try to kill former president Pervez Musharraf when he returns to the country to take part in upcoming parliamentary elections.

In a video released Saturday, Taliban representatives said a hit squad has been prepared to assassinate Musharraf, who is expected to return to Karachi on Sunday after more than four years of self-imposed exile in London and Dubai.

While he was president, Musharraf angered the Taliban by maintaining close ties with the United States and backing its efforts to fight terrorism.

In Dubai on Saturday, Musharraf said he was granted bail to avoid being arrested upon his planned return home. He has faced arrest for his alleged involvement in the 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. He denies involvement in the plot to kill her.

Musharraf had said several times that he would be returning to Pakistan, but never carried out those plans. On March 1, however, he pledged to return this month, as soon as a caretaker government is in place. Pakistan’s parliament and federal and provincial governments completed their five-year constitutional term earlier this month. A caretaker government will steer the country until the parliamentary elections on May 11. Read more ..

The New Egypt

Israeli Arab and Norwegian Tourists Kidnapped in Sinai

March 22nd 2013

Egyptian Tanks on the Move


Israel on Edge

Israel Attacked by Gaza Rockets During Obama Visit

March 21st 2013


 Four Gaza rockets were fired at Israel on Thursday, with two of them landing in the often rocket-battered city of Sderot, during the second day of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to the Jewish state, Reuters reported.

One of the rockets exploded in the courtyard of a home in Sderot, a city Obama had specifically mentioned during a news conference on Wednesday in Jerusalem. He visited Sderot in 2008 as a presidential candidate.

“I’ve stood in Sderot, and met with children who simply want to grow up free from fear,” Obama said Wednesday. “And flying in today, I saw again how Israel’s security can be measured in mere miles and minutes.” The Sderot resident whose home was hit by a rocket, Yossi Haziza, told Israeli Army Radio, “We will get through this. I only hope that Obama sees what the people here are going through. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

Bethlehem Arabs Vilify Obama with Shoes and Insults

March 20th 2013

Palestinians Villify Obama

INN reports: Arabs in Bethlehem had a “warm welcome” for American officials who on Monday came to prepare for President Barack H. Obama's visit to the city Friday, by throwing shoes and garbage at the vehicles in an entourage from the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem. Hundreds of Arabs mobbed the vehicles outside the Church of the Nativity, where Obama is scheduled to visit when he comes to Bethlehem. Sources in the city told Israel Radio that Arab protesters tore down posters with Obama's image, throwing them to the ground and spitting and stepping on them. The protesters threw shoes at other posters that were hung too high for them to easily tear down. The American entourage had entered Bethlehem unannounced, apparently in an effort to avoid such scenes. The entourage was said to be comprised chiefly of security officials who were there to ensure that Obama would be safe during his visit. PA police attempted to stop the crowd from throwing shoes and debris at the American vehicles, and were only partially successful, witnesses said. Sources in the PA said they were examining ways to ensure that Monday's protests were not repeated when Obama came to town. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Congress to Weigh Legislation to Arm Syrian Rebel Fighters

March 19th 2013

Rebel fighters

The top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs panel is expected to introduce legislation Monday to arm the Syrian rebels. It's the strongest signal yet that lawmakers are running out of patience with the administration's muted response to a conflict that has left more than 70,000 people dead.

The bill, from Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), calls on the Obama administration to provide up to $150 million in lethal and non-lethal security assistance to “appropriately vetted” groups seeking to overthrow Bashar Assad's regime. The 16-page “Free Syria Act of 2013” is being released ahead of House and Senate hearings this week marking the second anniversary of the uprising. It also comes just before President Obama's trip to Israel, where the Syrian conflict will be high on the agenda.

Cyprus on Edge

Cyprus Banks to Remain Closed Until Thursday

March 18th 2013

Euro Symbol

Cyprus banks will remain closed until Thursday to prevent a run on accounts as the Mediterranean island nation considers imposing a first-ever bank deposit tax. The proposed bank levy has rattled investors. Stock markets throughout the world dropped Monday in the aftermath of the bailout for tiny Cyprus. Stocks in Asia plunged two percent or more, with European and U.S. indexes falling by smaller amounts.

The proposed bank tax would hit everyone with money in Cypriot banks, including foreign nationals. Cyprus moved to revamp terms of the bank deposit tax imposed by its international lenders as part of a $13 billion bailout to keep from going bankrupt. Cypriot officials were working with the lenders to cut or eliminate the tax on small investors, while raising it on those with bigger accounts. For the second day in a row, Cyprus's parliament postponed a vote on a new plan and rescheduled it for Tuesday. Read more ..

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