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Israel and Palestine

Hamas Fires from Gaza an Anti-Aircraft Missile Smuggled from Libya

October 17th 2012

Hamas and flags

An anti-aircraft missile was fired from Hamas-controlled Gaza last week at an Israeli aircraft but missed its target, the Hebrew language newspaper Yediot Aharonot reported on October 16.

According to the report the missile was smuggled in from Libya. Israeli authorities have worried that the missiles could be used against the Jewish state since an estimated 1,000 of them went missing from Libya’s arsenal in the aftermath of the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.

The Russian made Strela-2 surface-to-air missile system can hit aircraft flying as fast as 1,118 miles an hour and at altitudes up to 7,500 feet.

According to military sources it is believed that after a relative lull in the conflict, Hamas is intending to escalate the conflict with Israel. Such provocations could signal their intent to do so. Commercial aircraft have already been told to avoid flying over Gaza. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Fierce Fighting in Damascus as Truce Sought for Muslim Holy Day

October 16th 2012

Syrian Rebels in Aleppo

Syrian activists say government warplanes bombed a strategic town seized by rebels last week, while the Syrian army clashed with opposition fighters outside the capital. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees reported the bombing on October 16 in the Maaret al-Numan area. The northern town is strategically located in Idlib province along the main highway between Damascus and Aleppo. Meanwhile, fierce clashes were reported on October 16 on the outskirts of Damascus. The fighting continues amid international warnings that the situation in Syria is worsening.

In an October 15 statement, United Nations-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi said the 19-month crisis in Syria is "getting worse every day" and there is an urgent need to stop the bloodshed. He called for Iran's help in establishing a cease-fire during the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, which begins next week. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki reiterated calls for quick progress in resolving the Syrian conflict, after meeting Brahimi in Baghdad. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

United Kingdom Does Not Seek Regime Change in Iran

October 16th 2012

Iran protest
Lift-off of Iranian missile.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague has dismissed the notion that Britain is trying to force regime change in Iran with the sanctions that the European Union has imposed over Tehran's nuclear activities. The European Union on October 15 agreed to a fresh round of sanctions against Iran in a bid to dissuade Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, as a number of governments have alleged.

But the British foreign minister stressed that any question of regime change "is up to the people of Iran," adding, "Our agenda is not about regime change." "We will respect whatever the people of Iran decide, hopefully in a democratic process in the future," Hague added. "But our objective is to settle the issues about the nuclear program. If we could settle the nuclear issues, there wouldn't be sanctions. There wouldn't be this pressure from the Western world on Iran. This is exclusively about the nuclear program." Read more ..

Broken Government

Feds Probe Alleged Campaign Improprieties Committed by Jesse Jackson Jr.

October 15th 2012


Federal investigators are probing allegations that Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. illegally used campaign funds to redecorate his house, according to a media report. The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington, D.C. have spearheaded the inquiry and are close to completing their investigation. The report says that Jackson’s attorneys requested that authorities not seek an indictment before the election, a call that Justice Department officials rejected. 

The report said that neither Rep. Jackson’s spokesman or lawyer would comment on the matter. The probe is separate from another inquiry by the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington into former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s (D) attempt to sell President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat. Jackson has denied wrongdoing in that matter. The criminal probe into misused campaign funds was launched before Jackson’s resent absence from Capitol Hill for health related reasons. Jackson left Washington in mid-June and revealed two months later that he was being treated for bipolar disorder at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.  Read more ..

Inside the Philippines

Filipino Government and Muslim Insurgents Sign Preliminary Peace Deal

October 15th 2012

Benigno Aquino III

The Philippine government and Muslim rebels waging a decades-long separatist insurgency in the south of the country have signed a preliminary peace deal that outlines steps to end the conflict by 2016. President Benigno Aquino and Moro Islamic Liberation Front Chairman Murad Ebrahim witnessed the signing ceremony on October 15 in the presidential palace in Manila.

Officials say the agreement specifies the extent of power, revenues and territory in the south, creating a new Muslim autonomous region called the "Bangsamoro." The framework, negotiated with MILF rebels in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur this month, sets up a 15-member Transition Commission, which has until 2016 to draft laws setting up the new region. Read more ..

Pakistan on Edge

Teenage Pakistani Human Right Defender Flown to UK for Treatment

October 15th 2012

Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai is a symbol of peace, education and another face of Pakistan which the world is slowly and gradually learning about.

Malala Yousafzai is a 14 year old peace, education and women rights activist from the mesmerizing Swat valley. Yousafzai gained world`s attention at the age of 11 when the Taliban banned the girls from going to schools in the Swat valley, they destroyed over 400 schools for girls.

She wrote about the atrocities of the Taliban regime and the military operation and her passion for education. She was not afraid to take an initiative for peace and education for women.

She went to the school and encouraged others to go with her, she was awarded the National Youth Peace prize. She said that day, " I dont mind if I have to sit on the floor at school, all I want is education. I am afraid of no one." Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

High Gas Prices Roil House Races

October 14th 2012

Gas Prices

High gasoline prices have become a political wild card in California, where several tight races are pivotal to Democrats’ slim hopes of winning back control of the House.

Gas prices are always higher in California, but lately they’re bad even by Golden State standards, soaring a half-dollar in one week to average $4.67-per-gallon on Oct. 9. Republicans have sought political mileage from pump prices, and there is more to come. Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), who faces a challenge from Democrat Raul Ruiz, is running an ad that begins with shots of gas price signs and then cuts to the eight-term congresswoman filling up an SUV.

“These gas prices are outrageous. They have more than doubled in the past four years, and working families are hurting the most. This has to change,” she says. Bono Mack adds that more alternative energy and domestic drilling are needed, and calls for construction of the Alberta-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline, a project that the White House is still reviewing.

“I would anticipate we’ll be hitting this same theme in . . . ads coming out over the next three weeks,” said Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. Democrats hope to tailor their national narrative on energy prices, which stars “Big Oil” and Wall Street speculators as the bad guys, into damaging attacks against GOP incumbents there.

On Thursday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) sent California reporters releases on gas prices targeting four GOP incumbents in competitive races: Reps. Dan Lungren, Jeff Denham, Brian Bilbray and Bono Mack. “As Gas Prices Surge to Record Highs in California, Congressman Lungren Stands with Big Oil companies instead,” the DCCC release on Lungren states. Read more ..

Islam on Edge

Pakistan Police Arrests Suspects in Child Activist Shooting

October 13th 2012

Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai

Pakistani police have arrested several suspects in the shooting of a 14-year-old girl internationally recognized for documenting atrocities committed by the Taliban.
Officials say the arrests took place in the northwestern Swat Valley, where Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head and neck Tuesday by Taliban gunmen as she left school.
Few other details were released on the arrests.

Earlier Friday, a Pakistani military spokesman said Yousafzai is in "satisfactory" condition.  Major General Asim Saleem Bajwa said the next few days will be critical in the recovery of Yousafzai, who remains unconscious and on a ventilator. A Taliban spokesman in the Swat Valley said Friday the group's leaders decided a few months ago to kill Yousafzai, and assigned gunmen to carry it out. Read more ..

Israel and Syria

In Secret Negotiations, Israel was Willing to Cede Golan Heights to Assad

October 12th 2012

Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot revealed on Friday that hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has often criticized the concept of territorial withdrawal in exchange for peace, was in secret negotiations with Syria to do precisely that with the Golan Heights. According to the report, the negotiations were conducted through a back channel throughout 2010, and were begun when Netanyahu agreed in principle to return the Golan, captured in the Six Day War of 1967, to Syria.

Yedioth quoted a senior American official as saying that the negotiations were serious and far-reaching and would have likely ended with an agreement had they not been interrupted by the uprising against Assad. The official estimated that Netanyahu resumed the talks with Assad to justify the stalemate in the negotiations with the Palestinians and because he viewed Syria as the weak link in the so called "axis of evil," which also includes Iran, Lebanon and Hezbollah.

Both Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were involved in the negotiations, and U.S. President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, and several other prominent American players in Middle East diplomacy were let in on the secret. The talks broke down only because of the sudden outbreak of the Syrian civil war. Netanyahu's office has categorically denied the report, and claims that it has been published because of "political considerations," i.e., the upcoming Israeli elections.

Nonetheless, if true, it would not be the first time Netanyahu has made concessions in secret while saying something quite different in public. During the Oslo Process, Netanyahu agreed to withdraw from Hebron in 1997, despite his pledges otherwise. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Hezbollah Admits to Israeli Airspace Violation, Calls for More

October 12th 2012

Hezbollah Nazi Salute

Admitting to a move aimed at provoking Israel, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah claimed responsibility for his group launching the drone aircraft that was recently shot down in Israeli airspace, the Associated Press reported. Hezbollah had been the leading suspect behind the drone, which was unarmed and brought down by an Israeli warplane jet in the Hebron Hills, not far from Israel’s nuclear reactor site at Dimona. “It is our natural right to send other reconnaissance flights inside occupied Palestine … This is not the first time and will not be the last. We can reach any place we want,” Nasrallah said in a televised address. The drone incident has generated a war of words between Iran, its proxy Hezbollah and Israel. Earlier in the week, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corp claimed that the drone successfully photographed the Dimona reactor. Read more ..

Nigeria on Edge

Worst Nigeria Flooding in 50 Years Called 'Natural Disaster'

October 12th 2012

Nigera flood

At least 140 people have been killed, hundreds of thousands uprooted and tens of thousands of hectares of farmland have been submerged since the start of July, raising concerns about food security, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said on Friday. Vast stretches of Nigeria has been submerged by floods in the past few weeks, as major rivers like the Niger, the continent's third longest, burst their banks.

In Kogi, a northern state that has been the worst affected and which Jonathan visited on Thursday, NEMA state coordinator Ishaya Chonoko said 623,900 people had been displaced and 152,575 hectares of farmland destroyed so far. "We are very sad over these flood incidences in the country.

It is a national disaster," Jonathan said with a sombre expression, after casting an eye over the makeshift displacement camp huddling 738 people together in Dankolo primary school. "We are thinking of how to settle you all back to your places after the floods. Government is doing everything possible to cushion the effects on you ... it will soon be over." Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Ryan and Biden Exchange Verbal Blows in Contentious TV Debate

October 12th 2012

Biden Ryan debate

Vice President Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) traded furious blows Thursday night in a highly contentious vice presidential debate.

There was no clear winner in the first and only showdown between the vice presidential candidates, with both sides making strong cases for their running mates at the top of their respective tickets. But perhaps the most prominent feature of the debate in Danville, Ky., was Biden’s incredulous demeanor. The vice president repeatedly dismissed Ryan with laughter, eye rolling and even an “Oh, god!” in an evening of quips and comebacks.

From the outset of the 90-minute debate, Biden sought to portray Mitt Romney and Ryan’s ideas as “malarkey” and depicted his opponent as evasive and untruthful, a theme the Obama campaign has aggressively pushed in recent days. "With all due respect, that's a bunch of malarkey," Biden said. "Not a single thing he said is accurate." Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Questionable Fundraising by Obama Campaign Exposed by Watchdog Group

October 11th 2012


A public-interest watchdog group yesterday released a troubling report of its investigation into fundraising by both presidential candidates that revealed that President Barack Obama's fundraising tactics has garnered campaign contributions from Chinese, Arabic, Thai, and Korean nationals overseas. According to the Federal Elections Commission, contributions to American political campaigns from donors in foreign nations are criminal violations of federal law.

According to Government Accountability Institute officials, the web site Obama.com, which acts as a gateway the Obama campaign's donation web site, receives an enormous number of "hits" from citizen's of foreign countries. This situation has resulted in the questioning of the legality of million of dollars in donations to the Obama campaign, according to a new report.

The 108-page analysis, from the group that uncovered President Obama skipping many of his national security briefings, studied Internet fundraising by both Obama and his opponent Mitt Romney, as well as congressional candidates in the Democratic and Republican Parties. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Chaffetz Accuses State Department of Revealing Classified Information

October 11th 2012


Rep. Jason Chaffetz caused a stir at Wednesday's hearing on security lapses in Libya when he accused the State Department of publicizing classified information by displaying a satellite photograph of the United States consulate in Benghazi. Chaffetz made the comments at the House oversight panel hearing in reference to a photo of the diplomatic mission that came under attack on September 11, 2012. American lives were being putting at risk by making the information public, he alleged.

Democrats on the dais, and observers in the hearing room, reacted to the GOP lawmaker's request with raised eyebrows and guffaws.“You can Google it!” Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the Oversight panel, said of the picture. Patrick Kennedy, the State Department under-secretary for management, said the photo was obtained from a commercial satellite. Chaffetz, the chairman of the committee's panel on national security, replied that Obama administration officials were making documents public that his State Department handlers told him were classified during a visit to Libya over the weekend. Committee chairman Darrell Issa, however, sided with the administration. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Turks Force Syrian Crew to Sign Statement Claiming 'Emergency Landing, No F-16s'

October 11th 2012

Turk flags

Passengers onboard the plane intercepted by Turkish jets said that security forces were making the crew and passengers sign fraudulent papers suggesting that the plane made an emergency landing and no Turkish military were involved in the incident. Hours after Turkish authorities announced that the Syrian Airlines passenger plane intercepted by its F-16s was granted a departure clearance, the aircraft remained on the tarmac in darkness. “Four people onboard have been beaten up, two crew and two passengers, as they tried to force them to sign documents,” Sherin Azis, a hostess on the plane, told RT by phone. “We don’t know what these papers are about. We are scared for the fate of the captain. He was taken away and threatened with arrest if he does not sign an emergency landing paper.”

Fatima al-Saman, a passenger and a mother of three, also told RT that the captain was being forced to sign a release stating that military planes were not involved and the plane just made an emergency landing. Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

Terrorists Murder U.S. Security Team Leader in Yemen

October 11th 2012

Yemeni terrorists

A Yemeni man who headed a security team at the U.S. embassy in Yemen was shot dead on his way to work Thursday, according to wire reports. Qassem Aqlan had worked at the embassy for two decades and was in charge of the investigation into last month's breach of the embassy walls by protesters angered by a U.S.-made anti-Islam film, the Associated Press reports.

The shooting, Yemeni officials said, bears the hallmarks of past actions by Yemen's al Qaeda offshoot, which is at war with the U.S.-backed Yemeni government.

The shooting comes just a day after House Republicans grilled State Department officials for refusing to provide extra security to the U.S. embassy in Libya in the run-up to the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Obama Remains Confident Despite a 'Bad Night' Debating Romney

October 10th 2012

Obama Bowed Head

President Obama on October 10 said despite his “bad night” at the debate and Mitt Romney’s subsequent spike in the polls, the fundamentals of the presidential race are still in his favor.

“Well it's not the first time I've had a bad night,” Obama will said according to a transcript from a pre-recorded interview set to air on October 10 at night on ABC’s "World News with Diane Sawyer." “But I think what's important is the, the fundamentals of what this race is about haven't changed. You know, Governor Romney went to a lotta trouble to try to hide what his positions are.”

Obama said he intended to “move on” from last week’s debate. The candidate’s will meet again on October next on October 16.

“You know, one thing, you know maybe this is because I played a lotta sports when I was a kid, and still do,” Obama continued. “If you have a bad game, you just move on. You look forward to the next one. And it makes you that much more determined. The difference between this and sports is that the stakes are so high.”

The interview was the second Obama gave on on October 10 in which he conceded he had lost the debate to Romney. Earlier in the day, Obama said in a phone interview with the "Tom Joyner Morning Show” that he had been “too polite” in dealing with the GOP challenger. The first debate between Obama and Romney has significantly shifted momentum in the race.

According to Gallup, 72 percent of viewers said Romney won the debate, compared to only 20 percent who said Obama. It was the biggest margin of victory Gallup has ever recorded. Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

Obama Administration Denied Requests for Additional Security at Benghazi Consulate

October 10th 2012


State Department and military officials painted a horrific picture for lawmakers on Wednesday as they detailed a series of refused requests for added security at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Testifying before the House, the officials said they were denied multiple requests for more protection at the consulate, which was attacked last month on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, killing the U.S. ambassador and three others diplomats.

“The takeaway… for me and my staff, was abundantly clear — we were not going to get resources until the aftermath of an incident,” said Eric Nordstrom, a regional security officer overseeing the State Department’s personnel and facilities in Libya.

“And the question that we would ask is: how thin does the ice have to get before someone falls through?” Read more ..

Islam's War Against Women

Doctors Remove Bullet from Pakistani Teen Activist

October 10th 2012

Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousufzai

Doctors in Pakistan have successfully removed a bullet from a 14-year-old girl shot by the Taliban for speaking out against the militant group and promoting education for women.

Malala Yousufzai was in critical condition after gunmen shot her in the head and neck while boarding a school bus in Swat Valley Tuesday. Two other girls were wounded in the attack.

Doctors at a Peshawar military hospital removed a bullet from her neck early Wednesday morning after she developed complications. They say she is improving but remains unconscious. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the shooting.  A spokesman said Yousufzai was "pro-West, speaking out against the Taliban, and calling U.S. President Barack Obama her idol." Yousufzai is internationally recognized for documenting atrocities committed by the Taliban in the area near her home.  She wrote under a pseudonym - Gul Makai - in a blog published by the BBC. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Ultra-slim PCs Will Represent 25% of the Mobile PC Market by 2015

October 9th 2012

Ultra-slim PC shipments will grow from 3.4 million in 2011 to 65.0 million by 2015—a quarter of mobile PC shipments - according to the NPD DisplaySearch Quarterly Mobile PC Shipment and Forecast Report.

The mobile PC landscape is transforming from a performance-driven market to a convenience-driven market, where easy access to content and usage are the new preferred characteristics.

This fundamental change in preference is most noticeable in the slowing demand for notebook PCs and the increasing demand for tablet PCs. Tablet PC shipments are expected to exceed notebook PC shipment by 2016. Notebook PC players are responding by adopting the features of tablets that consumers have appreciated the most.

“Tablet PCs have offered consumers what they have been requesting from the notebook market for years, instant-on activation, long battery life, and sleeker designs,” said Richard Shim, Senior Analyst with NPD DisplaySearch. “These attributes are the basis for enabling greater and easier accessibility to content and services. Ultra-slim PCs are the notebook market's response to tablets and aim to balance performance and convenience.” Read more ..

Islam's Winter of Rage

Safety Alert Issued to American Nationals in Pakistan

October 9th 2012

Pakistan anti us protest

The diplomatic officials assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, issued a threat alert on Sunday for U.S. nationals, advising them to keep a low profile, avoid traveling at night and taking other safety precautions, according to security source.

The embassy informed hundreds of American nationals that on Sunday the Pakistani Ministry of Interior issued its own threat alert regarding possible terrorist attacks in Islamabad. Besides al-Qaeda, there are radical Islamists from the Pakistani Taliban and the Haqqani network who all use improvised explosive devices and other weapons against non-Muslims. The Pakistani government believes foreigners risk being killed or injured at key government installations in the downtown area of Islamabad known as the "Red Zone" as well as five-star hotels located in Islamabad. Read more ..

China and the US

Chinese Executives Pose National Security Threat

October 8th 2012

Stealth Jet

In the midst of a tight presidential race in which U.S. relations with China has become a major issue, U.S. lawmakers claim that two Chinese firms pose a serious threat to U.S. national security, according to a congressional panel that concluded their probe into espionage allegations and released a preliminary report on Monday.

The telecom companies, Huawei and ZTE, "should be [banned] from pursuing any mergers and acquisitions in the U.S., according to the House Intelligence Committee's recommendations in its report.

"China's top telecommunications gear makers should be kept [out] of the U.S. marketplace because they cannot be trusted to dodge Chinese state influence and thus pose a security threat," Intelligence Committee leaders said. They claimed the firms had failed to persuade the congressmen that associations between them and the Chinese government and military were not a threat. The China-based companies are listed as two of the world's largest producers of telecommunications networking equipment. Both Huawei and ZTE executives have categorically denied all allegations of espionage or theft of trade secrets. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

SpaceX Begins 1st Cargo Delivery Mission to Space Station

October 8th 2012

Space-X Dragon Capsule

A capsule built by the first private company to fly to the International Space Station is on its way to the orbiting lab on the first official mission to deliver cargo. California-based SpaceX launched its Dragon capsule late Sunday from Cape Canaveral on the U.S. Atlantic Coast.  The capsule is scheduled to dock with the space station early Wednesday as part of a $1.6 billion contract with the U.S. space agency NASA. The mission follows a successful test delivery to the ISS in May.  SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said everyone feels better with each successful launch, but that getting to the space station is still a difficult task and a lot of work remains.

"We will learn from our flights and continue to improve the vehicle. Given that we are looking towards flying crew on these vehicles, we want to make sure that we address any and all items that we find and learn about the vehicle to make it even more reliable," said Shotwell. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

IDF Downs Drone Over Israel, Suspects Hezbollah

October 7th 2012


An unmanned drone shot down over Israeli territory Saturday afternoon may have been launched by the terrorist group Hezbollah.

See video of shoot down here.

The drone entered Israel from the West, passing over the Mediterranean Sea before flying over Israeli air space. The Israeli air force shot down the unmanned vehicle over the Negev. Israel said the drone was not able to collect any vital information on Israeli military installations. According to the Christian Science Monitor: "Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich said Israeli ground systems detected the drone, which flew over the Gaza Strip but did not originate there, Saturday morning and alerted the air force, which scrambled the jets to intercept the aircraft. She said Israel was still trying to determine where the drone took off from. Nobody was hurt in the incident. Leibovich said Israeli jets escorted the drone before deciding to bring it down in the northern Negev area, which is largely uninhabited. The drone, which was downed near the Yatir Forest close to the West Bank, had spent about 20 minutes in Israeli air space, an Israeli military official said on condition of anonymity in line with protocol." Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Anti-Terrorist Sweep in France Pulls in Suspects in Firebombing of Jewish Businesses

October 7th 2012

French Muslim protesters

Police in France killed one man and arrested 10 others in an anti-terror sweep in cities across the country on October 6. Authorities have linked the suspects to the firebombing last month of a Jewish grocery store outside the city. Paris prosecutor Francois Molins told reporters that the main suspect, 33-year-old Jeremy Sidney, was killed by police as he opened fire on them during a Saturday morning raid in the eastern city of Strasbourg.

The prosecutor described Sidney as a delinquent with ties to radical Islam. Molins said police had linked Sidney to the DNA found on a grenade that exploded in September at a kosher store near Paris. Molins said police were questioning 10 others following raids that also took place in southern France and the Paris region. A couple of other suspects remain at large. The prosecutor said all the suspects were French nationals and at least three have police records. Molins said police had cracked a terror cell - a move that drew praise from French President Francois Hollande. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Asteroid Fragments Could Hint Origins of Solar System

October 6th 2012

Big Bang

The tiny pieces of rock – at 50-100 micrometers smaller than a human hair – have been captured from asteroid Itokawa by the Japanese mission Hayabusa. They were carefully unpacked by experts at the University's School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences.

It is the first time samples from an asteroid have been returned to Earth. Only about 70 samples have been released for international analysis – seven of these are being studied at the University. The Hayabusa mission is part of a continuing effort to understand how asteroids, which are leftovers from the formation of planets like Earth, formed and evolved. It recovered fragments from the 500 metre-long asteroid Itokawa in 2005 and returned them to Earth in 2010. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Obama's U.N. Ambassador Responds to Critics about Benghazi Disaster

October 6th 2012

Click to select Image
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice

America's ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, pushed back hard against Republican attacks on her initial description of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in a letter made public Friday. In her response to three Republican senators' demand for an explanation, Rice was non-apologetic and told them that they had misquoted her and taken her statements out of context. Rice was roundly criticized by conservatives when she appeared on five Sunday news shows days after the attack and said it appeared to have escalated out of a protest sparked by a U.S.-made anti-Islam video posted to YouTube.

“In answering, I relied solely and squarely on the information the intelligence community provided to me and other senior U.S. officials, including through the daily intelligence briefings that present the latest reporting and analysis to policymakers,” Rice wrote to Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). She goes on to point out that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence itself, in a Sept. 28 statement, acknowledged sharing that information with the executive branch. “In the immediate aftermath,” the agency said, “there was information that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo. We provided that initial assessment to Executive Branch officials and members of Congress, who used that information to discuss the attack publicly.”

And she denies using the weak term “expression of hostility” to describe the attack in Libya.

The senators said they weren't impressed. They've argued it was clear from the beginning that heavily armed militants who attacked the compound weren't protesters, and pointed to reports that the administration was told within hours of the attack that al Qaeda might have been involved. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Democrats Accuse Romney of Lying during Debate with Obama

October 6th 2012

Democratic lawmakers say Mitt Romney "was lying" during Wednesday night’s debate, claiming those alleged fabrications will erase any advantage he received from his well-reviewed performance. The legislators argue that the silver lining in President Obama's underwhelming debate showing is that Romney gave Democrats plenty of ammunition to reinforce their case that he is a flip-flopper willing to say anything to get elected. "Romney’s performance featured a rather dramatic departure from his public record and campaign proposals," Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat, said Thursday in an email, "and he displayed a reckless disregard for bedrock American values of truth and honesty."

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) accused Romney of simply "lying" to appear more centrist than he really is. "We saw a Romney that is clearly an etch-a-sketch," she said in a phone interview Thursday. "He likes bank regulations now? He wants more teachers? No tax cuts for the rich? … He was basically lying." Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, piled on, saying Romney "went off the charts [by] contradicting himself … changing positions and outright fabricating issues." Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

Former Nevada Hospital Official Says She Was Fired For Questioning Medicare Bills

October 5th 2012

medicine and money

Paula Sellers suspected the small Nevada hospital where she worked was overcharging Medicare and other health insurers for some emergency room services. Sellers ran Boulder City Hospital’s health information department, which helped apply the complex series of Medicare billing codes doctors and hospitals must use to get paid for treating the sick. But Sellers alleges in a lawsuit that her bosses told her to “back off” when she doubted the accuracy of the coding –and fired her in May when she refused to sign off on it.

“When she tried to complain, she got terminated,” said her lawyer, Jesse Sbaih. The wrongful termination lawsuit, filed in July in Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, has been moved to federal court, where it is pending. The hospital and its billing agent deny the allegations.

Every year, hospitals and doctors use the five-digit billing codes, developed by the American Medical Association, to bill Medicare for hundreds of millions of office visits and other services. Hospitals use these “Evaluation and Management” codes to bill for emergency room and outpatient physician charges and other fees. In past years, Medicare has for the most part paid medical bills with few questions asked, even though the coding process can be confusing and subjective.

But billing practices are facing new scrutiny as Medicare officials and other insurers seek ways to put the brakes on escalating health care costs. On Sept. 24, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Attorney General Eric Holder notified five groups representing hospitals and medical professionals that they could face criminal prosecutions for padding bills by choosing higher-paying codes even if the services delivered didn’t justify them —a process known as “upcoding.”


Oil Addiction

Texas Pollution Victims Seek Millions From Citgo

October 5th 2012

Citco Refinery

Fifteen residents of Corpus Christi, Texas — so sickened by pollution they have been deemed crime victims — are asking a federal judge to force Citgo Petroleum Corp. to set up multimillion-dollar trust funds to cover medical and relocation costs, in a case with national ramifications. A jury in 2007 convicted Citgo of criminal violations of the Clean Air Act, concluding that the company’s Corpus Christi refinery allowed toxic chemicals to drift from two large, uncovered storage tanks into a nearby neighborhood for a decade. The company was to have been sentenced last month; the Department of Justice has proposed a fine of slightly more than $2 million. Lawyers for the 15 residents, however, asked U.S. District Judge John D. Rainey to grant the residents crime-victim status so they could testify at the sentencing hearing and, perhaps, win compensation from Citgo. Rainey granted that status on Sept. 14 and postponed the hearing.


The Arab Winter of Rage

U.S. Diplomats in Libya Asked for More Security to No Avail--Congress Demands Answers

October 5th 2012


Prior to the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Ambassador Chris Stevens' request for additional security officials was turned down by the Obama administration in order to project a friendly atmosphere to the distrusting Islamic population, an anonymous security official in Washington, D.C., sources informed. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee leaders on Tuesday evening sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking why requests for more protection were denied to the U.S. mission in Libya by Washington officials prior to the violent and deadly terrorist attack that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.  The denials came after repeated attacks and security threats to U.S. personnel, according to Congressmen Darrell Issa (R-CA), the committee chairman, and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) the subcommittee chairman.

"While the written requests were unemotional and respectful, verbal requests were pleas from American foreign service personnel who were terrified of their surroundings and their vulnerability in a turbulent environment," said the source. “Based on information provided to the Committee by individuals with direct knowledge of events in Libya, the attack that claimed the ambassador’s life was the latest in a long line of attacks on Western diplomats and officials in Libya in the months leading up to September 11, 2012. It was clearly never, As Administration officials once insisted, the result of a popular protest,” wrote Issa and Chaffetz. Read more ..

Israel's Looming Attack

Khamenei Representative: Iran Can Destroy Israel in 24 Hours

October 4th 2012

Simurgh booster

In an interview with Iran’s Jahan News, Ali Shirazi, Ayatollah Khamenei’s representative in the Revolutionary Guards’ naval force, said Wednesday that, were Israel to attack the Islamic Republic, it would take only 24 hours for Iran to destroy the country in retaliation.

“If a war with Israel does happen, it wouldn’t be a long one, and it would benefit the entire Muslim world,” Ali Shirazi said. Meanwhile, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, told a group of  “young gifted talents” Wednesday that “The Iranian nation has never bowed to pressure and never will, and this is the cause of enemy’s fury,” according to the Fars News Agency. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Turkish Retaliation for Cross-Border Attack by Syria

October 4th 2012

Turkish Military

Turkish artillery units struck targets near the Syrian border town of Tel Abyad on October 4, killing several Syrian soldiers with a mortar blast in a second day of conflict. Turkey’s government, a NATO ally of the United States, claimed that Syria had engaged in “aggressive action” against its territory and thus explaining the retaliation. The Turkish government has requested parliamentary authorization to deploy its troops beyond its national borders.

“Turkey has not interest in a war with Syria. But Turkey is capable of protecting its borders and will retaliate when necessary,” said Ibrahim Kalin, an advisor to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, in a Twitter statement. “Political, diplomatic initiatives will continue,” he added. This was the most serious spill-over from the 18-month long civil war in Syria, which Turkey called "the last straw" when a mortar round struck a residential neighborhood of the southern border town of Akcakale on October 3. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Plunging Currency Adds to Iran's Woes

October 3rd 2012

Iran Money Changers

The long, steady decline of the Iranian rial took a precipitous turn Monday, with the currency falling more than 17 percent in trading. At one of the lowest points, it took 35,000 rials to buy one U.S. dollar. Less than a year ago, it took only 13,000 rials.

The drop was so steep that popular Iranian currency data websites were no longer providing information about the dollar exchange rate. On Mazanex.com, the dollar rate for the rial was blanked out, and Mesghal.ir was replaced with a message reading, “Account Suspended.”

Alex Vatanka, a scholar at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, said the rial’s fall was due to a combination of economic sanctions imposed by Western countries and internal attempts at economic reform. “It has resulted in an interesting and painful cocktail that Iranians are seeing when they go out and buy groceries,” he said. Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

U.S. Consulate in Libya was Attacked 13 Times before Fatal Incident

October 3rd 2012

Libyan rioters at US consulate Sep 2012 #1

Two House Republicans say they have been informed by whistleblowers that the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi was attacked and threatened 13 times before the incident last month that killed four Americans.

Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a letter on Tuesday that detailed the whistleblowers’ allegations. “Based on information provided to the Committee by individuals with direct knowledge of events in Libya, the attack that claimed the ambassador’s life was the latest in a long line of attacks on Western diplomats and officials in Libya in the months leading up to September 11, 2012,” Issa and Chaffetz wrote. “It was clearly never, as Administration officials once insisted, the result of a popular protest." Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Incumbent Senator Kerrey trails Republican Challenger in Nebraska

October 3rd 2012

Sen Bob Kerrey D
Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) of Nebraska

A recent poll from the Omaha World-Herald had Kerrey trailing state Sen. Deb Fischer (R) by 16 points among likely voters. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) spent $1 million in coordinated expenditures with the Nebraska Democratic Party since Kerrey announced he would run, but hasn’t spent a dime there since early August — and has no reservations in the state for this fall.

In contrast, the DSCC recently reserved a half-million dollars in Arizona and has already been on the air in North Dakota and Indiana. Kerrey, who last held elected office in 2001, always faced an uphill battle to hold onto retiring Sen. Ben Nelson’s (D-Neb.) seat in the heavily Republican state. And while other Democrats in tough Senate races have had things break their way, a few events hurt his chances. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Ahead of Crucial Debate, Romney Proposes $17K Limit for Tax Deductions

October 3rd 2012

romney buttons

Mitt Romney went on offense Tuesday ahead of his crucial first debate against President Obama, adding fresh details to his policies while capitalizing on a blunder by Vice President Biden.

The GOP nominee proposed limiting individual tax deductions to $17,000, a move that could help rebuff arguments from the Obama campaign that his fiscal policies are both vague and aimed at helping the rich.

He also said he would not revoke waivers issued by the Obama administration allowing certain illegal immigrants to stay in the United States — putting more meat on the bones of his proposed immigration policies. Separately, Romney’s campaign seized on a gaffe by Biden Tuesday that forced Team Obama to engage in damage control on the debate’s eve. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Systematic Slaughter by Islamists Claims Lives of 25 Students in Northern Nigeria

October 2nd 2012

Nigeria Adamawa State college

At least 25 people were killed late Monday in what appears to be a systematic slaughter in Adamawa State in northern Nigeria. Locals say the victims, mostly college students, were individually questioned before being attacked. The day after the killing spree, this student at the Federal Polytechnic College in the town of Mubi, who doesn’t want to be named, says students are fleeing the area, at least those that can find a car or a bus.

On a crackly line from Mubi he says gunshots could be heard around 10 o'clock Monday night and continued for three hours until it started to rain. He says the assailants went from house to house, in a student residential area, asking questions and killing those who gave the wrong answer. Students were asked about their religion, he says. However, not everyone agrees with that account. Another student said that the killers were asking about politics, the day after student elections. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Climate Change and Technological Innovation Requires a U.S. Weather Commission

October 2nd 2012

Click to select Image

With the U.S. economy vulnerable to weather events costing billions of dollars, an expert panel today asked Congress to create the first U.S. Weather Commission. The commission would provide guidance to policymakers on leveraging weather expertise across government and the private sector to better protect lives and businesses.

"The nation must focus its weather resources on the areas of greatest need in order to keep our economy competitive and provide maximum protection of lives and property," says Thomas Bogdan, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. "Emerging technologies are providing an opportunity to create forecasts that are more accurate and detailed than ever, and to communicate them instantly to key communities and businesses. We need a U.S. Weather Commission to ensure that our entire weather research and technology enterprise provides maximum benefit to the nation." Read more ..

Pakistan on Edge

Pakistani Hindus Charge Muslims with Blasphemy

October 2nd 2012

HIndu temple in Pakistan

Pakistan’s Hindu minority is using the country’s controversial anti-blasphemy laws against a group of Muslims that attacked a Hindu temple. Anti-blasphemy laws here have typically been used against religious minorities. Now, police are applying the same regulations to charge nine Muslims, including a cleric, of rampaging through a temple and destroying Hindu religious items. Some laws carry the death penalty.

Hafiz Muhammad Tahir Ashrafi, chairman of the Muslim Pakistan Ulema Council, welcomed the decision. “I think this is a good gesture from Pakistan, and a good gesture of Muslim people from Pakistan,” he said. Read more ..

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