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The World on Edge

World Leaders Call For More Nuclear Security Cooperation

March 27th 2012

Lee and Obama at Nuke Summit
Presidents Lee Myung-Bak of S. Korean, Barack Obama of the U.S.

World leaders gathered for a nuclear security summit in Seoul, South Korea, have pledged tough action to combat the threat of nuclear terrorism but have agreed no new concrete measures.

A statement at the close of the gathering on March 27 said it was the “fundamental responsibility” of all states to safeguard nuclear materials and keep them out of the hands of terrorists.

It added that “nuclear terrorism continues to be one of the most challenging threats to international security” and said countering that threat requires “strong national measures.” However, the statement provided no specific details on how governments intend to combat the threat.

U.S. President Barack Obama said that threats remain due to “bad actors” actively seeking unsecured nuclear materials. “Of course, what is also undeniable is that the threat remains. There are still too many bad actors in search of these dangerous materials and these dangerous materials are still vulnerable in too many places,” Obama told the summit. Read more ..

America and Israel

Jerusalem Passport Case Must Be Heard--Supreme Court

March 26th 2012


The American parents of a boy born in Jerusalem, Israel can litigate their insistence that their son's US passport list Israel as his birthplace. So says a US Supreme Court ruling just issued. Since the founding of Israel in 1948, successive American governments have declined to recognize any country as having sovereignty over Jerusalem, which is home to the holiest sites in Judaism and Christianity and  the third holiest site in Islam. The State Department, applying long-standing US policy, insisted that nine-year-old Menachem Zivotofsky's birth certificate, and thus his passport, show Jerusalem—with no country specified—as the place of birth. Parents Naomi and Ari Zivotofsky, filed a lawsuit in 2003 challenging this in federal court in Washington, DC, basing their argument on a 2002 American law, passed just before Menachem was born.

Constitutional lawyers Nathan Lewin and Alyza Lewin fought for the right to argue the case. Nathan Lewin ultimately prevailed at the high court.

A feature of the contentious lawsuit was the usuaal spectacle of website scrubbing by the the State Department under instructions from the Obama Administration and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. In the run-up to the court's ruling, pictures with captions reading "Jerusalem, Israel" were changed to delete the word "Israel." One of them was of a Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial ceremony. Moreover, others citizens who had received passports stamped "Israel" were told to turn them in to correct a bureaucratic error.

Fundamental dynamics of Congressional intent and presidential policy are at stake. In the 35-page ruling, the Supreme Court declared, "They [the petitioners] argue that these powers include the power to specify the content of a passport (or consular birth report). And when such a specification takes the form of statutory law, they say, the Constitution requires the President (through the Secretary of State) to execute that statute." Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Egyptians Discover Iranian Plot to Terrorize Israeli Ships Crossing the Suez

March 26th 2012

Cargo Ships in Suez Canal
Cargo ship passing through the Suez Canal, Credit: Daniel Csörföly

An Egyptian Al-Ahram weekly newspaper claimed that Iran plotted to carry out a terror attack on an Israeli ship as it passed through Egypt’s Suez Canal. The report suggested that Iran hired two Egyptians Suleiman Razek Abdul-Razek and Salameh Ahmed Salameh, offering them 50 million Egyptian pounds ($8.3 million US). Egyptian security forces discovered the plot and arrested the two men on Saturday.

The plot was discovered before enacted, as the two would-be terrorist attempted to hire a third party, believed to be a man named Mohamed Zakri, to carry out the bombing. but are now denying any involvement in the matter whatsoever. In a similar manner to the way Iran had recruited Manssor Arbabsiar to carry out terrorist plots against United States, this report would indicate that the Iranian efforts to spread its campaign of fear is still very much in effect. Read more ..

Edge of Healthcare

Obama's Signature Legislative Achievement Hangs in the Balance

March 26th 2012

US Supreme Court

President Obama’s signature domestic achievement — and, with it, a big part of his political legacy — is now in the hands of the Supreme Court. The nine justices on March 26 will begin hearing three consecutive days of oral arguments about whether the healthcare law is unconstitutional. The landmark legal challenge threatens to overturn an historic legislative victory, raising the stakes once again in a debate that will help define Obama’s presidency.

The six-hour oral argument is the longest the court has heard in 45 years. And this is the first time in more than 75 years that the court is in a position to strike down a sitting president’s agenda while he runs for reelection. “It’s just perfect, in terms of this being a first-term president’s signature legislation, and that it could be invalidated during a presidential election year,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond.

That last instance came in 1935 when, in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first term, the court considered the constitutionality of his National Recovery Act and struck it down.

Legal experts agree the healthcare case is already in the same league as the court’s most famous decisions, including rulings on abortion and civil rights. Some argue it’s more important than Bush v. Gore, the case that decided the 2000 presidential election, because of its sweeping implications for the role of government. “It has the potential to fundamentally alter our concept of limited government,” said Robert Alt, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Read more ..

Senegal on Edge

Sall Defeats Wade in Senegal’s Presidential Runoff

March 26th 2012

Macky Sall (president-elect Senegal 2012)
Macky Sall, president-elect of Senegal

Opposition candidate Macky Sall says a new era can begin in Senegal after his victory in Sunday’s runoff presidential election.

Unofficial results showed voters backed Mr. Sall over President Abdoulaye Wade, who was running for a controversial third term.

Mr. Sall told reporters the election is a victory for all of Senegal.

“I also salute those who chose the other candidate. I will be the president of all Senegalese people.” He said he will represent all of the Senegalese people. His supporters rallied in the capital, Dakar, to celebrate his victory. Mr. Wade said in a statement he called Mr. Sall to congratulate him. He also thanked his own supporters and urged them to look toward upcoming parliamentary elections. Official provisional results are still days away, but observers praised the vote. Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo led the African Union’s observer mission and stated that the election was transparent and peaceful. “The election this time because we had less number of contestants to deal with was smoother, was more orderly.” Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Biomarkers for Autism Discovered

March 25th 2012


An important step towards developing a rapid, inexpensive diagnostic method for autism has been take by Uppsala University, among other universities. Through advanced mass spectrometry the researchers managed to capture promising biomarkers from a tiny blood sample. The study has just been published in the prestigious journal Nature Translational Psychiatry.

There are no acknowledged biomarkers for autism today. Researchers at Berzelii Centre and the Science for Life Laboratory in Uppsala who, in collaboration with colleagues at Linnaeus University in Sweden and the Faculty of Medicine in Tehran, Iran, have discovered some promising biomarkers.

Many diseases are caused by protein alterations inside and outside the body’s cells. By studying protein patterns in tissue and body fluids, these alterations can be mapped to provide important information about underlying causes of disease. Sometimes protein patterns can also be used as biomarkers to enable diagnosis or as a prognosticating tool to monitor the development of a disease. In the current study disruptions of the nervous system were in focus when the scientists studied protein patterns in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syrian Army Pounds Homs; US, Allies Consider “Non-Lethal” Aid for Rebels

March 25th 2012

Bombing Hits Syria March 18 2012

Activists say Syrian forces resumed heavy shelling of the already battered city of Homs on March 24, as international envoy Kofi Annan arrived in Russia to discuss efforts to mediate an end to the crisis in Syria.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least three people were killed in the Khaldiyeh district of Homs and nearby town of Qusair following shelling that began early Saturday. Homs has seen some of the heaviest fighting in Syria’s year-long uprising.

Clashes were also reported in Idlib province bordering Turkey, where the rights group says at least one person was killed.

Saturday’s violence came as joint U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan arrived in Moscow in an effort to convince Russia to support international calls for a cease-fire and open political dialogue in Syria. Russia and China have repeatedly blocked Security Council action against Syria—saying such action interferes in its internal affairs—since the deadly crackdowns on protests erupted. However, the two nations did support a Security Council resolution in recent days endorsing Annan’s six-point plan for peace, and Russia has also called on the Syrians to give humanitarian aid workers a chance to help beleaguered civilians. Read more ..

America on Edge

Rep. Chu Fights For Tough Hazing Policies After Nephew’s Death

March 23rd 2012


For Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), military hazing hits too close to home. Chu’s nephew, Marine Lance Cpl. Harry Lew, committed suicide in Afghanistan last year after he was beaten and hazed while serving there. Now Chu has become an outspoken critic of the military's hazing policies, accusing the services of brushing off the issue.

Last month she and other Democrats called for a congressional hearing on military hazing, which the Armed Services Committee held on Thursday. Chu and two other Democrats sat in on the hearing to question military officials.

“It’s a difficult matter to talk about in such a public setting, but I feel like I have to,” Chu said.

Chu shared the details of her nephew’s hazing with the military officials at the hearing, saying Lew, 21, was beaten and sand was poured on his face after he fell asleep while on guard. “Finally, 22 minutes after they stopped, at 3:43 a.m., Harry climbed into a foxhole and killed himself with his own gun,” Chu said. “And what punishment was given? Virtually nothing,” she said. “In Harry's case three Marines were charged, one Marine was given just one month in confinement, two were found not guilty by a jury of their peers, fellow Marines.” Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

EU Imposes New Sanctions on Syria's Assad Family

March 23rd 2012


The European Union has decided to impose new sanctions on the inner circle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as fresh clashes broke out across the country.

European foreign ministers meeting in Brussels say they will impose a travel ban and asset freeze against several members of the president's administration and family, including his British-born wife, Asma al-Assad.

Mrs. Assad gained recent attention after emails obtained by Britain's Guardian newspaper allegedly revealed that she went on large shopping sprees while Syria descended into violence. It is not clear if the ban would be able to prevent her from traveling to Britain, where she is thought to still hold citizenship.

Before the meeting, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the sanctions will help add pressure on the Syrian government, which he said continues its "murdering" behavior.

"It is important that the European Union today adds to that pressure on the regime with sanctions that I hope will cover not only members of the regime, but people associated closely with the regime. It is important that we tighten the diplomatic and economic strangehold on them," said Hague. Read more ..

The Edge of Terror

Toulouse Killer Dead after Siege, Firefight

March 22nd 2012

french riot police toulouse mar 2012

French police stormed the apartment of Toulouse killer Mohammed Merah the moring of Thursday March 22, killing the self-described jihadist and ending a 32-hour siege.

The Times of Israel reports that three French police officers were wounded in the encounter, during which Merah came out with “guns blazing.”

Police used a camera to survey the apartment and when the camera entered the bathroom, the gunman came out, guns blazing, Interior Minister Claude Gueant told reporters.

A firefight ensued and Merah jumped out the first-floor window and was “found dead,” he said. Heavy gunfire was heard outside for several minutes after police entered the apartment. Some 300 bullets were exchanged in the firefight.

Merah, who confessed to killing three children and a rabbi outside a Jewish school in Toulouse Monday, reportedly said he wanted “to die weapons in hand,” according to Gueant earlier Thursday. Read more ..

Mali on Edge

Soldiers Oust Mali President, Seize Control

March 22nd 2012

mali uprising mar 2012

Toumani Toure—just weeks before the election that would have marked an end to his mandate. The president’s location is unknown. Frustration had long been brewing in the military in what had been one of the region’s few stable democracies.

Residents said that sporadic gunfire continued in Bamako Thursday, just hours after renegade soldiers—calling themselves the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State (CNRDR)—seized control of the state.

Appearing on state TV early Thursday, March 22, the CNRDR spokesman, Amadou Konare, says the armed forces decided to put an end to the “incompetent regime” of President Amadou Toumani Toure. He says the constitution is suspended until further notice and all government institutions have been dissolved. He says an inclusive government will be created after consultation with the nation’s representatives.

Stirrings of the coup began Wednesday morning with a mutiny by soldiers at a military camp near the capital and then spread to a military base in Gao, in the northeast. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Outrage among House GOP after Manzullo Ousted in Primary

March 22nd 2012

2011 Freshman Repubs
Republican Caucus, 2011

Rank-and-file House Republicans are furious that party leadership took sides in a primary battle that led to the ouster of a longtime lawmaker.

And at least one member said there was a possibility of mutiny. “Some members are angry,” said the House Republican, who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak candidly. “If leaders get involved … I think they risk a revolt.”

The anger in the conference intensified after Rep. Don Manzullo (R-Ill.), a 10-term lawmaker, lost Tuesday in a GOP primary challenge from freshman Rep. Adam Kinzinger. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) endorsed Kinzinger—an unusual move, as party leaders typically don’t get involved in these types of contests. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) did not endorse the freshman lawmaker and his team vehemently denied any involvement in the race, but two Republican lawmakers close to Boehner said he'd privately made his preference clear. Everybody was involved, said one member of leadership when asked which GOP leaders had backed Kinzinger. Read more ..

Battle for Syria

Ethnic Cleansing of Christian Communities led by Al-Qaeda in Syria

March 21st 2012

Syria and Christian art

While the Syrian opposition forces have been guilty of violence, abuse, torture - as stated in a report released by Human Rights Watch - in Homs there is "an ongoing ethnic cleansing of Christians", carried out by members of the "Brigade Faruq", which has been linked to Al Qaeda. This is according to sources in the Syrian Orthodox Church, which represents 60 percent of Christians in Syria.

Militant armed Islamists - says the sources - have managed to expel 90 percent of Christians from Homs and confiscated their homes by force. According to the sources within the Syrian Orthodox Church, the militants went door to door in the neighborhoods of Hamidiya and Bustan al-Diwan, forcing Christians to flee, without giving them the chance to take their belongings. The "Faruq Brigade" is run by armed elements of Al-Qaeda and various Wahhabi groups and includes mercenaries from Libya and Iraq. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

French Muslim Terrorist is Expected to Surrender

March 21st 2012

Terror in Toulouse

The gunman suspected of killing seven people in the name of Al-Qaeda, including three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school, is expected to give himself up to police on March 21 in the French city of Toulouse, thus ending an hours-long siege in the southwestern French city.

Gas service and other utilities have been cut off at the apartment building where the suspect is currently holed up. Minutes before 12 noon local time, residents were evacuated from the building where the gunman is now holding off more than 300 police officers. Anti-terrorism teams are on hand, some members of which have been seen wearing bullet-proof gear and executioner-style black hoods to disguise their faces. President Nicolas Sarkozy has applauded French police for corralling the gunman who, on March 19 committed the most recent of his series of murders.

The alleged murderer has been identified as Mohamed Murah, a 24-year-old Muslim man of Algerian origin. A French citizen, he is believed to have been recently in Pakistan and Afghanistan, ostensibly for training. The gunman claims to be armed with a Kalashnikov automatic weapon, as well as an Israeli-made UZI automatic. Read more ..

Broken Government

Insider-trading Bill Grinds to a Halt

March 20th 2012

Capitol Building at night

A bipartisan bill on insider trading that had been steamrolling through Congress has ground to a halt.

The Senate and House last month overwhelmingly approved different versions of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle predicted some version of the bill would reach President Obama’s desk swiftly.

But what had been a legislative locomotive is now attracting something quite common in an election year: finger-pointing.

Democrats in the House and a senior Senate Republican want provisions on political intelligence added to the bill. House Republican leaders, who scrapped that part of the legislation, say it’s up to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to make a decision of whether to go to conference or pass the House-passed version. Reid, meanwhile, isn’t saying much.

On Monday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) called for a conference committee to iron out the differences with the House bill.

“Taking up the House-passed bill without the opportunity for the Senate to reassert its position with respect to these [political intelligence] provisions would be wrong. These are two of the most important and substantive provisions in the bill,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Obama Prepares for War with Sweeping Executive Order

March 20th 2012

Barack Obama in Thought

Last Friday, March 16, President Barack Obama may have quietly placed the United States on a war preparedness footing, perhaps in anticipation of an outbreak of war between Israel, the West, and Iran. A newly-propounded Executive Order, titled "National Defense Resources Preparedness," renews and updates the president's power to take control of all civil energy supplies, including oil and natural gas, control and restrict all civil transportation, which is almost 97 percent dependent upon oil; and even provides the option to re-enable a draft in order to achieve both the military and non-military demands of the country, according to a simple reading of the text. The Executive Order was published on the White House website.

The timing of the Order -- with little fanfare -- could not be explained. Opinions among the very first bloggers on the purpose of the unexpected Executive Order run the gamut from the confused to the absurd. None focus on the obvious sudden need for such a pronouncement: oil and its potential for imminent interruption. If Iran was struck by Israel or the West, or if Iran thought it might be struck, the Tehran regime has promised it would block the Strait of Hormuz, which would obstruct some 40 percent of the world's seaborne oil, some twenty percent of the global supply, and about 20 percent of America's daily needs. Moreover, Tehran has promised military retaliation against any nation it feels has harmed it. The United States is at the top of the list. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Romney, Santorum Court Republican Voters Ahead of Illinois Primary

March 20th 2012

Rick Santorum

Republican presidential candidates are campaigning in the midwest state of Illinois ahead of the March 20th primary election. Republicans have been holding a series of contests to choose a nominee to face President Barack Obama, a Democrat, in the November presidential election. While the biggest city in Illinois - Chicago - accounts for a large bloc of voters, people in the rural and more conservative parts of the state could play a major role in determining who wins the Republican primary. The economy and government spending are the biggest issues on the minds of voters as they head to the polls. In his small shop on one of the main streets in downtown Pontiac, Illinois, Jon Sear is hard at work fixing computers. He says he runs his business by following a basic principle. “You can’t have [a] deficit. You take in what you get, you spend what you have, other than that you don’t spend it. It’s common sense,” Sear said.

Sear says that common sense is lacking in the state government of Illinois, where the estimated budget shortfall is over $11 billion. As Republican presidential candidates campaign throughout the state, Illinois budget woes, and federal government spending are on the minds of many voters like Sear and his wife Amy. “You worry because you don’t understand how spending more money will make things better when that seems like the total opposite. You have to pay your bills as citizens, so you want the government to do the same thing I guess,” Sear said. Polling shows former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is ahead of former U.S. senator Rick Santorum in Illinois. While Romney might easily win the support of Chicago’s large group of moderate Republican voters, Santorum is positioned to do well in places outside the city, like Pontiac, Illinois, population 12,000. Read more ..

Pakistan on Edge

Pakistan to Debate Future of US Relations

March 20th 2012

Taliban in Pakistan

Pakistan's parliament will consider the future of its relations with the United States, Tuesday, nearly five months after bilateral ties reached a low point when NATO forces mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border. The long-awaited session of both houses of parliament will debate the recommendations of a special commission tasked with laying out the new terms of engagement with the U.S. and NATO. The recommendations, which have not been made public, are expected to deal with the conditions for re-opening NATO supply routes through Pakistan to Afghanistan and the full resumption of counter-terrorism cooperation with the U.S. Many observers expect the lawmakers to approve the recommendations after several days of debate.

The November border attack brought U.S.-Pakistan relations to an ebb, with ties already strained by the covert U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last year and a number of American drone strikes targeting militants in Pakistan's northwest. Pakistan responded to the NATO attack by shutting down the two main overland routes the coalition uses to send nonlethal supplies to Afghanistan. It also ordered American personnel out of Shamsi air base and drew back its cooperation in the U.S. war on terror. Read more ..

Weather on Edge

Infrared NASA Satellite Data Indicates Severe Weather for South Central US this Week

March 20th 2012


Infrared and microwave satellite imagery from NASA have been providing forecasters at the National Weather Service valuable data on weather system that has potential to bring severe weather to the south central U.S. over the next several days. A large upper-level storm system is approaching central Oklahoma and moving east, into eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas, bringing the threat of heavy rain, gusty winds, and tornadoes. Severe thunderstorm warnings were posted early on March 19 in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas. Oklahoma also has a flash flood warning centered on Oklahoma City. Texas had a tornado warning near Midland earlier in the day.

The National Weather Service issued warnings today, March 19, 2012 for eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas which stated "Dangerous/potentially life-threatening flooding is expected." Forecasters at the National Weather Service expect 4 to 8 inch rainfall totals through Wednesday, March 21, and possibly moderate and major river flooding. Edward Olsen of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. creates imagery using data from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument that flies onboard NASA's Aqua satellite. Olsen created imagery from a satellite overpass during the morning hours today, March 19. He said, "The infrared and microwave images show the early phase of the convection blow-up." Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Terror Strikes Jewish Community of France

March 19th 2012

Toulouse Shooting 3-19-12

Three schoolchildren and their teacher were killed by a lone gunman in the city of Toulouse, in southwestern France on March 19. The gunman opened fire outside a Jewish high school, killing at least four people. The shooting took place outside the Ozar-Hatorah secondary school in a residential area near a synagogue. Police said the gunman opened fire on a group of parents and children outside the school before entering the playground where he continued to shoot people at close range to continue the mayhem.

The killings occurred at approximately 8:10 a.m. local time. Police say that the alleged gunman, who escaped on a motorscooter, used a 9 mm pistol, the same type of weapon used in two attacks on soldiers in the same region in the past 10 days, as well as an 11.43 mm weapon.

A paratrooper, not in uniform, was killed in Toulouse just over a week ago and two more in Montauban, 28 miles north of Toulouse, on March 15. A third soldier, also shot at close range in Montauban, is recovering in hospital. All of the soldiers were of either North African or Caribbean origin. A spokesman for the Jewish community of the Pyrenees region said that he could not confirm whether the attack was inspired by anti-Semitism. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Romney Wins Puerto Rico’s Republican Primary

March 19th 2012

Mitt Romney expansive

Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney has won his party's primary in Puerto Rico, strengthening his bid to face President Barack Obama in the November general election. Election officials say that with more than three-quarters of the precincts reporting, Romney had won 83 percent of Sunday's vote. His top rival, Rick Santorum, was a distant second at 8 percent, while Newt Gingrich had about 2 percent. The win gives Romney the 20 delegates at stake in Puerto Rico, moving him closer to the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination. Romney celebrated the victory during a campaign stop Sunday in the state of Illinois. ''Thank you to the people of Puerto Rico, thank you to Governor Fortuno and Luce, his wife. Thank you to Zori and all the other people in Puerto Rico who helped us have this extraordinary victory and, by the way, 20 delegates, all the delegates that were in that contest are ours. So that's good news.'' Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Second Deadly Bombing Racks Syria in Two Days

March 18th 2012

Bombing Hits Syria March 18 2012
Syrian President Bashr al-Assad

A bomb exploded in Syria's second-largest city of Aleppo on March 18, one day after a double car bombing in the capital, Damascus, killed 27 people and wounded more than 100. Syria's SANA state news agency says that the explosion in Aleppo happened between two residential buildings. It says the attack was the work of "terrorists" whom the Syrian government blames for a year-long opposition uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the explosion killed three people and wounded about 25, and was the result of a car bomb near a security building. Details of the incident could not be independently confirmed.

The semi-official news channel al-Ikhbariya said security forces had been tipped off about the bomb and had been moving residents out of the area when it went off. It said the car had been filled with 200 kilograms of explosives. Photo at the SANA website showed buildings blasted open, while aid workers were seen standing near piles of shattered masonry and bomb craters. Syria TV showed at least one street corner splattered in blood. In the March 17 attacks in Damascus, two car bombs exploded minutes apart near a police security building and an intelligence center. Crowds of Syrians gathered Sunday at the blast site for a prayer vigil. The Syrian government and opposition groups blamed each other for the bombings. Read more ..

The Edge of Terror

Report Says Bin Laden Was Plotting Obama's Assassination

March 18th 2012

Osama bin-Laden preaching

A major U.S. newspaper reports Osama bin Laden ordered al-Qaida to assassinate U.S. President Barack Obama and General David Petraeus, who was then the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reported Friday documents taken from bin Laden's compound describe the scheme. Bin Laden wrote that killing Obama would ensure Vice President Joe Biden would come to power, someone bin Laden said was "totally unprepared" for the post. Bin Laden suggested Pakistani terrorist Ilyas Kashmiri carry out the attack against the U.S. president. Kashmiri was killed in a U.S. drone strike last June.

U.S. officials and analysts say there is no evidence al-Qaida was anywhere near ready to mount the proposed attacks. U.S. special commandos killed bin Laden in a covert raid on his house in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad last May 2. The assault team also confiscated a wealth of material, including video clips and personal correspondence of the al-Qaida leader. One CIA official called it "the largest trove of information ever captured from a senior terrorist leader," and said the material offered "important insights" into al-Qaida’s operations. Ignatius said the bin Laden documents will soon be available publicly. Read more ..

Europe on Edge

Convicted Nazi Death Camp Guard John Demjanjuk Dead at 91

March 18th 2012

Holocaust survivor

Former Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk, convicted in Germany last year of helping kill some 28,000 prisoners, died Saturday at the age of 91. Police in the southern German state of Bavaria say the ailing Demjanjuk died in a nursing home in the town of Bad Feilnbach. He had been sentenced last May to five years in prison, but was freed pending an appeal. The Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk denied any role in the Holocaust and claimed that he was a victim of the Nazis himself. He told the court he was drafted into the Soviet army in 1941, held as a German prisoner of war and recruited as a prison camp guard.

After World War II Demjanjuk became a U.S. citizen and spent decades working as a mechanic before he was extradited to face trial in Germany in 2009. His conviction set a legal precedent in Germany, marking the first time someone was convicted solely on the grounds of serving as a camp guard, with no evidence of being involved in a specific crime. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Annan Asks for UN Action on Syria

March 17th 2012

Kofi Annan

The U.N. and Arab League's chief peace envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, called on Security Council members Friday to end their stalemate and decide what to do to pressure Syria into ending its deadly crackdown on dissent. In a briefing from Geneva, the former U.N. secretary-general said he is sending a team to Damascus next week to discuss a plan to deploy international monitors. Diplomats say Annan discussed his plans in a video briefing to the Council on Friday, less than a week after his own meetings in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. After the briefing, Annan told reporters Syria's political turmoil needs to be handled carefully to avoid any "miscalculations" that could lead to a "major escalation" that could impact the entire region. “I think it is a conflict in a region of the world that has seen many, many traumatic events," he said. "I think we need to handle the situation in Syria very, very carefully." Asked if the government and opposition would agree to speak with each other, Annan said the activists he met, although angry and frustrated over the government crackdown, are eager to get talks going and resolve the issue politically and peacefully. Western diplomats say they hope Annan's mediation will accelerate efforts to pass a U.N. resolution condemning Assad's bloody crackdown on dissent. Russia and China have twice vetoed previous resolutions condemning Syria.

Syrian state media released a statement on Friday ahead of the closed Security Council meeting, saying the Damascus government has pledged its cooperation with Annan in the hope of finding a "political solution" to the crisis. The Foreign Ministry statement again blamed unspecified "terrorists" and foreign interference for much of the deadly violence in Syria. Annan met with Assad last Saturday and Sunday. He outlined proposals to end the fighting, provide humanitarian aid and begin political dialogue. Rebel fighters have been in retreat throughout Syria and a movement of opposition activists has been fragmented with dissent. But Western governments have been reluctant to arm the Syrian opposition, for fear of further inflaming the situation. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Afghan President Slams US on Probe into Massacare

March 16th 2012

Hamid Karzai

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is accusing the United States of failing to cooperate in the probe of a massacre of 16 Afghan villagers, allegedly by a U.S. soldier. President Karzai met with tribal elders and family members of those killed in Sunday's shooting spree in Kandahar province. He said Friday that the delegation he sent to investigate the killings did not receive the cooperation it expected from American officials. Mr. Karzai lashed out, saying civilian casualties have been going on “for too long … and this is by all means the end of the rope here.” He said “this behavior can no longer be tolerated.” The Afghan leader also questioned U.S. military claims that only one shooter was involved in the incident. Villagers say that more one U.S. soldier was involved in the attack in the Panjwai district, in which children were among those killed.

On Thursday, President Karzai met with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in Kabul and demanded that NATO forces pull back from Afghan villages and relocate to their bases in the wake of the shooting spree. The civilian lawyer for the U.S. soldier accused of carrying out the deadly rampage says his client was likely suffering from stress after witnessing one of his fellow soldiers sustain a grave injury. Attorney John Henry Browne told reporters Friday the 38-year-old staff sergeant saw one of his comrades get his leg blown off a day before Sunday's massacre in Kandahar. Browne says his client was also unhappy about being assigned a fourth tour of duty in a war zone. The soldier, a married father of two, had served three tours in Iraq, where he suffered a head injury and lost part of his foot. The lawyer says the highly-decorated soldier was told he would not be deployed to Afghanistan, but that changed “literally overnight.” Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Obama Says Diplomatic Window for Iran Nuclear Program Shrinking

March 16th 2012

Obama serious

U.S. President Barack Obama says Iran's window to find a diplomatic solution to international concerns over its nuclear program is shrinking. Our correspondent reports on why Iran is moving back toward talks with the international community and closer cooperation with U.N. nuclear inspectors. President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron say they will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Mr. Obama says Tehran has a stark choice. "Tehran must understand that it cannot escape or evade the choice before it: meet your international obligations or face the consequences," said President Obama. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and it is not giving up any of its right in moving to return to talks with permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany - a group known as the P5+1. President Obama says it is an opportunity that Tehran needs to seize seriously. "I think they should understand that because the international community has applied so many sanctions, because we have employed so many of the options that are available to us to persuade Iran to take a different course, that the window for solving this issue diplomatically is shrinking," said Obama. Read more ..

North Korea on Edge

North Korea Plans April 'Space' Launch

March 16th 2012

Kim Il Sung
Kim Il Sung

In what is likely to be widely considered a violation of its recent agreement to halt ballistic-missile tests, North Korea has made a surprise announcement that it intends to conduct a satellite launch next month. The North Korean announcement first came during Friday's noon radio newscast from Pyongyang. It quotes an unnamed spokesman of the country's Outer Space Technology Committee saying an earth observatory satellite will be launched between April 12 and 16. The announcer says the event is to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korea's founder and late president, Kim Il Sung. Most significantly, the announcement specifies the payload will be carried into orbit on the Unha-3, the latest version of what is believed to be a three-stage long-range ballistic missile the intelligence community contends is designed to eventually carry North Korean nuclear weapons.

Earlier attempts with variants of the missile in 2006 and 2009 failed to reach orbit, although North Korea claims two successes. The 2009 launch led to a U.N. Security Council condemnation and toughening of sanctions on the impoverished and isolated country. North Korea agreed last month to suspend uranium enrichment and allow the return of U.N. weapons inspectors in exchange for desperately-needed food aid. In a joint announcement after talks with the United States, Pyongyang also promised a moratorium on its nuclear development and long-range missile tests.

North Korea says next month's launch is in accordance with international regulations governing the launch of satellites for “peaceful scientific purposes.” Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at South Korea's Dongguk University, says the United States and others are likely to dispute that contention. Kim says Pyongyang is looking to play a card to give it a good hand for future negotiations with Washington without resorting to a military act that would be overly provocative. The launch is to take place at a new facility in North Pyongan province. Read more ..

Washington on Edge

Justice Backs New Category of Secret Gov't Files

March 15th 2012

US Capital Day

In the middle of Sunshine Week, when news organizations and advocacy groups promote government transparency, the Obama administration urged Congress on March 13 to keep secret a whole new category of information even under the Freedom of Information Act. A few miles away, the White House organized a conference call with two senior administration officials to preview an announcement by President Barack Obama about an important China trade issue but told reporters that no one could be quoted by name. The officials were U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and the deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs, Michael Froman. Obama has promised that his administration will be the most transparent in American history. But events on Tuesday, while unrelated, illustrate that old habits die hard.

On Capitol Hill, the director of the Justice Department's office of information policy, Melanie Ann Pustay, told senators they need to protect against public disclosures of material about cybersecurity, critical U.S. computer networks, industrial plants, pipelines and more. Businesses have sought such a new exemption under the law for at least 10 years. Pustay told the Senate Judiciary Committee that a Supreme Court ruling in March 2011 narrowed an exemption under the records law and left federal agencies unable to protect secrets about cybersecurity and critical infrastructures, even though the Justice Department since then has recommended at least three other ways under current law to justify withholding such information. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Obama Hosts Cameron at Lavish White House Dinner

March 15th 2012


U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron reaffirmed the “special relationship” between their countries with a glittering state dinner Wednesday night at the White House. More than 300 guests looked on as the two leaders praised their personal and diplomatic relationship in a separate toasts. Mr. Obama, quoting the late Winston Churchill, spoke of the “great purpose and design of our alliance,” while the British leader saluted the American president as “an ally, a partner and a friend.” “It was December 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor had finally thrust America into war, alongside our British friends. These were the words Sir Winston spoke to his new American partners — I will say that he must indeed have a blind soul who cannot see that some great purpose and design is being worked out here below of which we have the honor to be the faithful servants. So I'd like to propose a toast: to Her Majesty the Queen on her Diamond Jubilee, to our dear friends David and Samantha, to the great purpose and design of our alliance, may we remain, now and always, His faithful servants. Cheers everyone.”

“Barack, it is an honor to call you an ally, a partner and a friend. You don't get to choose the circumstances you have to deal with as a president or a prime minister. And, you don't get to choose the leaders that you have to work with, but all I can say is that it is a pleasure to work with someone with moral strength, with clear reason and with fundamental decency in this task of renewing our great national alliance for today and for generations to come. And, with that, I propose a toast, to the president, to the first lady, and to the people of the United States of America…cheers!” Read more ..

The Afghan War

US Defense Secretary in Afghanistan After Civilian Massacre

March 14th 2012

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is in Afghanistan to try to calm the fury after a U.S. soldier allegedly shot 16 civilians to death this week, including nine children.

Panetta told reporters Tuesday that "war is hell" and that these kind of terrible events happen in every war.  He said the killings probably will not be the last, but that the military will do everything possible to make sure they do not happen again.

Also on Wednesday, a motorcycle bomb has one Afghan security officer and wounded at least two other people in the city of Kandahar, near the village where a U.S. soldier allegedly murdered 16 civilians this week, including nine children.

No one has claimed responsibility for the Wednesday blast, but the Taliban has vowed to avenge the killings.

In Washington Tuesday, President Barack Obama said the United States takes the incident as seriously as if it were its our own citizens who were murdered. He said the killing of innocent civilians "is outrageous and unacceptable" and does not represent what the United States is. He said he has extraordinary confidence in U.S. military leaders and troops. He reasserted that despite the public outrage, there will be no hasty U.S. retreat from Afghanistan. The Taliban has threatened to behead Americans because of the murders. Taliban militants opened fire on a memorial servicefor the 16 villagers Tuesday in Kandahar, killing an Afghan soldier and wounding a policeman.

Hundreds of university students protested Tuesday in Jalalabad in the first significant public demonstration against the killings. Many of the marchers chanted "Death to America" and "Death to Obama." Read more ..

Uganda on Edge

Kony Video Campaign Shakes Up Advocacy World

March 14th 2012

The release this month by a U.S. non-profit organization of an Internet video denouncing a Ugandan rebel leader is creating a worldwide conversation and shaking up the world of advocacy. Like many other human rights campaigns, the video released by the organization Invisible Children got help from celebrities. One of them was Angelina Jolie. The Hollywood film actress spoke out against the elusive Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony at a recent appearance. “He is an extraordinarily horrible human being," she said. "His time has come, and it is lovely to see that young people are raising up as well.”

A collective of some of the biggest U.S. media and entertainment personalities used social media to promote the 29-minute video when it was released March 5. So did high school and college students across the United States and elsewhere. The Kony video has become the fastest growing ever on the Internet in terms of views. On Tuesday, it prompted U.S. lawmakers to introduce a resolution calling for increased efforts to boost the number of forces deployed to protect civilians and pursue LRA commanders hiding in Central Africa. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Liberal Groups Vow to Expose Corporate Money in Campaigns

March 13th 2012
Liberal interest groups, watchdogs and unions on Monday threatened to boycott, protest and publicly embarrass corporations that spend money trying to sway the outcome of the November election.  

Gathered Monday at the Washington headquarters of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the groups issued a call to arms for the 2012 campaign, vowing to aggressively challenge companies that contribute to super-PACs and 501(c) nonprofit groups.

“If you secretly contribute and scheme to buy our elections, we’re going to come knocking on your door,” said Aaron Black of the Occupy Wall Street movement. “And it’s not just going to be a couple of us. It’s going to be thousands of us. Everywhere you turn your head.”

Representatives of the coalition, which includes Common Cause, Health Care for America Now, Public Citizen and Occupy, among others, said they’d push for legislation and regulations that would require companies to disclose all of their political spending. “We’re saying to corporate America that enough is enough. We’re not going to stand for our democratic system being overwhelmed by money,” said Bill de Blasio, the New York City public advocate. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

US Investigates Afghani Air Force

March 11th 2012

afghan air force l39s
Afghani Air Force L-39s (credit: Tech Sgt Cecilio M. Ricardo Jr, USAF)

U.S. authorities announced earlier this month that the U.S. Military Coalition and Drug Enforcement Administration will be investigating claims that Afghan Air Force (AAF) officials are transporting narcotics and illegal weapons via aircraft through the country. Lieutenant General Daniel Bolger, the commander of NATO’s Training Mission-Afghanistan, which invested $1.9 billion in AAF over 2011 and 2012, explains that allegations indicate “that [AAF officials] were transporting drugs on aircraft and transported weapons not owned by the government of Afghanistan for the use of private groups.” AAF Major General Abdul Wahab Wardak has denied the accusations. Read more ..

Edge of The Afghan War

American Serviceman Detained Following Shooting of Civilians in Afghanistan

March 11th 2012

Soldiers In Afghanistan

A U.S. soldier was detained in Afghanistan under suspicion of opening fire on Afghan civilians on March 11. "A United States service member was detained today in connection to an incident that resulted in Afghan casualties in Kandahar province," said a statement from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

"This is a deeply regrettable incident and we extend our thoughts and concerns to the families involved," the statement added. Officials said on March 11 that the U.S. was in "cooperation" with Afghan authorities over the shooting and would "investigate the incident and release additional information as appropriate." U.S. authorities did not release casualty figures and directed such inquiries to the Afghan Interior ministry. However, Reuters reported Kandahar Gov. Tooryalai Wisa saying that initial reports suggested as many as 16 civilians may have been killed. Wisa told reporters a service member had left his base early on Sunday morning and opened fire on civilians. Read more ..

The Toxic Edge

Toxic Acid Release Again Draws Federal Investigators

March 10th 2012

Citco Refinery

Again drawn by a leak of toxic hydrofluoric acid, federal investigators are back at a Texas oil refinery they examined three years ago.

Some nearby residents were told to shelter in place after the release, said Daniel Horowitz, managing director of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, which has sent a team of investigators to the Citgo refinery in Corpus Christi. It’s not yet clear how much of the acid, known as HF, got out.

“Any incident involving the release of HF is something we take very seriously,” Horowitz said.

An investigation last year found that 50 refineries use the acid despite the availability of safer alternatives. At least 16 million Americans live in the path of a toxic cloud in the event of an accident. Read more ..

Edge of Space

Massive Solar Storm Has Little Effect on Earth

March 9th 2012

Solar flare Mar 2012

A massive solar storm initially expected to create havoc for everything from mobile phones to airline flights has reached Earth with little effect, but experts say that could still change.

The storm appeared to spare satellite and power systems as it shook the Earth’s magnetic field Thursday, with no reports of GPS or power disruptions. A scientist with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Joseph Kunches, said the storm struck in a direction that causes the fewest problems—but that orientation could change as the storm continues.

The storm started with a pair of solar flares Tuesday, and continued with two coronal mass ejections (CMEs). A large CME can contain a billion tons of matter that can be accelerated to several million miles per hour in a spectacular explosion. Solar material streams out through the interplanetary medium. CMEs are sometimes associated with flares but can occur independently. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Perceptions and Gamesmanship in Israel, Iran, and the U.S.

March 7th 2012

Iranian clerics

An Iranian media report of a pipeline explosion in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province on March 1 served as a reminder of the impact that instability in Iran’s neighborhood can have on world oil markets. By extension, the event showed the impact Iranian propaganda efforts can have in deterring a military attack.

The claim that a fire had broken out near a pipeline between Awamiya and Shabwa appears to have emanated from an Eastern Province-based Saudi Shiite Facebook group. The group posted pictures purportedly portraying a blaze near a pipeline. The report was picked up by Iranian media outlet PressTV more than four hours later and spread from there. There was no independent confirmation of a purported attack, and all indications so far point to this being another propaganda move by Iran to shake the markets. Read more ..

The Edge of Astronomy

Oxygen Detected in Atmosphere of Saturn’s Moon Dione

March 6th 2012

Blue Planet

Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists and an international research team have announced discovery of molecular oxygen ions (O2+) in the upper-most atmosphere of Dione, one of the 62 known moons orbiting the ringed planet. The research appeared recently in Geophysical Research Letters and was made possible via instruments aboard NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which was launched in 1997.

Dione, discovered in 1684 by astronomer Giovanni Cassini (after whom the spacecraft was named), orbits Saturn at roughly the same distance as our own moon orbits Earth. The tiny moon is a mere 700 miles wide and appears to be a thick, pockmarked layer of water ice surrounding a smaller rock core. As it orbits Saturn every 2.7 days, Dione is bombarded by charged particles (ions) emanating from Saturn’s very strong magnetosphere. These ions slam into the surface of Dione, displacing molecular oxygen ions into Dione’s thin atmosphere through a process called sputtering. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

Netanyahu tells Obama that Israel Reserves the Right to Defend Itself

March 5th 2012

Obama and Netanyau

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told President Obama that Israel would decide for itself whether to strike Iran.

“My supreme responsibility as prime minister of Israel is to ensure that Israel remains the master of its fate,” Netanyahu told Obama. In a sit-down on March 5 with the president in the Oval Office, Netanyahu pushed back against the administration’s repeated attempts to dissuade Israel from attacking Iran.

“Israel must reserve the right to defend itself and after all, that’s the very purpose of the Jewish state to, restore to the Jewish people control of our destiny,” said Netanyahu, who is meeting with the president in advance of his speech later today before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference. Israel reserves the right to strike Iran if need be, Netanyahu said. Read more ..

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