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The Cyber Edge

Cyber Battles Break Out in America and Beyond

March 28th 2013

Cyber Warfare

Two major recent attacks on the Internet give us just a hint of what to expect if/when our economic and financial infrastructures are hit by different attacks at once.

Cyberbunker – not a Chinese – but a Dutch webhosting company, generated the largest global distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack on the spam filtering company, Spamhouse.

What is said to be a dispute between Cyberbunker and Spamhouse caused the global disruption of Internet services, which according to the Moscow based Kaspersky Lab, is going to get worse. “Such DDoS attacks may affect regular users as well, with network slowdown or total unavailability of certain Web resources…There may be further disruptions on a larger scale as the attack escalates.” Read more ..


The Edge of the Universe

After Higgs Hunt, Fermilab Charts New Paths in Physics Research

March 27th 2013

M55 in Sagittarius via VISTA

Scientists in Switzerland announced earlier this month that they are confident their experiments with the world's most powerful atom smasher have finally turned up the long-sought Higgs boson, also known as the “God Particle.” Discovery of the elusive sub-atomic particle, which scientists believe imparts mass to all matter, also provides tantalizing clues to some of the most profound mysteries of the universe.

The search for Higgs began decades ago at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. Scientists there are developing new technologies to delve even deeper into the mysteries of particle physics. At the Grid Computing Center at Fermilab - half a world away from the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland - the key to understanding how the Higgs boson works and what it means for the universe, could be on one of these digital storage devices.

“The data has much more information in it than just information about the Higgs boson,” said scientist Robert Roser, who is overseeing the effort at Fermilab to sift through the computer data generated when atoms are smashed together by the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC. Read more ..


The Water's Edge

'Water Security': Experts propose a UN Definition

March 25th 2013

Amid changing weather and water patterns worldwide and forecasts of more severe transformations to come, calls have been growing for the UN Security Council to include water issues on its agenda.

And there's rising international support for adopting "universal water security" as one of the Sustainable Development Goals -- a set of mid-term global objectives being formulated to succeed the UN's Millennium Development Goals, agreed by world leaders in 2000 for achievement by 2015.

But what does "water security" mean? The absence of a definition undermines progress in international forums. Marking World Water Day today at UN Headquarters in New York, a common working definition was published, forged by UN and international experts from around the world.

UN-Water, the United Nations' inter-agency coordination mechanism for all water-related issues, says water security should be defined as: "The capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of and acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being, and socio-economic development, for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters, and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability." Read more ..


Israel's Next Northern War

Israel Destroys Syrian Army Outpost After Being Fired Upon

March 25th 2013

Israeli Tanks Gaza Strip

Israel destroyed a small Syrian army post near the Golan Heights border on Sunday after Syrian gunmen fired on Israeli military patrols twice within 24 hours. On Saturday night, Syrian gunmen fired on an Israeli jeep patrolling the Golan Heights border were fired upon. Later that night, another Israeli jeep was fired upon again, prompting an Israel response the next day. The Israeli military fired a Spike NLOS guided missile at the Syrian post, destroying it and leaving two Syrians wounded, Israel Hayom reported.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit confirmed that, “the military returned fire at a Syrian post after an IDF patrol came under machine-gun fire. The target was destroyed using precision fire,” the IDF said.

“Following the attack, the IDF returned fire, in accordance with government policy: Israel will respond immediately to any violation of Israeli sovereignty or fire from the Syrian side, identifying the source of the fire and neutralizing it. We will not allow the Syrian army, or any other element, to violate Israeli sovereignty by firing on our territory,” Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said. Read more ..


The Edge of the Universe

Planck’s new Map Brings Universe into Focus

March 24th 2013

Big Bang

The Planck space mission has released the most accurate and detailed map ever made of the oldest light in the universe. The universe according to Planck is expanding a bit more slowly than thought, and at 13.8 billion is 100 million years older than previously estimated. There is a bit less dark energy and a bit more of both normal and dark matter in the universe — although the nature of dark energy and dark matter remain mysterious.

“Planck’s high-precision map of the oldest light in our universe allows us to extract the most refined values yet of the universe’s ingredients,” said Lloyd Knox, a physics professor at UC Davis and the leader of the U.S. team determining these ingredients from the Planck data. UC Davis graduate student Marius Millea and postdoctoral scholar Zhen Hou also worked with Knox on the analysis. Read more ..


Broken Bookselling

Barnes and Noble Pressures Publisher with Brass Tactics--Situation called "Despicable"

March 23rd 2013

Barnes-and-Noble store shot

Barnes and Noble, increasingly being viewed as a bully in bookselling, has made headlines again--this time, for coercive tactics in exacting extras fees from publishers. The victim this time is famed publisher Simon and Shuster. The New York Times reports: "A standoff over financial terms has prompted the bookstore chain Barnes & Noble to cut back substantially on the number of titles it orders from the publishing house Simon & Schuster, raising fears among other publishers, agents and authors that the conflict may harm the publishing industry as a whole.

Industry executives, as well as authors of recently published Simon & Schuster books and their agents, say that Barnes & Noble has reduced book orders greatly, to almost nothing in the case of some lesser-known writers. They contend that the move is damaging their sales. Authors say the retail chain has taken other steps, like not giving them display space or allowing book tour appearances in its stores. Simon Lipskar, the president of Writers House, a literary agency in New York, said, “Without pointing fingers, authors are being hurt by this, and I think it is despicable.” Read more ..


Israel and Turkey

Israel and Turkey Mend Bitter Dispute

March 22nd 2013

Erdogan

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan Friday. Initial reports are that during the course of the conversation Netanyahu apologized for the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident that left several Turkish nationals dead. Erdogan reportedly accepted the apology and agreed there was a need for the two countries to normalize relations.

The conversation was precipitated by U.S. president Barack Obama. In a  statement released by the White House only minutes after Obama departed Israel for Jordan the president relayed his hope that the conversation would prove fruitful: “The United States deeply values our close partnerships with both Turkey and Israel, and we attach great importance to the restoration of positive relations between them in order to advance regional peace and security. Read more ..


The Battle forSyria

UN to Launch Syria Chemical Weapons Probe

March 21st 2013

Syrian Chemical Weapons

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon announced Thursday he will send a mission to Syria to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use. At a hastily-called news conference, Ban said that if chemical weapons have been used, it would constitute an “outrageous crime.” He said he plans to dispatch investigators as soon as possible.

The Syrian government on Wednesday asked Ban to establish an independent inquiry into government claims that rebels conducted a chemical weapons' attack in the province of Aleppo on Tuesday.

“The investigation mission is to look into the specific incident brought to my attention by the Syrian government," said Ban. "I am of course aware that there are other allegations of similar cases involving the reported use of chemical weapons.” The other cases he refers to would include opposition claims that Syrian government forces carried out chemical weapons' attacks both in the Aleppo area and in Damascus. Read more ..


Broken Government

Government's Green Car Loan Program Appears to be Stalling

March 19th 2013

Flat Tire

A Department of Energy loan program, infused with $25 billion to spur a wave of fuel-efficient vehicles, has not closed a loan in two years and is likely to leave two-thirds of the money unspent amid fallout over the Solyndra debacle and other factors.

Those findings, revealed Friday in a U.S. Government Accountability Office report, rekindle questions over how effectively the Energy Department picks winners and losers for its lucrative green energy portfolio.

The audit focuses on DOE loan programs, including one known as ATVM — the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program.

That program was pitched as part of a broader government campaign to spur innovative, clean technologies that would both rev up the economy and clean the environment. Under ATVM, the government would help bankroll electric cars and other fuel-saving initiatives; this seed money would, in turn, trigger a domino effect for industry and consumers.

Yet the last loan closed in March 2011, and just $8.4 billion has been spent so far in five projects. Read more ..


The Toxic Edge

How Industry Scientists Stalled Action on Carcinogen

March 19th 2013

Dirty Drinking

Ten days before Christmas 1965, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. station chief Richard Jacobs walked a half-block on a dusty road lined with scraggly creosote shrubs to check out a neighbor’s toilet.

Jacobs carried with him a secret, something he referred to as the “chromate problem.”

Starting in 1952, the power company began mixing a toxic form of chromium with water to prevent rust at a new pipeline pumping station in Hinkley, a remote desert community united by a single school and a general store. PG&E dumped the chromium-laced water into a pond.

Lately there had been reports of problems with the neighbors’ wells. PG&E had just drawn greenish water from one well and discovered high levels of chromium. Now, retired farmer John Speth was complaining of greenish deposits in his toilet bowl.

Jacobs took a look in the bowl but assured Speth that PG&E had nothing to do with it. “When I left Mr. Speth,” Jacobs later wrote in longhand, “he was satisfied but still concerned about his water.” Speth died of stomach cancer in 1974.

It wasn’t until Dec. 7, 1987 — 22 years after that visit to Speth’s house — that PG&E finally told the local water board that it had contaminated the underground water. The company claimed it had discovered the problem just one week earlier. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Iran's Nuclear Clock and World Diplomacy

March 18th 2013

Iran Long-Range Missile

U.S. policy, supported by the international community, is to use diplomatic pressure along with economic and financial sanctions to convince Iran not to build nuclear weapons. The latest iteration of the policy came yesterday with President Obama's interview for Israeli television ahead of his visit next week: "We think it would take over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon but obviously we don't want to cut it too close…If we can resolve it diplomatically, that's a more lasting option. But if not, I continue to keep all options on the table."

The logic of the policy was outlined in more detail on March 12, when U.S. director of national intelligence James Clapper told the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that "Iran's nuclear decisionmaking is guided by a cost-benefit approach, which offers the international community opportunities to influence Tehran." Read more ..


Catholic Church on Edge

The Pope and Argentina's Dictatorship

March 17th 2013

Pope Francis1 March 2013

Speechlessness was followed by cheers of joy. With a simple "buonasera," the newly elected Pope Francis greeted the faithful in Rome and cracked a joke about coming from the "ends of the earth." It was a rhetorical slam dunk met with jubilation by the audience. There was a similar celebratory atmosphere in his homeland of Argentina. Though not everyone was cheering.

"I can't believe it. I'm so distressed and full of anger that I don't know what to do," wrote the sister of deceased priest and torture victim Orlando Yorio in an e-mail to the journalist Horacio Berbitsky. "Now he's achieved what he wanted."

"He," for Graciela Yorio, refers to a power-hungry man who betrayed her brother and the Hungarian Jesuit Franz Jalics to Argentina's mililtary dictatorshop. A man who did nothing to stop the two faithful from being locked up in prison for five months and tortured. "He" is Pope Francis, then still known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, provincial of the Argentine Jesuits.

Read more ..

Israel's Next Northern War

Israel's Next Front: Syria

March 15th 2013

Soldiers at ready

For the better part of 40 years, the Syrian border has been the quietest of Israel's frontiers. Notwithstanding Israel's 1973 capture and subsequent annexation of Syrian territory in the Golan and Bashar Assad's ongoing support for terrorist organizations targeting the Jewish state, the border has been tranquil since the signing of the 1974 armistice. Indeed, the boundary with Syria -- a state officially still at war with Israel -- has proven even more secure than Israel's lengthy borders with its nominal peace partners Egypt and Jordan.

But two years into the popular armed revolt against the Assad regime, this de facto peace along the Israeli-Syrian border seems to be in grave danger. Just consider the past few weeks: On March 2, three Syrian mortars landed outside Moshav Ramat Magshimim in the southern Golan Heights. Then on March 6, Syrian rebels kidnapped 21 U.N. peacekeepers patrolling the Golan Heights; they were held for a week prior to their release. On Monday, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Benny Gantz said that "the threat of the situation in Syria spiraling out if control is quite high." He added: "What we have here is a strategic detonator that could blow up at any moment." Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Hard Rain

March 15th 2013

Rain

Heavy rains have become more frequent in the upper Midwest over the past 60 years, according to a study from the University of Iowa. The trend appears to hold true even with the current drought plaguing the region, the study's main author says.

The fact that temperatures over the country's midsection are rising, too, may be more than coincidence.The hotter the surface temperature, which has been the trend in the Midwest and the rest of the world, the more water that can be absorbed by the atmosphere. And the more water available for precipitation means a greater chance for heavy rains, explains Gabriele Villarini, assistant professor in engineering at the UI. “We found that there is a tendency toward increasing trends in heavy rainfall in the northern part of the study region, roughly the upper Mississippi River basin,” says Villarini,  “We tried to explain these results in light of changes in temperature. We found that the northern part of the study region—including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois—is also the area experiencing large increasing trends in temperature, resulting in an increase in atmospheric water vapor.“ Read more ..


Inside the Catholic Church

Pope Francis I: A First on Many Counts

March 13th 2013

Pope Francis1 March 2013

It was a poised Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina who emerged from the second day of voting by the conclave of cardinals as the new successor of St. Peter as Pope of Rome. In a number of firsts, he has taken the name Francis: the name of the beloved patron saint of Italy.

He is the first Pope to take that name, and also first Latin American, and first non-European in more than 1000 years, to occupy the See of St. Peter. He is also the first member of the Jesuit order to become leader of the world's 1 billion Catholics.

Speaking in Italian, the 77-year-old prelate asked the tens of thousands of faithful assembled in St. Peter's Square to not only pray for him but also for his immediate predecessor, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI who remains in retirement at the Castel Gandolfo retreat outside of Rome. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Cell Phone Viruses--The New Threat

March 13th 2013

Smart phone running voice recogniton

The participants at the DevCon conference in Tel Aviv didn’t see it coming. They thought they were there to hear a lecture by Yair Amit and Adi Sharabani, co-founders of the Israeli startup Skycure, on the topic of mobile security. The setting was altogether ordinary: conference room, screen, projector, PowerPoint.

And then, one by one, members of the audience discovered that their smartphones and tablets were being hacked in real time – in plain sight. Their screens were suddenly swiping without their control; emails were being written without permission; apps opened and photos changed.

Amit and Sharabani were the benign perpetrators and no data was stolen or deleted. Still, the audience learned an unforgettable lesson about just how vulnerable mobile networks can be.

As horrifying as watching your phone go haywire under some hacker’s control can be, the real danger is what lies beyond: the corporate network. And mobile devices are the ideal gateway in. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Assad Forces, Rebels Increase Murders and Rapes of Civilians

March 12th 2013

Syria fighting injured baby

The violence and bloodshed in Syria have surpassed anything seen in the Middle East since the days of Saddam Hussein's Iraq, according to independent investigators in a report released on Monday. There are also reports of sexual violence, including at checkpoints or while being held by intelligence agencies.

The new report, which urges a political solution to what has become an increasingly militarized and sectarian conflict, described the conflict as reaching “new heights of destruction.” The report, released by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry, disturbed members of the United Nations Security Council, according to the commission's chairman, Paulo Pinheiro.

“If the national, regional, and international actors fail to find a solution to the conflict and stop the agony of millions of civilians, the alternative will be the political, economic and social destruction of Syria and its society, with devastating implications for the region and the world,” Mr. Pinheiro warned, speaking on behalf of the four-member commission. Read more ..


The North Korean Threat

North Korea Threatens to "Wipe Out" South Korean Island

March 12th 2013

N Korean troops

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has threatened to "wipe out" a South Korean island as Pyongyang came under new economic and diplomatic fire from US sanctions and UN charges of gross rights abuses.

On a visit to frontline military units on Monday, Kim briefed officers on their mission "to strike" Baengnyeong and turn the island into a "sea of fire".

"Once an order is issued, you should break the waists of the crazy enemies, totally cut their windpipes and thus clearly show them what a real war is like," Kim was quoted as saying by the Korean Central News Agency. Military tensions between Seoul and Pyongyang have risen to their highest level for years, with the communist state threatening nuclear war in response to UN sanctions imposed after its third atomic test last month. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

War over the Ruins of Syria

March 11th 2013

Corpses in Homs

This week, 48 Syrian soldiers who were reported as having ‘sought refuge’ in Iraq were ambushed and killed on Iraqi soil. At least 9, and possibly as many as 19 Iraqi soldiers who were reported as being in escort of the convoy of Syrian defectors also died in the ambush.

This incident lays bare the extent to which the Syrian civil war has now burst its banks. The expansion follows the lines of local and regional sectarian ties cutting through the borders of Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. The Iraqi defense ministry, in an official statement, blamed “a terrorist group that infiltrated into Iraqi territory coming from Syria.” The ministry’s statement described the soldiers as wounded men who had sought refuge in Iraq, at the Rabiya border crossing. They were, according to the ministry, being transferred to al-Walid border crossing further south to be returned to Syria when the attack took place. Read more ..


The North Korean Threat

North Korea Apparently Severs Hotline with South Amid Threats of Nuclear War

March 11th 2013

Kim Jong Un

South Korean officials say Pyongyang seems to have made good on a threat to sever the hotline at the Panmunjom truce village as South Korea and the United States commence a joint military exerciseMonday.  The North is responding to the exercise by claiming it will abrogate the 1953 Armistice Agreement and threatening a preemptive nuclear strike.

As more than 13,000 American and South Korean military personnel began the Key Resolve annual joint drill, no one on the northern side of the de-militarized zone answered the routine daily 9 am hotline telephone call from the South. The two sides have a protocol of phone contact twice daily. A Unification Ministry spokesman says South Korea did not bother to try again to make the regular 4 p.m. call Monday. Last week, North Korea announced it was severing the communications link, established in 1971.
Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Earth Is Warmer Today Than During 70 to 80 Percent of the Past 11,300 Years

March 9th 2013

Arid Desert 2

With data from 73 ice and sediment core monitoring sites around the world, scientists have reconstructed Earth's temperature history back to the end of the last Ice Age. The analysis reveals that the planet today is warmer than it's been during 70 to 80 percent of the last 11,300 years.

Lead author Shaun Marcott of OSU says that previous research on past global temperature change has largely focused on the last 2,000 years. Extending the reconstruction of global temperatures back to the end of the last Ice Age puts today's climate into a larger context.

"We already knew that on a global scale, Earth is warmer today than it was over much of the past 2,000 years," Marcott says. "Now we know that it is warmer than most of the past 11,300 years." "The last century stands out as the anomaly in this record of global temperature since the end of the last ice age," says Candace Major, program director in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Ocean Sciences. Read more ..


Battle for Syria

UN Peacekeepers on the Golan at Risk

March 8th 2013

Soldiers Wire

If current international inaction on Syria continues, UNDOF will face increasing difficulties, and the long-quiet Israel-Syria border could easily revert to a battlefield.

On March 6, twenty-one Filipino soldiers deployed with the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) were abducted while on routine patrol in the Syrian demilitarized portion of the Golan Heights. As of this writing, they are still detained, albeit reportedly unharmed. The incident is the latest in a series of assaults on the UN peacekeepers responsible for ensuring compliance with arms limits set in the 1974 disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria. Already, the deterioration in security has prompted Japan, Canada, and Croatia to withdraw their longstanding personnel contributions from UNDOF. If the trend continues, the remaining contributors are all but certain to curtail their commitments as well, ending the only effective international monitoring mechanism along the Israel-Syria border. Read more ..


The Cyber Edge

CyberDiplomacy vs. CyberSecurity

March 7th 2013

Shadowy Computer User

Since the hacking of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, etc., and the Mandiant revelations about China's PLA Unit 61398, the media and Internet have offered an explosion of talk about now as a"tipping point" in cybersecurity. We're, in fact, long past the "tipping point": what Mandiant had to say about Chinese hacking was actually old news to those who follow cyber news.

As has been the case in the past, there seem to be three camps on the issue of cybersecurity: "the-sky-is-falling" or "cyber-Pearl-Harbor" camp, the "overblown-threat" camp, and the camp worried about the cyberdefense threat to privacy rights. We shouldn't forget the advocacy of international "rules of the game" for cyberspace, which was recently argued by Zbigniew Brzezinski in the Financial Times. None of these offer much new. And Obama's cybersecurity executive order on February 12, has elicited few comments beyond "not enough, too preliminary" and "a worrisome expansion of government right-to-prying-on-citizens." Read more ..


South Korea on Edge

S. Korea Vows Retaliation if North Breaks Truce

March 6th 2013

South Korean marines

South Korea is responding firmly to North Korea's threat to abrogate next Monday the peninsula's truce agreement and resume military action.

"If North Korea conducts any provocations that threaten the life and safety of South Koreans then it should be clear there will be strong and decisive punishment not only against the source of the aggression and its support forces, but also the commanding element," South Korean army general Kim Yong-hyun told reporters Wednesday at the Ministry of National Defense.

The South Korean response follows some of the most explicit threats of action in years from the North. The Wednesday edition of the North Korean worker's party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, says Pyongyang will be compelled to take action because joint annual drills involving U.S. and South Korean forces are actually intended as a surprise "preemptive nuclear strike" against the North. Read more ..


Europe on Edge

Europe, Unemployment and Instability

March 5th 2013

Euro Symbol

The global financial crisis of 2008 has slowly yielded to a global unemployment crisis. This unemployment crisis will, fairly quickly, give way to a political crisis. The crisis involves all three of the major pillars of the global system -- Europe, China and the United States. The level of intensity differs, the political response differs and the relationship to the financial crisis differs. But there is a common element, which is that unemployment is increasingly replacing finance as the central problem of the financial system. 

Europe is the focal point of this crisis. Last week Italy held elections, and the party that won the most votes -- with about a quarter of the total -- was a brand-new group called the Five Star Movement that is led by a professional comedian. Two things are of interest about this movement. First, one of its central pillars is the call for defaulting on a part of Italy's debt as the lesser of evils. The second is that Italy, with 11.2 percent unemployment, is far from the worst case of unemployment in the European Union. Nevertheless, Italy is breeding radical parties deeply opposed to the austerity policies currently in place. Read more ..


Edge of the Cliff

Carrier Cancellation Heats Up Sequester Fight

March 3rd 2013

U.S. Naval Carrier

The Pentagon’s decision to cancel a carrier group’s deployment to the Middle East has become a political flashpoint in the growing fight over how and what the Obama administration is cutting under sequestration. The move has been criticized by some Republicans and The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward added fuel to the fire by describing the cancellation as “madness.”

“We now have the president going out — because of this piece of paper and this agreement, I can’t do what I need to do to protect the country,” Woodward said on MSNBC. “That’s a kind of madness that I haven’t seen in a long time.”

The Pentagon says the decision was a difficult but strategic move devoid of politics that was necessary in order to deal with the twin problems of sequestration and last year’s continuing resolution. The Pentagon delayed deployment of the USS Harry Truman as it reduced the number of aircraft carriers it has in the Gulf from two to one.
Read more ..


America and Israel

AIPAC Conference Tests the Waters in Washington

March 2nd 2013

Click to select Image

Starting on March 3, some 13,000 Jewish and non-Jewish activists will descend upon Washington during the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. These supporters of Israel will listen to powerful members of the U.S. government, all of whom are expected to advocate for a strong and independent Israel.

Among those scheduled to speak are Vice President Joseph Biden, Representatives Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Senators John McCAin (R-AZ) and Robert Menendez (R-NJ).

In addition, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are scheduled speakwe. Break-out sessions, book-signings, and artistic performances are also scheduled. The conference will continue until March 5, allowing the thousands of activists to make visits to their respective members of Congress to probe their support of Israel. Read more ..


The New Egypt

Cairo Court orders All Gaza Tunnels Destroyed

March 1st 2013

Gaza Tunnel Smuggler

A Cairo court ruled that the Egyptian government must destroy all tunnels between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.

The labyrinth of tunnels is an infamous smuggling route for arms trafficking.

It is also believed that 30% of the goods that reach the Gaza Strip, as well as over 1.5 million people a year, make their way through the tunnels in an attempt to bypass the blockade that has been imposed by Israel and Egypt for more than seven years.

The underground maze stretching beneath Rafah, Sinai and Gaza is said to include 450 main tunnels and 750 sub-tunnels. Egypt's ruling Muslim Brotherhood has close ties with the Hamas Islamists that run Gaza, but many Egyptians fear the enclave is a security risk for Egypt. Leftist lawyers said they brought the case with activists to force the government's hand. Read more ..


Edge of the Universe

A Journey to the Edge of Space Time

February 27th 2013

protoplanetary disk

Voracious absences at the center of galaxies, black holes shape the growth and death of the stars around them through their powerful gravitational pull and explosive ejections of energy.

"Over its lifetime, a black hole can release more energy than all the stars in a galaxy combined," said Roger Blandford, director of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Science. "Black holes have a major impact on the formation of galaxies and the environmental growth and evolution of those galaxies."

Gravitational forces grow so strong close to a black hole that even light cannot escape from within, hence the difficulty in observing them directly. Scientists infer facts about black holes by their influence on the astronomical objects around them: the orbit of stars and clumps of detectable energy. With this information in hand, scientists create computer models to understand the data and to make predictions about the physics of distant regions of space. However, models are only as good as their assumptions. Read more ..


China Rising

China's Currency Ambition

February 26th 2013

Soldiers

"Yuan expected to be int'l currency around 2020", read the headline of the People's Daily On-Line, the Chinese Communist Party's English publication. 

"Experts believe that the yuan will be fully eligible to be an international currency by around 2020. Experts believe that China has made significant progress in internationalizing its currency in recent years. However, these experts are quoted saying that there is still need 'to foster financial market development, and further improve corresponding supervision and regulation systems.'"

However, the internationalization of the yuan will lead to a loss of control of the value of the yuan and conflicts with China's desire to control the value of its currency. The conflict is reflected in recent statement by the Deputy Administrator of State Administration of Foreign Exchange, People's Bank of China, Wang Xiaoyi. According to him, "First, a free-floating exchange rate regime is usually applied to countries that issue reserve currency, which helps to immunize their domestic firms against exchange rate risk. Read more ..


Battle for Syria

Assad's Government Announces Willingness to Negotiate with Rebels

February 25th 2013

Medvedev and Assad

The Syrian government says it is ready for talks with the armed opposition to President Bashar al-Assad. Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said on February 24 in Moscow that Syria is open to dialogue with those who want to take part. The foreign minister is meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, who said last week there is no military solution to the Syrian crisis and that continued fighting between rebels and government forces will lead to "mutual destruction."

Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev recently expressed doubts about the ability of the Assad government to remain in power. Medvedev said in an interview with Brazil's O Globo newspaper that the future of the decades-old regime is secondary to finding a peaceful solution. Setting upon a venue for negotiations, said the Russian leader, is of critical importance, said Medvedev, rather than supplying arms to any of the parties to the conflict or proclaiming as legitimate one side or the other. Read more ..


Broken Immigration

'Incredible Progress' on Bipartisan Immigration Reform Reported

February 23rd 2013

Click to select Image

A bipartisan House group is making “really good progress” on immigration reform legislation despite missing a target date for an agreement, a top Republican participant said.

“I am now more sure than ever that we’re going to have a bipartisan bill,” a longtime advocate of comprehensive reform, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), said in an interview. “We’re making incredible progress.”

Diaz-Balart is a member of a House group that includes more than a half dozen liberal and conservative lawmakers who have been working for years behind closed doors on an immigration overhaul. As talks accelerated in recent months, people involved in the effort said the group had hoped to announce an agreement around President Obama’s State of the Union address. Read more ..


The New Egypt

The Muslim Brotherhood's 213-Year Revolution

February 21st 2013

Hijab and flag

Two years ago this week, a popular uprising ended Hosni Mubarak's thirty-year reign. Egypt's revolution is still churning, of course, and that country is now deeply polarized between the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, which has embraced many of Mubarak's autocratic tendencies in its attempt to consolidate power, and a non-Islamist opposition that fears theocratic rule in Egypt. Yet the Brotherhood and its opponents don't only disagree on what Egypt's post-Mubarak polity should look like; they also apparently disagree on when Egypt's revolution actually started, and what Egyptians really revolted against.

Indeed, for the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's revolution has been going on for centuries, and essentially boils down to a long-term effort to resist western political influence and secularism, which it views as a foreign cultural import.

To understand this hostile historical view, it is worth examining Muslim Brotherhood party leader Abdel Mawgoud Al-Dardery's recent talk at the Council on Foreign Relations. "Many think that the Egyptian revolution only started on the 25th of January [2011]," Al-Dardery told an audience of Washington policy wonks last week. "But I think the revolution was in the making for so many decades before that." According to Al-Dardery, Egypt's revolution took "213 years," beginning with resistance to Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798 and intensifying with resistance to Britain's invasion of Egypt in 1882. Read more ..


Nigeria on Edge

Nigeria Government Ordered to Pay for Human Rights Violations

February 20th 2013

Justice Lambi Akanbi of the Federal High Court

Fourteen years after the Odi community in Nigeria's Niger Delta was flattened in what many call a 'massacre,' a Nigerian court this week ordered the government to pay the community nearly $240 million within the next three weeks.

Exactly what happened in Odi, a town in oil-rich Bayelsa State, is still unclear. Human Rights Watch says gang members in Odi killed twelve policemen in early November 1999.
A few weeks later, Human Rights Watch says soldiers raided the town of about 15,000 people, destroying almost every single building and possibly killing hundreds of people. Locals say it was thousands who died, and the attacks were racially motivated against ethnic Ijaws, with soldiers writing, "We will kill all Ijaws” on demolished buildings. The government of the time still defends the raid, saying it was rooting out terrorists and destroying their base. Read more ..


Broken Government

Obama's Road-Show to Address Upcoming Sequester

February 20th 2013

Obama with baseball bat

Continuing to hunt for a political advantage in the fight over the looming sequester, President Obama on Wednesday will conduct interviews with eight local television stations in an attempt to intensify pressure on congressional Republicans.

The interviews come just a day after Obama warned the $85 billion in automatic cuts would take a "meat cleaver" to the country's economy and military readiness. "By speaking to anchors from stations around the country, the president will have an opportunity to focus on the harmful local impacts that will be felt if congressional Republicans refuse to compromise," a White House official said.

Republicans have slammed Obama's approach in recent days, arguing the president is attempting to point fingers rather than identify cuts that could offset the blunt, across-the-board impact of the sequester. Read more ..


Broken Government

GOP Lawmakers Dauntlessly Pursue Sequester

February 19th 2013

Click to select Image

House GOP lawmakers say they do not fear political blowback if Congress fails to prevent $85 billion in automatic spending cuts from triggering in two weeks.
The cuts known as the sequester are almost certain to hit the Pentagon and non-defense discretionary spending on March 1, and congressional Republicans and the White House are focused more now on avoiding blame for the cuts than preventing them.

That creates a challenging environment for House Republicans, given President Obama’s use of the bully pulpit, which he used to build pressure on them during last year’s fight over the “fiscal cliff.”

Already the White House warns that the cuts will reduce loan guarantees to small businesses, end Head Start funding for 70,000 children and leave 373,000 seriously mentally ill people without treatment.
It says there will be fewer food inspections, raising the potential for a food-borne illness outbreak, and that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will need to eliminate grants for firefighters and emergency personnel. Read more ..


America and Israel

Israel to Bestow Medal of Distinction upon President Obama

February 18th 2013

Obama Peres Biden

President Obama will be awarded the Israeli Presidential Medal of Distinction during his visit to Israel next month, according to a report in the Times of Israel. Obama will be the first sitting U.S. president to receive the honor, which was announced by Israeli President Shimon Peres’s office on Monday.

“Barack Obama is a true friend of the State of Israel, and has been since the beginning of his public life,” said Peres in a statement announcing the decision. “As president of the United States of America, he has stood with Israel in times of crisis," he continued. "During his time as president he has made a unique contribution to the security of the State of Israel, both through further strengthening the strategic cooperation between the countries and through the joint development of technology to defend against rockets and terrorism.” Read more ..


The Human Edge

Brain Protheses Create a Sense of Touch

February 17th 2013

Baby Boomer

Rats can't usually see infrared light, but they have "touched" it in a Duke University lab. The rats sensed the light as a sensation of touch after Duke neurobiologist Miguel Nicolelis and his team fitted the animals with an infrared detector wired to electrodes implanted in the part of the mammalian brain that processes information related to the sense of touch.

One of the main flaws of current human, brain-controlled prosthetics is that patients cannot sense the texture of what they touch, Nicolelis said. His goal is to give quadriplegics not only the ability to move their limbs again, but also to sense the texture of objects placed in their hands or experience the nuances of the terrain under their feet.

His lab studies how to connect brain cells with external electrodes for brain-machine interfaces and neural prosthetics in human patients and non-human primates, giving them the ability to control limbs, both real and virtual, using only their minds. He and his team have shown that monkeys, without moving any part of their real bodies, could use their electrical brain activity to guide the virtual hands of an avatar to touch virtual objects and recognize their simulated textures. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Why Is the United States Subsidizing Iran?

February 16th 2013

Iranian women trample US flag

U.S. President Barack Obama has often spoken of the ever-tightening ring of sanctions against Iran. The hope is that the sanctions will eventually bring the Islamic Republic to the bargaining table, if not to its knees. The effort, however, would be more effective if these sanctions did not go hand in hand with a longstanding and lucrative annual bonus to Iran from Washington. This bonus takes the form of a subsidy that arises from the United States and NATO's tacit support for Iran's ports on the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

The United States has largely failed to open any alternative route connecting Afghanistan and the great sea lanes that traverse the Arabian Sea, or between Afghanistan's northern neighbors in Central Asia and those same warm-water corridors of trade. Thanks to this failure, shippers from China, Russia, India, and Europe have no alternative but to use the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, from which some 90 million tons of goods annually are transported by rail to Turkey, the Mediterranean world, Europe, and Russia. Business at that old entrepôt on the Persian Gulf has boomed to such an extent that Iran, with help from India and Russia, has built an even more convenient port and free trade zone on the Gulf of Oman, at the city of Chabahar, from which goods will proceed overland by road and rail to Afghanistan. Read more ..


The Nuclear Edge

Rising Voices in S. Korea, Japan Advocate Nuclear Weapons

February 15th 2013

Bomb blast

North Korea's claim this week to have successfully conducted a third underground nuclear test is prompting some in South Korea and Japan to advocate possessing their own such weapons.

South Korean lawmaker Chung Mong-joon of the governing Saenuri (New Frontier) party made such a remark during a meeting of his colleagues from the National Assembly, comparing the situation with North Korea to “a gangster in the neighborhood buying a brand-new machine gun” and trying to defend oneself with merely a pebble.

Chung is no fringe politician. He is the country's wealthiest lawmaker through his controlling shares in the Hyundai Heavy Industries group. The JoongAng Ilbo, major South Korean newspaper, terming North Korea's latest test an existential threat to Seoul, questions whether the country should arm itself with nuclear weapons and if the United States will ultimately protect it if Pyongyang were to threaten a nuclear attack. Read more ..



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