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Hamas-PA Union

Palestinian Reconciliation and the Rising Power of Hamas and Islamic Jihad: An Iranian Windfall

May 21st 2014

Hamas-Fatah handshake

Representatives of the Fatah and Hamas movements are continuing to talk at both senior and junior levels in an attempt to translate the reconciliation agreement, signed between the sides on April 23, 2014, into a series of operative steps. These primarily involve integrating Hamas and Islamic Jihad into the PLO institutions, setting up a unity government, and preparing for new parliamentary and presidential elections. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), met with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and the emir of Qatar in Doha on May 6. Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmed is expected to come to Gaza for continued reconciliation talks, and discussions are also being held in joint committees. The following are the main points of the agreements that are emerging on various issues:

Setting up a technocrat government: By the end of May, the new government is to be composed of ministers who are not identified with any political party. Its main tasks will be managing daily affairs in the West Bank and Gaza, synchronizing the activities of ministries of a government that currently is divided between Ramallah and Gaza, preparing for parliamentary and presidential elections, implementing the terms of the reconciliation agreement (including putting a halt to “political arrests” and arranging for the employment of those public-sector workers hired since the summer of 2007 when Hamas took control of Gaza in a violent overthrow), rehabilitating Gaza, and assuming control of the Rafiah crossing that links Gaza and Egypt. The Palestinian government will have no authority over relations with Israel.

Obama's Second Term

Obama Backs Off Drone Strikes

May 19th 2014

 The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper

President Obama is relying less on drones and more on foreign governments in the global fight against terrorists.

The shift, which also includes fewer unilateral special operations raids of the type that killed Osama bin Laden, is prompting criticism that Washington depends on unstable governments such as in Nigeria, where Boko Haram, an extremist group, has emerged as a new threat.

The Pentagon has hiked its budget for “Section 1206” counterterrorism programs to train and equip foreign militaries from $218.6 million in 2012 to a requested $290.2 million in 2014, according to a recent Congressional Research Service report.

Its budget for “Section 1208” counterterrorism programs, which train and equip foreign militaries and also include more specific operational activities, is classified, but defense officials say that while the amount has stayed stable, money has shifted from Afghanistan to North Africa and the Middle East. Read more ..

Financing the Flames

New York Jewish Groups Hear Edwin Black on the New Israel Fund and BDS

May 18th 2014

Edwin Black

American Jewish groups concerned with the anti-Israel BDS movement, as well as other issues surrounding agitation NGOs in Israel, have scheduled lectures by renowned human rights author Edwin Black. The groups have summoned Black to hear revelations from his latest bestselling investigative book, Financing the Flames. That book has ignited international repercussions about the role of tax-exempt and taxpayer monies, as well as the human rights movement, in creating a culture of violence, confrontation, and paid terrorism in Israel.

Black’s previous works include the million-copy international seller IBM and the Holocaust and the award-winning JTA series “Funding Hate.”

In Financing the Flames, Black spotlights American taxpayer-supported monies funding salaries of Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons, as well as the organic connection of the New Israel Fund to the BDS movement, and the NIF's robust funding of “agitation human rights NGOs.”

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Black kicks off a three-event New York scholar-in residence beginning with a presentation May 19 at 7 p.m. at the StandWithUs-New York headquarters. StandWithUs is the lead sponsor of the tour. The next day, May 20, Black addresses a group of attorneys in a lunch-and-learn session co-sponsored by SWU and the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy, and other groups. He wraps up his visit with a school-wide assembly lecture to Ramban Mesivta High School in Lawrence, Long Island.

In February, Black embarked upon a parliamentary tour of four legislatures in four weeks: The House of Commons in London, the European Parliament in Brussels, the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem, and the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C. At each stop along the way, Black astonished lawmakers with details of donor nation funding for specific terrorists under a Palestinian law called the Law of the Prisoner under the aegis of the Palestinian Ministry of Prisoners. The author also spotlighted how the New Israel Fund has marshaled hundreds of millions of dollars to help establish the BDS movement and to finance confrontation NGOs, which, according to Israeli Knesset leaders and a broad swatch of Israeli military men, seem devoted to destabilizing the Israel Defense Forces and erasing the Jewish identity from the State of Israel. Read more ..

The Battle for the Ukraine

Biden's Son Emerges as Ukrainian Gas Company Attorney

May 16th 2014

joe biden

Vice President Biden's son Hunter has emerged in a key position in the Ukranian gas industry now at the center of the conflict in the Ukraine. According to USA Today: Vice President Biden's son Hunter is joining the board of a gas company that operates in Ukraine. Burisma Holdings, Ukraine's largest private gas producer, said Hunter Biden -- an attorney -- will be in charge of its legal unit and help the company with other international organizations. "I believe that my assistance in consulting the Company on matters of transparency, corporate governance and responsibility, international expansion and other priorities will contribute to the economy and benefit the people of Ukraine," the younger Biden said in a statement. The Biden appointment comes as the United States and allied nations try to help Ukraine reduce its dependence on Russian energy by developing other sources. Kendra Barkoff, spokesperson for Vice President Biden, said that "Hunter Biden is a private citizen and a lawyer. The Vice President does not endorse any particular company and has no involvement with this company." Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

EU Imposes Further Sanctions on Russia while World Awaits Obama Doctrine for Eastern Europe

May 13th 2014

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Catherine Ashton

The European Union has expanded its sanctions over Ukraine’s crisis after pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk declared independence from Ukraine and separatists in Donetsk asked Moscow to allow their self-declared “republic” to join the Russian Federation. The separatists’ appeal to Moscow was in a May 12 statement read out at a news conference by Denis Pushilin, a separatist leader in the self-declared "Donetsk People's Republic."

The move came a day after the Donetsk and Luhansk regions held so-called self-rule referendums. The self-styled separatist officials – some of whom are now being targeted by EU sanctions -- claimed a high voter turnout and an overwhelming support for independence in the May 11 votes. Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

Moscow 'Respects' Outcome of Disputed Ukraine Referendum While Washington Dithers

May 12th 2014

Russian troops in Crimea

Moscow says it respects the vote in favor of self-rule in two eastern Ukraine regions and has called for the results to be implemented through dialogue between Kyiv and separatist leaders. In a May 12 statement, the Russian government declared, "Moscow respects the expression of the people's will in Donetsk and Luhansk." Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said de-escalating the crisis in Ukraine is only possible if Kyiv and the separatists hold talks, rejecting the need for an international meeting.

Ukraine's interim president Oleksandr Turchynov has slammed the rebel-held referendums as a "propaganda farce without any legal basis."

Turchynov told Ukraine's parliament on May 12 the disputed referendums were "nothing more than propaganda to cover up murders, kidnappings, violence and other serious crimes." Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

First Lady Michelle Obama Stands in for the President in Weekly Address

May 10th 2014

First lady Michelle Obama took over the weekly address from her husband Saturday, delivering a Mother’s Day message while voicing solidarity with the nearly 300 schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria.

The White House has taken up the cause of the young women abducted by Boko Haram, a radical Islamist group that has threatened to sell them into slavery because they were trying to advance their education.

“Like millions of people across the globe, my husband and I are outraged and heartbroken over the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls from their school dormitory in the middle of the night,” Obama said. “This unconscionable act was committed by a terrorist group determined to keep these girls from getting an education – grown men attempting to snuff out the aspirations of young girls.”

The Edge of Space

Astronomers Create a Realistic Virtual Universe

May 9th 2014

Move over, Matrix - astronomers have done you one better. They have created the first realistic virtual universe using a computer simulation called "Illustris." Illustris can recreate 13 billion years of cosmic evolution in a cube 350 million light-years on a side with unprecedented resolution.

"Until now, no single simulation was able to reproduce the universe on both large and small scales simultaneously," says lead author Mark Vogelsberger (MIT/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), who conducted the work in collaboration with researchers at several institutions, including the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies in Germany.

These results are being reported in the journal Nature.

Previous attempts to simulate the universe were hampered by lack of computing power and the complexities of the underlying physics. As a result those programs either were limited in resolution, or forced to focus on a small portion of the universe. Earlier simulations also had trouble modeling complex feedback from star formation, supernova explosions, and supermassive black holes. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Climate Change Affecting Every Region of US

May 6th 2014

Staten Island community

A new White House report released Tuesday concludes that human-generated climate change is having dramatic effects on every part of the nation.

The 841-page National Climate Assessment, which the administration touted as the most comprehensive look yet at global warming in the U.S., concludes that climate change is raising temperatures, making water more scarce and wildfires more common.

It said climate change has “moved firmly into the present” for the U.S., underscoring the need for urgent action to combat threats. “Americans are noticing changes all around them,” the report states. “Summers are longer and hotter, and extended periods of unusual heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer.” Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Eco-Friendly Process Emerges to Recycle Valuable Rare Earth

May 5th 2014

Smart phone running voice recogniton

In the March edition of Green Chemistry, researchers from the University of Leuven, Belgium, are detailing what they describe as an environmentally friendly process to separate transition metals copper, cobalt, iron, manganese and zinc from rare earths in neodymium–iron–boron or samarium–cobalt permanent magnets.

The process relies on solvent extraction using trihexyl(tetradecyl)phosphonium chloride as a ionic liquid, without organic solvents, and it could be applied as a sustainable hydrometallurgical method for removing transition metals, claim the researchers. With this new development, old magnets could become an interesting secondary source of rare-earth metals, especially when these elements become scarce-enough and too strategic for the electronics industry not to be re-used. Read more ..

Broken Bookselling

Barnes and Noble May Be Gone By This Time Next Year

May 2nd 2014

Barnes-and-Noble store shot

If anyone gives you a Barnes & Noble gift card, be sure to cash it in by the end of the year.

This may be the last year that Barnes & Noble bookstores remain open.

It’s bad news for people who love books.  It’s worse news for the next generation of readers, who may never experience buying a book in a bookstore.

B&N has been closing about 20 stores per year since 2012 and has said it will continue to do so for the next several years. But its financial position is bleak.

This follows a decades-long period of expansion, moving into neighborhoods where privately-owned bookstores thrived, destroying those stores with cut-price best-sellers, and all but owning the book business.

Borders collapsed because of poor choices -- weak locations, an overemphasis on music, and, worst of all, selling off its online bookstore to Amazon for $20 million in the 1990s.  Chump change, by today’s standards.


The Battle for Ukraine

Escalation of Combat in Eastern Ukraine

May 2nd 2014

Click to select Image

Fighting broke out on May 2 around a rebel-held city in eastern Ukraine, as Ukrainian forces began a military operation against pro-Russian separatists. Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said the rebels shot down two Ukrainian helicopters during the assault on the city of Slovyansk, killing two pilots. Avakov said on his Facebook page that Ukraine demands the rebels free their hostages, lay down their weapons, vacate the buildings they have seized and restore the municipal infrastructure.

In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Ukraine's offensive Friday delivered a final blow to a faltering peace deal aimed at defusing the crisis in Ukraine.

Men standing near a burning barricade cheered at the news of the downed helicopter. Read more ..

Financing the Flames

Key Lawmakers are Ready to Defund Palestinians Over Terrorist Salaries and Hamas Unity

April 30th 2014

Click to select Image

A growing number of lawmakers in the United States, Great Britain, and the European Union are openly suggesting the billions of dollars, pounds, and euros that they and others have collectively bestowed upon the Palestinian Authority to promote peace and reconciliation with Israel have done the exact opposite. The evidence is now too great to ignore, a growing number of lawmakers confess.

Key legislators say abundant funding has only been financing the flames of confrontation, intransigence, and openly-advertised institutional terrorism. The United States alone contributes between $400 million and $500 million annually to the PA. That sum is now threatened. For many, as Al-Monitor reported in a headline, reunion with Hamas seems to be “the last straw.” Reunification will create what one lawmaker called “the single best financed terror structure in the world.”

The concerns are manifold. Hamas and its Gazan partners wage daily war against the Jewish State—10,000 rockets in recent years. Gaza can become a direct pipeline to Iranian, Syrian, and Hezbollah weaponry, creating a formidable terror nexus just a 20-minute drive from Tel Aviv. But the threat goes beyond just Israel. Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

Keeping Up Appearances: Obama's Ineffective Sanctions on Russia

April 29th 2014

Click to select Image

The United States announced new sanctions on seven Russian government officials April 28. A long-used tactic, sanctions can yield unpredictable effects or have no effect at all, depending upon how they are crafted. It is commonly assumed that sanctions are applied when a target country's actions are deemed unacceptable. The sanctioning nation presumably chooses sanctions to avoid war when war would be too costly or could result in defeat.

Sanctions' stated purpose is to induce behavioral changes in a target state by causing economic pain. To work, sanctions must therefore cause pain. But they must not be so severe that they convince the target state that war is more desirable than capitulating to the demands of the sanctioning nation. Read more ..

Broken Borders

Boehner Walks Tough Tightrope Walk on Immigration Reform

April 26th 2014

Immigration Protest

Speaker John Boehner has become increasingly isolated on immigration reform. He wants to pass a bill, but can't get his House Republican Conference to get behind the effort.

The Ohio Republican recently told a group of GOP donors that he his “hell-bent” on getting legislation passed this year, according to The Wall Street Journal. He went further this past week when he declared that he is ready to act and complained that many of his GOP colleagues don’t want to follow.

“I think we should but the appetite, the appetite amongst my colleagues for doing this is not real good,” Boehner told constituents in Madison Township. “Here’s the attitude, ‘Ohhh, don’t make me do this. Ohhh, this is too hard.’” The comments, which were videotaped, went viral. Conservatives on and off Capitol Hill quickly expressed their displeasure. Read more ..

Palestinians After the Peace Process

'Last Straw" by Palestinians and Hamas Prompts Funding Cessation Talk in Congress--Lawmakers Fed Up

April 24th 2014

Capitol Hill

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the author of the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, called for an immediate suspension of US aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA). The 2006 law, passed after Hamas won that year's legislative elections, prohibits support for a "Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority."

"The Administration must halt aid to the Palestinian Authority and condition any future assistance as leverage to force Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] to abandon this reconciliation with Hamas and to implement real reforms within the PA," Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs panel on the Middle East, said in a statement. "U.S. law is clear on the prohibition of U.S. assistance to a unity Palestinian government that includes Hamas, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, and President [Barack] Obama must not allow one cent of American taxpayer money to help fund this terrorist group." Read more ..

Financing the Flames

US Reconsiders Financial Aid to Palestinians After Unification with Hamas Terror Group

April 24th 2014

Obama meets Abbas

Angry Administration officials and lawmakers are warning they will reconsider financial assistance to the Palestinians if Islamist group Hamas and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) form a unity government, according to a senior U.S. administration official.

"Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the State of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties," the official said, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity.

"If a new Palestinian government is formed, we will assess it based on its adherence to the stipulations above, its policies and actions, and will determine any implications for our assistance based on U.S. law," the official said.


Financing the Flames

NIF Parade Fracas Pushes Outraged Jewish Groups to Define Mainstream

April 23rd 2014

Edwin Black

If a small group of grass-roots Jewish organizations have their way, more than one hundred protestors will assemble in New York City on April 29, 2014, each carrying a shofar. On cue, at 5:30 in the afternoon, rain or shine, all will raise their curved rams' horns, long and short, and wail to the heavens in visceral unison producing a piercing spectacle of protest. The cacophonous alarums will continue their outcry until the shofar blowers feel they have made their point.

What are they protesting? It is their communal leadership.

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The dissident shofar blowers will assemble in front of the 59th Street headquarters of the UJA-Federation of New York. The Federation's beneficiary, the Jewish Community Relations Council, is the chief organizer of the Celebrate Israel Parade scheduled for June 1. The upbeat procession of floats, runners, and marchers is normally a public show of Jewish unity in support of Israel. But this year, the parade has become a maelstrom of disunity over the participation of the controversial New Israel Fund and other groups which recent revelations now link to the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement and the campaign to delegitimize Israel internationally.

The outrage in some American, Jewish, and Israeli circles over the NIF's inclusion in the highly visible parade, formerly known as the Israel Day Parade, may be more than just a passing horn blast. The discontent may be energizing a historic decision among American Jews. Just what constitutes the Jewish mainstream? Is American Jewry about to set limits on its open tent of inclusion, a precept the community wears as a badge of honor?

More than a few American Jews feel their community has been hijacked from within by such groups as the J Street lobby, the New Israel Fund, and other organizations that constitute a powerful, well-funded minority able to wage war against Israel seemingly in the name of the Jewish people. "These groups are anti-Jewish," says Judith Freedman Kadish, special project director of Americans for a Safe Israel, "and they are funding groups that are anti-Semitic. They just veil their actions by saying they are trying to influence public policy and an occupation." The accused organizations and their defenders in the Jewish media and within the Jewish activist community vigorously insist their activities are simply democratic dissent aimed at solving Israel's problems. Read more ..

Broken Intelligence

Keeping NSA Surveillance in Perspective

April 22nd 2014

Click to select Image

In June 1942, the bulk of the Japanese fleet sailed to seize the Island of Midway. Had Midway fallen, Pearl Harbor would have been at risk and U.S. submarines, unable to refuel at Midway, would have been much less effective. Most of all, the Japanese wanted to surprise the Americans and draw them into a naval battle they couldn't win.

The Japanese fleet was vast. The Americans had two carriers intact in addition to one that was badly damaged. The United States had only one advantage: It had broken Japan's naval code and thus knew a great deal of the country's battle plan. In large part because of this cryptologic advantage, a handful of American ships devastated the Japanese fleet and changed the balance of power in the Pacific permanently.

This -- and the advantage given to the allies by penetrating German codes -- taught the Americans about the centrality of communications code breaking. It is reasonable to argue that World War II would have ended much less satisfactorily for the United States had its military not broken German and Japanese codes. Where the Americans had previously been guided to a great extent by Henry Stimson's famous principle that "gentlemen do not read each other's mail," by the end of World War II they were obsessed with stealing and reading all relevant communications. Read more ..

The Edge of Justice

US Anti-Corruption Law Snags Major Tech Company

April 21st 2014

Scales of Justice

Earlier this month, the U.S. technology company Hewlett Packard agreed to plead guilty to bribery charges involving its Russian, Polish, and Mexican subsidiaries. 

Hewlett Packard admitted to the U.S. Department of Justice that it bribed Russian officials in hopes of landing a lucrative contract with Moscow’s Office of the Prosecutor General.  In Poland, HP admitted to bribery connected to contracts with the national police agency, while in Mexico, the illicit cash was tied to deals with Pemex, the state oil company.

What snared Palo Alto, California-based “HP” is the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), a groundbreaking law enacted nearly four decades ago.

HP’s agreement to pay US$108 million in both criminal and civil penalties is the tenth largest settlement ever under the FCPA. Other corporations that have been caught in FCPA’s net include Walmart, Halliburton, KBR, Siemens, BAE Systems, and Daimler AG. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Ukraine Threatens to Undermine Obama's Delayed Asia Pivot

April 20th 2014

Obama pensive with flag

President Obama is traveling to Asia this week under the cloud of the Ukraine crisis, which threatens to put Asian allies on edge about U.S. security commitments and create yet another distraction from the administration's much-delayed "pivot" to the region.

Obama will be visiting Asian allies, including Japan, South Korea and the Philippines, that are involved in increasingly tense territorial disputes with China, and will seek to reaffirm U.S. commitment to them.

That connection was supposed to have been cemented earlier in Obama's tenure, when the administration announced a "rebalance," or "pivot," to Asia. But crises at home and around the world, the latest of which is in Ukraine, have stymied that plan.

"We're almost rescuing the rebalance to Asia," said James Schoff, a former Defense Department senior adviser for East Asia policy under Obama. "It's not necessarily the theme that the White House wanted to go into this trip with." Russia's successful takeover of Crimea, despite protests from the U.S., is an example concerned allies can point to when questioning American commitment. Read more ..

The Edge of Tragety

S. Korean Police Arrest Captain of Doomed Ferry

April 19th 2014

prison cell northern ireland flickr

South Korean police have formally arrested the captain and two crew members of a doomed ferry, on charges of deserting their passengers shortly after the vessel capsized Wednesday and sank.

Investigators are alleging the 69-year-old captain failed to carry out his duty to protect passengers when, according to witnesses, he was one of the first to leave the sinking ship. The ferry Sewol went down off the southwestern island of Jindo with 476 people on board.

Thirty-two people are confirmed dead, and 270 others - many of them high school students - remain unaccounted for as hope diminishes for finding more survivors. Divers saw three bodies through a window Saturday, but were not able to reach them.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the captain also is suspected of instructing passengers to remain seated, even as the ferry began rolling onto its side and blocking escape routes. Earlier Friday, police said a high school vice principal who led 325 students on a four-day ferry excursion committed suicide. Read more ..

The Battle for the Ukraine

Diplomatic Deal Struck on Ukraine

April 17th 2014

Ukraine protest

Diplomats from the United States, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union have agreed to a framework plan designed to end violence in Ukraine.

Secretary of State John Kerry said the framework hashed out by foreign ministers meeting in Geneva would disarm separatist militants in eastern Ukraine and have them vacate the government buildings, streets and squares they have occupied.

In return, the Ukrainian government has offered amnesty to all pro-Russian militants who lay down their arms, with the exception of those who committed capital crimes.

The Ukrainian government has also "committed to going as far as they can to reach out to opponents" as part of a "comprehensive, inclusive process" ahead of next month's elections. That will include consideration of constitutional amendments that could give Ukraine's Eastern regions greater autonomy. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Amazon Smartphone: A Tracking Tool In Disguise

April 15th 2014

Smart phone

The Wall Street Journal report last week that ecommerce giant Amazon is planning to enter the smartphone market with its own handset expected for June is stirring a lot of debate regarding the company’s pricing model in what looks like a saturated and well served market. According to the report, a smartphone with four front-facing cameras or sensors has been demonstrated to developers in Seattle and San Francisco over the last few weeks, with the capability to track the user's gaze, augmented reality features together with a glasses-free 3D-viewing experience.

The auto-stereoscopic 3D screen would serve the on-screen effects based on the user’s head position (as detected by the front-facing sensors). You could certainly extrapolate that back-facing stereoscopic cameras would capture the real world in 3D to support the augmented reality features and match the user’s gaze with the real-world items attracting the consumer’s attention.

Once identified in the real world, these items could be searched and matched in Amazon’s online database to come up with price-competitive offers. In retail stores equipped with Bluetooth Smart beacons, the geolocalized offers pushed to the consumer’s smartphone could even be used by Amazon to fine-tune its contextual counter-offers. Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

Eastern Ukraine Braces for Expanding Pro-Russian Takeover Crisis

April 14th 2014

Ukraine--Berkut Riot Police Nov 2013

Towns in eastern Ukraine were braced for military action by government forces Monday as a deadline passed for pro-Russian rebels to disarm and end their occupation of state buildings or face a major “anti-terrorist” operation.

Angered by the death of a state security officer and the wounding of two other officers near the eastern city of Slovyansk, where armed men had seized two government buildings, acting President Oleksander Turchinov warned the pro-Russian groups on Sunday that a full-scale security operation would be unleashed unless they met the deadline of 9 a.m. local time Monday. 

However, Reuters reported that there were no outward signs that the rebels were complying with that ultimatum as it passed. 


Defense on Edge

Air Force Seeks Less Perfection in its Nuclear Missile Corps

April 11th 2014

Nuclear Missile

Every day, 90 uniformed men and women in their mid-twenties ride elevators forty to sixty feet below remote fields in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota, and Nebraska in rote preparation for improbable nuclear Armageddon.

They spend some of their 24-hour alerts seated in front of steel Minuteman III missile launch control panels mounted on shock-absorbers, with toggle switches capable of hurling ten to fifty nuclear warheads — each with twenty times the explosive force of the Hiroshima bomb — to the other side of the globe, at speeds of 15,000 mph.

But their day-to-day enemy, for decades, has not so much been another superpower, but the unremitting boredom of an isolated posting that demands extreme vigilance, while also requiring virtually no activity, according to accounts by missileers and a new internal review of their work.

That understandable boredom, when paired with the military’s sky-high expectations for their workplace performance, has pushed some of them to use drugs, others to break the rules — even deliberately, and still more to look for any way out.

The millenials who populate this force can watch television, read, study, or sleep in their cramped, often damp quarters. But their checklist routines are typically unvarying, their moment-to-moment responsibilities are few, and the temperature underground — like the policy requiring their presence — is unnervingly stuck in the mid-60’s. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

The "Heartbleed" Internet Security Flaw Can Change Everything

April 10th 2014

Computers multiple

Consumers used to waking up every week or so to news of yet another Internet security hole or data breach may be hard-pressed to understand why Heartbleed, the hole in the commonly used Web security software OpenSSL, is different. But it is: Such diverse and nonalarmist security commentators as Bruce Schneier, along with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Ars Technica, have all dubbed the bug "catastrophic."
"On the scale of 1 to 10, this is an 11," Schneier wrote on his blog yesterday. So: What is it? How do you know if it affects you? What should you do about it?
SSL—for Secure Sockets Layer—is a protocol used ubiquitously on the Web to protect confidential user information in transit. This includes, but is not limited to, user IDs and passwords, credit card details, and other personal information. When you see HTTPS at the beginning of the address in your browser's address bar, that syntax indicates that SSL is in use to encrypt the traffic between your computer and the Web server at the other end. Increased used of SSL to protect the queries and messages users type into search engines, Webmail, and social networks so they cannot be read in transit has been an important part of the Web's response to Edward Snowden's revelations of endemic National Security Agency spying on Internet traffic. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Kerry Concedes Iran Can Achieve Nuclear "Breakout" in 60 Days

April 9th 2014

Iran Long-Range Missile

The United States said on Tuesday Iran has the ability to produce fissile material for a nuclear bomb in two months, if it so decided, as Tehran and six world powers swung into a new round of talks in Vienna on resolving their atomic dispute.

Secretary of State John Kerry's comments in Washington highlighted Western concerns about Iran's nuclear intentions and the wide divisions between the two sides that could still foil a deal. Iran says its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful.

The overarching goal of the powers - Britain, France, China, Russia, Germany and the United States - in the talks is to persuade Iran to scale back its programme to the point that it would take it much longer, perhaps as much as a year, to produce fuel for a bomb if it chose to do so. Read more ..

The Bear is Back

Russia Using 'Provocateurs' to Sow Chaos in Ukraine

April 8th 2014

John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry warned of new sanctions against Russia on Tuesday and compared the situation in eastern Ukraine to Russia's annexation of Crimea.

Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the protests in eastern Ukraine "could be a contrived pretext for military intervention just as we saw in Crimea."

He said that the pro-Russian demonstrators who have taken over government buildings there are "provocateurs" sent to create chaos. If the situation continues to escalate, Kerry raised the prospect of sanctions against sectors of the Russian economy such as banking and energy. "That's serious business," Kerry said. 

In an attempt to deescalate, though, Kerry announced that he will meet next week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ukrainian officials together.  Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) strongly criticized the administration's handling of the situation, referring back to the 2009 "reset button" and saying, "Somebody hit the wrong button." Risch said Russia continues to outmaneuver the United States. "We’ve seen this movie over and over again," he said. Read more ..

The US and Russia

US-Russia Tensions Escalating

April 7th 2014

Obama Putin

The White House accused Moscow on Monday of stirring up trouble in Ukraine, as pro-Russian demonstrations provoked fears that President Vladimir Putin might mount a second invasion there just weeks after annexing Crimea.

The administration said demonstrators who seized government buildings in the cities of Lugansk and Donetsk were not locals, and were part of a carefully orchestrated campaign backed by the Kremlin.

State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said the demonstrations were “not a spontaneous set of events,” and White House spokesman Jay Carney said evidence suggested some protestors were paid. A further Russian incursion “either overtly or covertly” would seriously escalate the crisis, he added. Read more ..

Broken Economy

Will Flash Trades Now Lead to a Financial Transaction Tax?

April 6th 2014

Frantic Wall Street denizen

Renowned author Michael Lewis’s charge that the stock market is rigged against regular investors is making waves in Washington.

Liberal lawmakers in particular believe that Lewis is bringing critical attention to an issue that could boost their efforts to assign a tax on all financial transactions.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) joined with civil rights advocates Friday to hold a rally pushing his financial transaction tax bill. At the event, he mentioned Lewis’s book Flash Boys and blasted high-frequency traders as “predatory” and “parasitic.”

Lewis asserts that Wall Street firms have invested millions to obtain a split-second advantage on market moves. “The insiders are able to move faster than you,” he told “60 Minutes” on Sunday. Those claims made Lewis the center of a heated debate about the worth and potential dangers of trading at the speed of light, something that has come up in the past but not to the degree with which it is now in the spotlight. Read more ..

Broken Government

Election Commissioners: SCOTUS Ruling Will Empower 'Megadonors'

April 5th 2014

Supreme Court

Members of the Federal Election Commissioners are lashing back at the Supreme Court’s decision this week to strip away a key campaign finance restriction, contending the ruling will only add to the influence of “megadonors.”

In a scathing statement, FEC Vice Chairwoman Ann Ravel and commissioner Ellen Weintraub said they were “troubled” about the high court’s decision to do away with overall individual contribution limits.

“This decision will not increase the number of voices able to participate in the political debate,” the Democratic commissioners said. “Instead, it amplifies the voices of the few to the detriment of the many.” Five of nine justices concluded in the ruling, handed down Wednesday, that aggregate contribution limits — the total amount donors can contribute to federal campaigns and party committees in an election cycle — violate the Constitution’s protections for free speech. Read more ..

Ukraine on Edge

The United States and Russia Parley over the Future of Ukraine

April 1st 2014

During the Cold War, U.S. secretaries of state and Soviet foreign ministers routinely negotiated the outcome of crises and the fate of countries. It has been a long time since such talks have occurred, but last week a feeling of deja vu overcame me. Americans and Russians negotiated over everyone's head to find a way to defuse the crisis in Ukraine and, in the course of that, shape its fate.

During the talks, U.S. President Barack Obama made it clear that Washington has no intention of expanding NATO into either Ukraine or Georgia. The Russians have stated that they have no intention of any further military operations in Ukraine. Conversations between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry have been extensive and ongoing. For different reasons, neither side wants the crisis to continue, and each has a different read on the situation. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

The Failure of Religious Diplomacy in the Birth of Modern Israel

March 31st 2014

Before the UN launched it seemingly permanent relief effort for Palestinian refugees in 1950, UNRWA, it oversaw another, smaller program called United Nations Relief for Palestinian Refugees (UNRPR). In 1948 and 1949 aid was administered for the UN by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the League of Red Cross Societies.

AFSC and its leaders represented their participation in UNRPR as an outgrowth of relief work they had done in Europe and elsewhere during and after World War II. This work had, with some lobbying, earned a Nobel Peace Prize for the AFSC and its British counterpart in 1947. Read more ..

America on Edge

Inside the Koch Brother's Campus Crusade

March 30th 2014

Koch Think Tanks

The campus of Koch Brothers Academy spans a nation.

Learn about the “role of government institutions in a capitalistic society” at South Carolina’s College of Charleston.

Dive into the “integrated study of philosophy, politics and economics” at Duke University and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

And philosophize about the “moral imperatives of free markets and individual liberty” at the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University in Alabama.

Billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch may rank among the nation’s biggest bankrollers of conservative causes and Republican campaign vehicles. But Koch proselytizing of government deregulation and pro-business civics is increasingly targeted not just at creatures of Capitol Hill, or couch sitters in swing states, but at the hearts and minds of American college students, as well. Read more ..

The US and Russia

Kerry's Change of Course Signals Ukraine Talks

March 29th 2014

John Kerry

Possible negotiations between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov over the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea appeared more likely after the nation’s top diplomat abruptly scrapped his plans Saturday to return to the United States.

Kerry, who has been in Saudi Arabia with President Obama, opted instead to fly to Paris, signaling that a meeting with Lavrov could come as early as Monday. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said the meeting with Lavrov had not yet been scheduled, but that it would occur “early next week.”

According to a senior administration official, Kerry and Lavrov have been attempting to negotiate a solution that would de-escalate the situation in Ukraine. Russian military forces moved into the ethnically Russian Crimean peninsula late last month, in a move they described as a bid to protect Russian nationals from the new, pro-Europe interim government in Kiev. After a referendum vote within Crimea that heavily favored secession, Russia moved to formally annex the territory. Read more ..

Financing the Flames

Palestinian Terrorist Hatches Terror Plan to Get Palestinian Authority Terrorist Salary

March 28th 2014

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Imprisoned Palestinian terrorist Husni Najjar explained to Israeli Police that he planned a second terror attack in order to be captured and imprisoned by Israel a second time, so that he would receive the salaries the Palestinian Authority pays to prisoners while in jail and following their release.

In his signed statement given to the police following his second arrest, a copy of which is in the possession of Palestinian Media Watch, he explains that the money he received from the PA as salary during his first prison term amounted to only 45,000 shekels.

However, the salary he would receive following his second prison term and subsequent release would leave him with "135,000 shekels." "And thus I would cover my debts," the terrorist explained his motive for planning the attack. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Edible, Biodegradable Batteries in the Offing

March 27th 2014

Baby Boomer

A biodegradable, implantable battery could help in the development of biomedical devices that monitor tissue or deliver treatments before being reabsorbed by the body after use.

“This is a really major advance,” says Jeffrey Borenstein, a biomedical engineer at Draper Laboratory, a non-profit research and development center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Until recently, there has not been a lot of progress in this area.”

In 2012, materials scientist John Rogers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign unveiled a range of biodegradable silicon chips that could monitor temperature or mechanical strain, radio the results to external devices, and even heat up tissue to prevent infection (see ‘Biodegradable electronics here today, gone tomorrow’). Some of those chips relied on induction coils to draw wireless power from an external source. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama Exorcises 'Darker Forces of the Past' on European Junket

March 26th 2014

President Obama sought to rally Europe to intensify Russia’s isolation in a sweeping speech Wednesday that cast the Kremlin’s takeover of Crimea in Cold War terms.

Even as Obama insisted the new fight with Russia was “not another Cold War,” the president described the annexation of Ukrainian territory as part of a decades-old battle with the “darker forces of the past.”

Obama hoped to use his speech capping a four-nation, three-day swing through Europe to unify European partners less comfortable with sanctioning Russia given their economic ties.
The case he made at the Palais Des Beaux Arts in Brussels was a moral one, as he acknowledged that if nations “applied a cold-hearted calculus,” they might shy away from responding to a crisis that did not directly affect their own borders. Read more ..

Ukraine on Edge

U.S. Strategy After Ukraine: From Estonia to Azerbaijan

March 25th 2014

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As I discussed last week, the fundamental problem that Ukraine poses for Russia, beyond a long-term geographical threat, is a crisis in internal legitimacy. Russian President Vladimir Putin has spent his time in power rebuilding the authority of the Russian state within Russia and the authority of Russia within the former Soviet Union. The events in Ukraine undermine the second strategy and potentially the first. If Putin cannot maintain at least Ukrainian neutrality, then the world's perception of him as a master strategist is shattered, and the legitimacy and authority he has built for the Russian state is, at best, shaken.

Whatever the origins of the events in Ukraine, the United States is now engaged in a confrontation with Russia. The Russians believe that the United States was the prime mover behind regime change in Ukraine. At the very least, the Russians intend to reverse events in Ukraine. At most, the Russians have reached the conclusion that the United States intends to undermine Russia's power. They will resist. The United States has the option of declining confrontation, engaging in meaningless sanctions against individuals and allowing events to take their course. Alternatively, the United States can choose to engage and confront the Russians. Read more ..

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