The Mortgage Meltdown
|Peter Schroeder||April 28th 2012|
Roughly four years after the financial crisis hit, some on the left are wondering when, or even if, the Obama administration plans to pursue criminal prosecutions of the Wall Street figures that played a major role in the meltdown. Top White House officials, including the president himself, have vowed the slow, steady work of investigations is underway, and that those who broke the law on Wall Street will ultimately be held accountable. But despite those promises, there is scant public proof of progress, leaving some wondering how long it will take for the government to assign blame for the financial crisis.
"There's a little bit of mystification ... about just when and if the administration is going to do what it has said about the prosecutions," said Roger Hickey, co-director of the liberal Campaign for America's Future. "Many groups that are based in the Democratic Party just feel like they're getting the runaround." Many of those groups were heartened when the president announced in his January State of the Union address that he was establishing a team within the Department of Justice devoted specifically to rooting out wrongdoing in the housing market that precipitated the financial meltdown. "This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans," the president told lawmakers. Read more ..
The Edge of Physics
|Nathalie Hüber||April 27th 2012|
University of Zurich
|CERN compact muon solenoid endcap (credit CERN CMS)|
Physicists from the University of Zurich have discovered a previously unknown particle composed of three quarks using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). A new baryon could thus be detected for the first time at the LHC. The baryon—known as Xi_b^*—confirms fundamental assumptions of physics regarding the binding of quarks.
In particle physics, the baryon family refers to particles that are made up of three quarks. Quarks form a group of six particles that differ in their masses and charges. The two lightest quarks, the so-called “up” and “down” quarks, form the two atomic components: protons and neutrons. All baryons that are composed of the three lightest quarks (“up”, “down,” and “strange” quarks) are known. Only very few baryons with heavy quarks have been observed to date. They can only be generated artificially in particle accelerators as they are heavy and very unstable.
In the course of proton collisions in the LHC at CERN, physicists Claude Amsler, Vincenzo Chiochia, and Ernest Aguiló from the University of Zurich’s Physics Institute managed to detect a baryon with one light and two heavy quarks. The particle Xi_b^* comprises one “up”, one “strange” and one “bottom” quark (usb), is electrically neutral and has a spin of 3/2 (1.5). Its mass is comparable to that of a lithium atom. The new discovery means that two of the three baryons predicted in the usb composition by theory have now been observed. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Jia-Rui Cook ||April 26th 2012|
|Aquila Crater, Vesta (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)|
Findings from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft reveal new details about the giant asteroid Vesta, including its varied surface composition, sharp temperature changes and clues to its internal structure. The findings were presented in April at the European Geosciences Union meeting in Vienna, Austria, and will help scientists better understand the early solar system and processes that dominated its formation.
Images from Dawn’s framing camera and visible and infrared mapping spectrometer, taken 420 miles (680 kilometers) and 130 miles (210 kilometers) above the surface of the asteroid, show a variety of surface mineral and rock patterns. Coded false-color images help scientists better understand Vesta’s composition and enable them to identify material that was once molten below the asteroid’s surface.
Researchers also see breccias, which are rocks fused during impacts from space debris. Many of the materials seen by Dawn are composed of iron- and magnesium-rich minerals, which often are found in Earth’s volcanic rocks. Images also reveal smooth pond-like deposits, which might have formed as fine dust created during impacts settled into low regions. Read more ..
Russia on Edge
|George Friedman||April 24th 2012|
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 reversed a process that had been under way since the Russian Empire's emergence in the 17th century. It was ultimately to incorporate four general elements: Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Caucasus and Siberia. The St. Petersburg-Moscow axis was its core, and Russia, Belorussia and Ukraine were its center of gravity. The borders were always dynamic, mostly expanding but periodically contracting as the international situation warranted. At its farthest extent, from 1945 to 1989, it reached central Germany, dominating the lands it seized in World War II. The Russian Empire was never at peace. As with many empires, there were always parts of it putting up (sometimes violent) resistance and parts that bordering powers coveted -- as well as parts of other nations that Russia coveted.
The Russian Empire subverted the assumption that political and military power requires a strong economy: It was never prosperous, but it was frequently powerful. The Russians defeated Napoleon and Hitler and confronted the far wealthier Americans for more than four decades in the Cold War, in spite of having a less developed or less advanced economy. Its economic weakness certainly did undermine its military power at times, but to understand Russia, it is important to begin by understanding that the relationship between military and economic power is not a simple one.
Read more ..
War Against the Weak
|Martin Barillas||April 23rd 2012|
Investigative journalist and author Edwin Black will launch the new expanded edition of his award-winning bestseller War Against the Weak during a live global event in the North Carolina General Assembly’s Legislative Auditorium in Raleigh, NC, at noon on April 25.
See the Live Global Launch here
The book has a special appendix on North Carolina’s program. During the launch event, Black will present his new findings on North Carolina’s program of eugenic genocide against its own citizens, which, he states, was executed in lockstep with national and Nazi eugenic leaders throughout America and in the Third Reich. After his presentation, Black will answer questions live from both audience members and remote participants worldwide. Advance requests have already come in from concentration camp scholars in Poland, genetic study groups in San Francisco, and from survivors of the North Carolina program.
NC State Rep. Earline Parmon of Winston-Salem will introduce the program and Black's presentation. Rep. Parmon, along with Rep. Larry Womble, has championed the cause of compensation for the state's surviving eugenic victims. More than 27 states joined the shameful decades-long utopian campaign of medically and legislatively engineered racial supremacy. But only one state, North Carolina, is now readying a massive plan of financial reparations to its surviving victims. Just how much North Carolina should pay—and who should write the check—is now the subject of a historically wrenching debate. Many suggest the legislature will vote $50,000 for each surviving victim.
The new appendix to War Against the Weak reveals that North Carolina eugenic officials in the 1930s and 1940s were less concerned about the state’s population than doing its bit to advance the worldwide campaign to create a Master Race. Raceologists at the apex of American eugenics were working with North Carolina officials. These include Harry Laughlin of the Carnegie Institution’s Eugenics Record Office. In 1938, Laughlin had set into motion Connecticut governor Wilbur Cross’s plan to declare thousands of Connecticut’s residents “unfit aliens,” and “deport” them to their “ancestral states,”including North Carolina. Under the state plan, never executed, Connecticut citizens would be stripped of their assets before deportation. It was presumed these “displaced” Americans would be so numerous and without funds, that they would be housed in receiver state confinement camps where they would be mass sterilized. Euthanasia, long a cause celebre of eugenicists, was also explored if a way could be found to make it legal. Laughlin’s plan was aborted when Governor Cross failed in his 1938 re-election bid. Nazi eugenics collapsed when the Third Reich fell in 1945. Read more ..
Edge of Space
|Andrea Elyse Messer||April 22nd 2012|
Autonomous, self-replicating robots -- exobots -- are the way to explore the universe, find and identify extraterrestrial life and perhaps clean up space debris in the process, according to a Penn State engineer, who notes that the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) is in its 50th year.
"The basic premise is that human space exploration must be highly efficient, cost effective, and autonomous as placing humans beyond low Earth orbit is fraught with political economic, and technical difficulties," John D. Mathews, professor of electrical engineering, reported in the current issue of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society.
If aliens are out there, they have the same problems we do: they need to conserve resources, are limited by the laws of physics and they may not even be eager to meet us, according to Mathews.
He suggests that "only by developing and deploying self-replicating robotic spacecraft -- and the incumbent communications systems -- can the human race efficiently explore even the asteroid belt, let alone the vast reaches of the Kuiper Belt, Oort Cloud, and beyond." Mathews assumes that any extraterrestrial would need to follow a similar path to the stars, sending robots rather than living beings, which would explain why SETI has not succeeded to date. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Aaron Mehta||April 22nd 2012|
President Barack Obama’s campaign raised $33.6 million last quarter from "bundlers," supporters of the president who collect checks from friends, family and associates and deliver them to the campaign, according to a list released by the campaign Friday night.
A total of 90 new bundlers appeared on the list, bringing the total to 532 and the total amount of contributions to $106 million. Among the new donors are Nicole Avant and her husband Ted Sarandos, who together reached the $500,000 level — the top tier for bundlers. Avant was Obama’s appointee as ambassador to the Bahamas until she resigned in November. She was the subject of a critical inspector general’s report that concluded her ambassadorship was “an extended period of dysfunctional leadership and mismanagement, which has caused problems throughout the embassy.”
According to some news reports, since her return to Beverly Hills, Calif., Avant has acted as a key Hollywood conduit for contributions to the Obama campaign. The campaign discloses its bundlers in four tiers: $50,000-100,000; $100,000-200,000; $200,000-500,000 and $500,000 or more. It is impossible to tell exactly how much each bundler raised, but it is possible to arrive at a minimum dollar amount. Read more ..
India on Edge
|Terrence Sterling||April 21st 2012|
India confirmed it successfully test-fired a new missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead as far as Beijing - announcing itself as a major "missile power." Indian media showed video of the long-range Agni-V missile in-flight after its launch from a test range in the eastern state of Orissa. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh congratulated the country's scientists for contributing to the country's "self reliance in defense." India's Defense Research and Development Organization chief Vijay Saraswat told Indian media that the country now has missile capabilities that match with the world's elite military powers.
Read more ..
"The successful launch of Agni V missile is a tribute to the sophistications and commitment to national causes on the part of India's scientific technological community," said Singh. "I congratulate all the scientists and technologists who have been associated with this important project and I sincerely hope that in years to come our scientists and technologists will contribute a lot more to promoting self reliance in defense and other walks of national life."
The Agni-V has a range of 5,000 kilometers and had been described as a "quantum leap" in India's strategic capability - able to carry nuclear warheads as far as the Chinese capital as well as Shanghai. When asked about the launch at a press briefing in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said China and India are not competitors, but partners. He said both sides should work together to deepen strategic cooperation, promote mutual development and maintain peace and stability in the region.
The Digital Edge
|Rick Merritt||April 19th 2012|
A Google executive gave a rare peek inside the Web giant’s data center networks to show the OpenFlow standard it backs for software-defined networks is ready for commercial use. Google is using OpenFlow on custom-designed hardware for all the internal networks it runs connecting its global data centers, said Urs Holzle, senior vice president of technology infrastructure at Google, speaking in a keynote at the second annual Open Networking Summit here.
OpenFlow is a technique for controlling network operations in software run on centralized computer servers saving cost, time and power. It aims to simplify and virtualize today’s business networks that currently require a number of specialized, distributed systems, each with its own software load.
If OpenFlow becomes widely adopted, it could disrupt the fortunes of major router and switch makers such as Alcatel-Lucent and Cisco Systems as well as the ASICs and embedded processors they use. Google has enable “centralized traffic engineering” on its network using OpenFlow. So far it has found it can run such functions “literally 25 to 50 times faster on a 32-core workstation,” Holzle said. Read more ..
The Race for Solar
|Susan Kraemer||April 17th 2012|
Every square meter of Saudi Arabia produces an extraordinary 7 kilowatt hours of energy daily in each 12 hours of sun power. If the Saudis were to use up each days solar energy supply, or 12,425 TWh of electricity, it would be a 72 year supply. Put another way, in just one day, enough solar energy hits Saudi sands to power the kingdom for 72 years, according to a study made by the World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology.
That is an extraordinary resource. It is significantly more than the rest of the world. For example: as a Californian who used a typical 15 kilowatt hours of energy a day, this means my entire home could have been fully solar powered by just 2 square meters – or about 3 feet by 6 feet – of solar panels in Saudi Arabia! And Saudi Arabia has about 2 trillion square meters able to produce 14 trillion kilowatt hours of solar energy every sunny day – that is enough to power the world. Read more ..
The Afghan War
|Martin Barillas||April 17th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced on April 17 that most of her nation's troops will return by the end of 2013, one year ahead of their scheduled departure. Now numbering 1,500 troops, Australia's contingent among the allied forces in Afghanistan is the largest provided by any non-NATO country.
Aussie troops have been mainly engaged in training an Afghan National Army brigade to take responsibility for security in Oruzgan Province in the Central Asian country. Some 32 Austrailian troops have lost their lives in the Afghan conflict, while 100 more have been wounded. Public pressure in Australia to bring the Diggers home has steadily increased.
The announcement comes just two days after the Taliban launched a series of attacks across Afghanistan. The U.S. embassy in Kabul was hit by small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades in what the Pentagon admitted was a failure of military intelligence. Pentagon spokesmen have averred that 'gaps' in intelligence must be plugged. Read more ..
The Sudan on Edge
|Millard Burr||April 17th 2012|
News that forces of the nascent Government of South Sudan have occupied the Heglig Oil Field operated by the Government of the Sudan in its South Kordofan region is but the most recent chapter in a sad history that stretches back for more than a quarter-century.
Approached rationally, the distribution of oil wealth might have worked miracles in uniting the two Sudans whose fissiparous political and cultural tendencies were quite apparent even prior to its achieving independence in 1956. Predictably, the Sudanese Muslim majority that held power in Khartoum reacted selfishly, assuming a proprietary interest in the resource and giving short shrift to Southern claims.
Jaafar Numayri, President of the Sudan from 1969-1985, dealt the oil card to create divisions among Sudan's southern politicians, and in doing so he also expanded the growing breech between North and South. For most Muslims of the North, especially the politically powerful riverine Arabs, an impoverished Southern Sudan -- which comprised Bahr al-Ghazal, Upper Nile and Equatoria provinces -- really wasn't worth bothering about. Sudan had already suffered through one civil war (1955-1972), and the battle to maintain national cohesiveness was expensive; it would not have been worth the effort had it not been for the fact that had they been allowed to secede the Southern provinces could then tap the Upper Nile water resource which was crucial to Sudan and Egypt. Read more ..
|Paul Abowd||April 16th 2012|
Some of America’s best known brands are dropping their membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council at least partly in response to controversy over the group’s backing of voter ID laws. Coca-Cola quit on April 4 and Pepsi, Kraft Foods, Intuit, McDonalds and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation followed them out after a coalition of left-wing groups launched pressure campaigns. Nine states have passed strict voter ID requirements just since 2011, which opponents say could result in millions being unable to cast ballots in November.
But there’s been little attention paid to one major ALEC-affiliated sector behind several state legislators pushing these measures: the beer and wine industry.
Major players in beer and wine sit on an ALEC task force that crafted and approved voter ID model legislation in 2009. The industry’s major trade associations — the National Beer Wholesalers Association and Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America — are among them. Since 2007, the wholesalers have also pumped substantial cash into the campaigns of several ALEC politicians who have been authors or primary sponsors of voter ID bills in their states. Read more ..
Macedonia On Edge
|Terrence Sterling||April 14th 2012|
From RFE and agencies
thnic tensions have resurfaced in Macedonia following the announcement of the murder of the five men on the outskirts of the capital, Skopje. The killings have aggravated relations between Macedonians and the ethnic Albanian minority. Police said the five men were shot dead execution-style near a lake outside Skopje and their bodies found by fishermen late on April 12. All of the victims were reportedly ethnic Macedonians. Angry Macedonians blocked several streets in the area on April 13, and police were deployed to prevent clashes. Authorities have so far made no statement about a possible motive for the killings. Residents of the village of Smiljkovci, where the bodies were found, expressed fears the murders could be a sign a worsening relations between ethnic Macedonians and Albanians. "What happened last night was very tragic -- young people, I feel very sorry for their families," Violeta Mitreska, of Smiljkovic, said. "I don't know what to say. I hope that this will not endanger coexistence between Macedonians and Albanians in Macedonia." Read more ..
The Edge of Climate Change
|Paul Mannion||April 14th 2012|
University of Sheffield
Scientists analyzing prehistoric global warming say thawing permafrost released massive amounts of carbon stored in frozen soil of Polar Regions exacerbating climate change through increasing global temperatures and ocean acidification.
Although the amounts of carbon involved in the ancient soil-thaw scenarios was likely much greater than today, the implications of this ground-breaking study are that the long-term future of carbon deposits locked into frozen permafrost of Polar Regions are vulnerable to climate warming caused as humans emit the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide by burning fossil fuels for energy generation. Researchers in centers across America, Italy and the University of Sheffield, analyzed a series of sudden, and extreme, global warming events - called hyperthermals - that occurred about 55 million years ago, linked to rising greenhouse gas concentrations and changes in Earth's orbit, which led to a massive release of carbon into the atmosphere, ocean acidification, and a five degrees Celsius rise in global temperature within just a few thousand years. It was previously thought that the source of carbon was in the ocean, in the form of frozen methane gas in ocean-floor sediments but now the experts believe the carbon released into the atmosphere millions of years ago came from the Polar Regions.
Professor David Beerling, of the University of Sheffield's Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, said: "For the first time, we have linked these past global warming events with a climatically sensitive terrestrial carbon reservoir rather than a marine one. It shows that global warming can be amplified by carbon release from thawing permafrost." Read more ..
Islam's War against Christianity
|Martin Barillas||April 13th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
A disturbing video has emerged which depicts a group of Libyan men and boys, apparently Muslims, destroying a cemetery where lie the remains of Christian and Jewish soldiers of the British Empire who died in the region during the Second World War.
Some of the marauders wielded sledgehammers to break up the simple white headstones of the servicemen, while others toppled them with kicks from boots besmeared with the barren red clay in the final resting place of the British and allied service members.
The fury occurred on March 2, and apparently came as retribution for the burning of retired copies of the Koran by U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Muslims worldwide were offended by the burning, despite efforts by the United States to allay offended sentiments. President Barack Obama found himself apologizing, once more, for alleged American desecration of Islam’s holy book, conveying his apologies to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the unintentional burning of the Korans at NATO's main Bagram air base after Afghan laborers found charred copies while collecting rubbish. White House spokesman Jay Carney tried to further express White House contrition, saying “It is wholly appropriate, the sensitivities to this issue, the understandable sensitivities.” Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Soner Cagaptay||April 13th 2012|
Several recent developments have put the possibility of military action in Syria on Turkey's agenda. On April 9, Syrian forces opened fire at a refugee camp on the Turkish side of the border, killing two Syrian refugees and wounding two Turks. The number of such refugees crossing into Turkey has increased sharply, reaching some 25,000. In response, Ankara is hinting at creating a buffer zone inside Syria to defend the civilian population and contain the crisis on its border. On April 10, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that although Turkey does not want to enter Syria, "if anybody were to force [Ankara] to do that, it would be the Syrian regime itself."
What are the most likely signs that Turkey is planning military action aimed at creating such a safe haven? Both domestic and regional political dynamics would no doubt shape Ankara's decisions in this regard, as would the military's level of preparedness. The following early indicators could help predict imminent Turkish military action. Read more ..
|Avi Jorisch||April 12th 2012|
Though news reports generally give a very different impression, Russia is actually playing a constructive role in dealing with the multifaceted issue of Iran's nuclear program. One hint came last month, when Russia's second-largest financial institution closed the accounts of Iran's Embassy in Moscow. While given little attention by the media on either side of the Atlantic, this move signals the Kremlin's willingness to confront Iran on its march toward nuclearization.
Russia's irritation with Iranian policy was underlined by the manner in which the management of VTB 24 — the retail banking arm of the state-controlled behemoth, VTB — dismissed these particular clients. Teheran's diplomats were reportedly given three hours to physically withdraw or wire out their funds or their "accounts would be blocked and money confiscated." Explaining itself, the bank's top management is said to have informed Iranian Ambassador, Seyed Mahmoud-Reza Sajjadi that the embassy's business was no longer profitable and that his credit card would also be blocked. Read more ..
North Korea Nukes
|Terrence Sterling||April 11th 2012|
From VOA and Services
North Korean officials said Wednesday they have begun injecting fuel into a rocket for an imminent space launch, raising the stakes in an escalating standoff with its regional neighbors and the United States. Paek Chang Ho, chief of North Korea's launch command center, announced the action to a visiting group of international reporters, saying fuel was being loaded into the rocket as he spoke. The journalists, who visited the launch site Sunday, were able to view the activity by video, which was fed live to the remote command center Wednesday. Paek also said a weather satellite has been installed on the rocket, which is set for launch sometime between Thursday and Monday, depending on weather conditions. The video showed a tarpaulin draped over the top of the rocket, making that claim impossible to confirm.
The scheduled launch has angered many of North Korea's neighbors, which see the action as ploy to test a ballistic missile that could later be fitted with a nuclear warhead. Ryu Gum Chol, deputy director of North Korea's space program, told a reporter from VOA's Korean service that the only purpose of the launch is space exploration.
"It seems to me that your worries are unfounded. I reckon that the timing is important now, and you will know everything once you attend the April 15 centenary of the birth of former North Korean leader Kim Il Sung," he said. "The rocket we have developed is only for the purpose of space exploration, so to claim it is for ballistic missile development is illogical." But U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that the launch has raised doubts about North Korea's claims that it wants to improve ties with its neighbors and the United States. Read more ..
The Edge of Counter-Terrorism
|Nathalie Van Raemdonck||April 10th 2012|
Istituto Affari Internazionali
|MQ-1 Predator UAV|
Following the attacks of 11 September 2001, the cooperation between the European Union and the United States on counterterrorism increased substantially. In 2004 the EU and US adopted a Declaration on Combating Terrorism that spelled out the objectives of their counterterrorism cooperation.1 In this declaration it is stated that USEU counterterrorism cooperation would be in keeping with human rights and the rule of law.
However, the US has over time expanded its counterterrorism tactics beyond what many in the EU would consider the limits of international law. US practices that have proven to be particularly controversial include the maintenance of the US detention centre in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where suspect terrorists have been held on an often dubious legal basis; the use of interrogation systems bordering torture, such as waterboarding, the so-called extraordinary renditions, whereby terrorist suspects abducted in third countries were then transferred to states where no guarantee against torture or inhuman treatment was in place; and targeted assassinations of suspect terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan through Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), better known as drones. Read more ..
North Korea's Nukes
|Steve Herman||April 9th 2012|
North Korea has placed a three-stage rocket on the launch pad at a new, more sophisticated facility facing the Yellow Sea. It plans to launch what it calls an earth observation satellite as early as Thursday. There are also indications the reclusive and impoverished country is preparing for a third nuclear weapons test, as well. Satellite imagery, taken last week, shows piles of dirt near a newly excavated tunnel entrance at North Korea's nuclear test site. A summary of a South Korean intelligence report accompanying the photos says the excavation at the Punggye-ri test site is in its final stages. Analysts say Pyongyang wants to demonstrate to the world that it is capable of carrying out a nuclear test at any time.
Meanwhile, North Korea, at a separate site, has placed on the launch pad what it is calling the Unha-3 rocket. It appears virtually identical to the three-stage liquid-fueled ballistic missile it fired over Japan three years ago. The United States, South Korea, the European Union and Japan are condemning the planned launch, saying it will clearly violate United Nations sanctions forbidding Pyongyang from utilizing ballistic missile technology. Jang Myong Jin, the general manager of the launch site, says North Korea has a sovereign right to carry out a space launch. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|Michael Lipin||April 8th 2012|
The European Union's expulsion of 30 sanctioned Iranian banks from a global financial messaging service last month has made it significantly harder for Iranians using those banks to do business with foreign partners.
The head of the German-Iranian Chamber of Commerce in Hamburg, Michael Tockuss, said that hundreds of German exporters are owed $4.7 billion by Iranians who received goods before the EU move, but now cannot use their banks to pay for them.
His comments reflect Western contentions that a variety of mostly U.S. and European sanctions relating to Iran's controversial nuclear program are having crippling effects on the Iranian economy. The Belgium-based organization SWIFT disconnected 30 Iranian banks from its network on March 17, on the orders of EU nations who sanctioned those banks for having links to Iran's nuclear program. The United States also has sanctions against 23 Iranian banks. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|R. Jeffrey Smith||April 7th 2012|
|credit: US State Department Human Rights Bureau|
In 1995, U.S. spy satellites photographed telling moments in the massacre over four days of an estimated 7,800 Bosnians by Bosnian Serb forces near the town of Srebrenica. But these photographs were not publicized by U.S. officials until nearly four weeks after the massacre had ended. Intelligence analysts did not circulate the evidence to senior officials for 22 days, even though two U.S. diplomats had picked up and circulated warnings about the killings on the first day and again 12 days later (“New Proof Offered of Serb Atrocities,” The Washington Post, Oct. 29. 1995).
It was an embarrassing disconnect between top policymakers and officials in the U.S. intelligence community, which jointly missed the chance to sound an alarm about a horrific, genocidal crime—the largest mass killing in Europe since World War II—while it was still under way.
In 2012, the public picture of what’s happening in Syria—where more than 9,000 people have been killed so far, according to the UN—literally looks different, due to an unusual agreement brokered by White House aides between the intelligence community and the State Department. For more than a month, U.S. intelligence analysts have been declassifying satellite photos depicting the movement of Syrian armor and the destruction of Syrian villages so the department’s Human Rights Bureau can plaster them on its website. Read more ..
The Obama Edge
|Chris Hamby||April 5th 2012|
The Energy Department kept Treasury Department officials in the dark until late in the government's review of the $535 million loan to now-bankrupt solar panel maker Solyndra, triggering a rushed consultation that may have left concerns unresolved, a new audit released April 4 found.
The audit by the Treasury Department’s inspector general found that Treasury officials had raised serious concerns about the terms of the loan, but there was no documentation of whether they were addressed. The report’s findings of hurried reviews and ignored warning signs echo previous reporting on Solyndra.
The loan, originally touted as a model of President Obama’s green energy program, has become a political weapon. “The Treasury report echoes what our investigation has shown over and over; Solyndra was a bad bet from the beginning that was rushed out the door while every red flag was ignored,” Republican Reps. Fred Upton and Cliff Stearns said in a statement Wednesday. Read more ..
The Arab Winter in Egypt
|Eric Trager||April 4th 2012|
On Saturday, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) announced the nomination of Deputy Supreme Guide Khairat al-Shater for president, cementing a critical shift in its political strategy. Although the group initially tried to manage Egypt's post-Mubarak transition by cooperating with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and secularist parties, it is now pursuing outright political dominance. The MB's reversal of its oft-repeated pledge not to run a presidential candidate also suggests that it cannot be trusted if it decides there is an advantage to be won. More broadly, the Brotherhood's pursuit of a political monopoly undermines prospects for democracy in Egypt and threatens to intensify political instability -- a scenario that should deeply alarm U.S. policymakers.
Following President Hosni Mubarak's February 2011 ouster, the MB sought to allay secularist fears of an Islamist takeover by adopting a cooperative political approach and tempering its pursuit of power. Specifically, the Brotherhood made two promises: that it would contest fewer than half of the seats in eventual parliamentary elections, and that it would not run for the presidency. In June 2011, it emphasized its commitment to cooperation by joining the secularist Wafd Party in creating the National Democratic Alliance for Egypt, an electoral coalition that, at its height, included forty-three parties. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Lionel Pousaz||April 3rd 2012|
he first prototype of a new, ultra-compact motor that will allow small satellites to journey beyond Earth's orbit is just making its way out of the EPFL laboratories where it was built. The goal of the micro motor: to drastically reduce the cost of space exploration.
Imagine reaching the Moon using just a tenth of a liter of fuel. With their ionic motor, MicroThrust, EPFL scientists and their European partners are making this a reality and ushering in a new era of low-cost space exploration. The complete thruster weighs just a few hundred grams and is specifically designed to propel small (1-100 kg) satellites, which it enables to change orbit around the Earth and even voyage to more distant destinations – functions typically possible only for large, expensive spacecraft. The just-released prototype is expected to employed on CleanSpace One, a satellite under development at EPFL that is designed to clean up space debris, and on OLFAR, a swarm of Dutch nanosatellites that will record ultra-low radio-frequency signals on the far side of the Moon.
The motor, designed to be mounted on satellites as small as 10x10x10 cm3, is extremely compact but highly efficient. The prototype weighs only about 200 grams, including the fuel and control electronics. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
World Jewish Daily
The Iranians have dispatched a network of covert assassins to hit Jewish, Israeli and Western targets in Turkey, Sky News reports. And now the surreptitious hit-squad has finally been given a name: Unit 400.
A 53-page secret study from a foreign intelligence agency obtained exclusively by Sky News reports as follows:
"Unit 400 is a top-secret "special ops" unit within the elite overseas wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force (IRGC-QF). It plans and carries out terror attacks on external targets, and provides material support to foreign militia groups, at the direct behest of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. This is in accordance with the regime's core strategic considerations about how best to challenge perceived enemies in Israel and the west - through asymmetric warfare - and to cope with mounting international pressure over its nuclear programme."
The commanders of the group has been identified as Hamed Abdellahi and Majid Alavi, the former deputy minister in Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Joseph Blumberg||April 1st 2012|
Idan Ginsburg, a graduate student in Dartmouth's Department of Physics and Astronomy, studies some of the fastest moving objects in the cosmos. When stars and their orbiting plants wander too close to the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, their encounter with the black hole's gravitational force can either capture them or eject them from the galaxy, like a slingshot, at millions of miles per hour.
Although their origin remains a mystery and although they are invisible, black holes found at galaxy centers make their presence known through the effects they have on their celestial surroundings. The Milky Way's black hole, a monster with a mass four million times that of the Sun, feeds on some of its neighbors and thrusts others out into the intergalactic void. It's the expelled objects that "become hypervelocity planets and stars," say Ginsburg. "What we learn from these high-speed travelers has significance for our understanding of planetary formation and evolution near the central black hole."
Ginsburg, along with his doctoral adviser Professor Gary Wegner, and Harvard Professor Abraham Loeb are publishing a paper in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. It describes how the team constructed computer simulations of these hypervelocity bodies as a means to understanding the dynamics involved. "The paper is a 'call to arms' for other astronomers to join the search," Ginsburg announces. Read more ..
The Defense Edge
|Baker Spring||March 31st 2012|
On March 30, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released a report that is already starting to be described as having resolved all of the technical issues surrounding the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
Descriptions of the NAS study by CTBT advocates are certain to be overstatements. There are disagreements among technically knowledgeable people regarding these issues. It was just these kinds of disagreements that caused the Strategic Posture Commission to report in 2009 that it could not reach a consensus position regarding U.S. ratification of the CTBT. For example, the opponents of CTBT ratification on the commission stated that “maintaining a safe, reliable nuclear stockpile in the absence of testing entails real technical risks that cannot be eliminated by even the most sophisticated science-based program because full validation of these programs is likely to require testing over time.” Further, there is an array of narrower technical questions that surround the debate over the value of the CTBT. It is worth examining some of these questions, most of which are raised in the NAS study. Read more ..
The Toxic Edge
|Ronnie Greene||March 31st 2012|
|Coast Guard Inspection|
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When a U.S. Coast Guard inspector boarded the M/T Chem Faros, a 21,145-gross-ton cargo ship that pulled into port in Morehead City, N.C., an oiler with the engine crew quietly handed him a note.
"GOOD MORNING SIR, I WOULD LIKE TO LET YOU KNOW THIS SHIP DISCHARGING BILGE ILEGALLY USING BY MAGIC PIPE,” the note said. “IF YOU WANT TO KNOW ILLEGAL PIPE THERE IN WORKSHOP FIVE METERS LONG WITH RUBBER.”
The crewman’s hand-scrawled note, passed that March day two years ago, triggered an inquiry that unmasked a wave of high-seas pollution and phony recordkeeping as the ship ferried cargo in Asia and the U.S. The crew had used the so-called magic pipe to divert oily waste overboard at least 10 times in six months. Eleven days before the inspection, the chief engineer ordered 13,200 gallons of oil-contaminated waste dumped into the ocean.
The ship’s owner, Cooperative Success Maritime S.A., was fined $850,000 and sentenced to five years’ probation after its guilty plea. And the chief engineer — after cooperating with authorities — was sentenced to one year of probation. “The oceans must be protected from being used as dump sites for waste oil or other hazardous substances,” said Maureen O’Mara, special agent-in-charge of the Environmental Protection Agency’s criminal enforcement program in Atlanta, in June 2010. A company attorney declined comment.
The Cost of War
|Charles Dameron and Haseeba Shaheed||March 30th 2012|
|Ama Gullah (credit: Shah Saqeem/RFE/RL)|
There isn’t too much that binds together Ama Gullah, a 45-year-old grandmother from the city of Kandahar, and Dr. Becky Whetstone, a marriage counselor and therapist in Little Rock, Arkansas. But they are two of the tens of thousands of mothers strewn across four continents whose sons and daughters have become casualties of the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan—a war that, according to some estimates, has claimed the lives of some 50,000 combatants, along with thousands of civilians.
The emotional trauma of the death of a child does not vary much across battle lines.
In recent interviews with four mothers of the dead from different sides of the war, RFE/RL found little talk of politics or ideology.These women’s thoughts linger on difficult, unanswered questions, and on the new burdens of family: taking care of widowed daughters-in-law and raising newly fatherless grandchildren. Most of them just want the conflict to stop. Read more ..
World Jewish Daily
Despite pledges of support to Israel and United States Jewry, the Obama White House has undertaken a concerted campaign to undermine any possible Israeli strike on Iran.
Evidence for the campaign includes leaked information containing sensitive details, such as an article appearing Wednesday in Foreign Policy magazine that names Azerbaijan as a country from which Israel might launch an Iran attack.
While pledging repeatedly that "all options are on the table" the Obama administration is nonetheless seeking to close off operational options for Israel's military.
Ron Ben-Yishai, writing for Ynet, puts it this way: "In recent weeks the Administration shifted from persuasion efforts vis-à-vis decision-makers and Israel’s public opinion to a practical, targeted assassination of potential Israeli operations in Iran. This “surgical strike” is undertaken via reports in the American and British media, but the campaign’s aims are fully operational: To make it more difficult for Israeli decision-makers to order the IDF to carry out a strike, and what’s even graver, to erode the IDF’s capacity to launch such strike with minimal casualties. The first and most important American objective is to eliminate potential operational options available to the IDF and the State of Israel ... it is blatantly clear that reports in the past week alone have caused Israel substantive diplomatic damage, and possibly even military and operational damage." Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Peter H. Stone||March 28th 2012|
Multibillionaire Sheldon Adelson and his family, who have kept the flagging presidential candidacy of Newt Gingrich alive, seem poised to send millions to Republican-allied groups and possibly a super PAC backing frontrunner Mitt Romney, according to fundraisers with ties to the casino owner.
Adelson along with wife Miriam and other family members has garnered notice by donating a whopping $16.5 million to a super PAC backing Gingrich for president.
A private dinner Adelson hosted on March 22 at his home in Las Vegas drew Republican bigwigs from Washington, D.C., plus some of the GOP’s best-known fundraisers and donors. The diners were in Las Vegas early for a weekend summit of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), a nonprofit advocacy group that Adelson has backed heavily.
At the dinner, the Adelson family privately sent strong signals to some Romney allies that millions would flow from them to a super PAC backing the former Massachusetts governor—perhaps on a par with what they’ve given to Gingrich, assuming the ex-House Speaker, who is trailing badly, eventually drops out of the race. Read more ..
|Edwin Black||March 27th 2012|
At about 8 p.m. on Feburary 27, constitutional attorney Nathan Lewin was sitting half-asleep in the aisle seat of an Amtrak train speeding south from New York to Washington, D.C. Seated next to him was his daughter and law partner Alyza Lewin. Shortly after crossing the bridge into New Jersey, as red and green track lights blurred past, his cell phone rang. Struggling against the din of a train car filled with passengers, and the exhaustion of a tiring day in Manhattan, Lewin tried to make out what was being said on the cell phone. “You are located where?” he asked. “Did you say Texas?”
From that Monday night moment and for the next four days, a tornadic frenzy of phone calls, text messages, e-mails, conference calls and voice mails was unleashed between parents and attorneys in Texas and Washington. It would all change a number of lives forever and make headlines worldwide as an international sports drama.
Beren Jewish Academy of Houston, an Orthodox Jewish high school, fielding a superb basketball team, had battled its way to the semi-finals of the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS). Ironically, although TAPPS was a sports league of private and religious schools, the association was determined not to honor any Sabbath except Christian Sunday. Moreover, the semi-final playoffs were deliberately scheduled for March 2, a Friday night, which meant that Orthodox Jewish students could not participate. TAPPS angrily and steadfastly denied all requests for accommodation for Beren’s Jewish kids, refusing to move the game up just a few hours even though Covenant, the team Beren was scheduled to play, agreed to the proposed revised game time. That triggered a legal challenge in federal court which quickly led to TAPPS reversing its decision and rescheduling the Friday night game to early Friday afternoon in time for the Beren team to play. The pumped Beren team handily won the game. Headlines raced across the planet trumpeting a victory for the Beren team, for religious accommodation, for sports and for great storylines. Read more ..
The Weapon’s Edge
|B-2 Bomber (credit: Gary Ell/USAF)|
When the Obama administration dispatched three B-2 bombers from a Missouri air base on March 19 last year to cross the ocean and reach Libya, it put roughly $9 billion worth of America’s most prized military assets into the air. The bat-shaped black bombers, finely machined to elude radar and equipped with bombs weighing a ton apiece, easily demolished dozens of concrete aircraft shelters near Libya’s northern coast.
The Air Force points to that successful mission, and thousands of others against insurgents in Afghanistan conducted by older B-1 bombers, while arguing that long-distance, pinpoint expressions of U.S. military power are best carried out by strategic bombers. As a result, the Air Force says, the country needs more and newer versions of them, at the cost of tens of billions of dollars.
Its claims over the last year have impressed Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who called the idea “critical” to national security in February budget testimony. They also charmed Congress, which in December slipped an extra hundred million dollars into the defense budget to speed the creation of a top-secret new “Long-Range Strike Bomber.” Only that bomber—among the dozens of major new weapons systems now in development—was honored with a specific endorsement in the Pentagon’s new strategic review, released on January 5. Read more ..
The Future's Edge
|Michael Bernstein||March 26th 2012|
Just as aspiring authors often read hundreds of books before starting their own, scientists are using decades of knowledge garnered from sequencing or "reading" the genetic codes of thousands of living things to now start writing new volumes in the library of life. J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., one of the most renowned of those scientists, described the construction of the first synthetic cell and many new applications of this work today at the 243rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world's largest scientific society, which is underway this week.
In a plenary talk titled, "From Reading to Writing the Genetic Code," Venter described a fundamental shift in his field of genomics, and its promise for producing synthetic life that could help provide 21st century society with new fuels, medicines, food and nutritional products, supplies of clean water and other resources. Venter, a pioneer in the field, led the team at Celera Genomics that went head-to-head with the government-and-foundation-funded Human Genome Project in the race to decode the human genome. This quest, in which the 23,000 human genes were deciphered, ended with the teams declaring a tie and publishing simultaneous publications in 2001.
"Genomics is a rapidly evolving field and my teams have been leading the way from reading the genetic code — deciphering the sequences of genes in microbes, humans, plants and other organisms — to writing code and constructing synthetic cells for a variety of uses. We can now construct fully synthetic bacterial cells that have the potential to more efficiently and economically produce vaccines, pharmaceuticals, biofuels, food and other products."
The work Venter described at the ACS session falls within an ambitious new field known as synthetic biology, which draws heavily on chemistry, metabolic engineering, genomics and other traditional scientific disciplines. Synthetic biology emerged from genetic engineering, the now-routine practice of inserting one or two new genes into a crop plant or bacterium. Read more ..
The Future's Edge
|Rick Pantaleo||March 24th 2012|
|NASA/GM's Robonaut2 (credit: NASA)|
When we talk with someone, words aren’t the only thing that impact our listener. Other subtle factors—such as tone of voice, body language and eye contact—also have powerful communicative potential.
Bilge Mutlu, a computer scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, understands and appreciates the power of nonverbal communication.
The professor calls himself a human-computer interaction specialist. His work involves taking characteristics of human behavior and replicating them in robots or animatronic characters.
Mutlu is leading a team that’s developing and creating various computer algorithms based on how people communicate without words. These algorithms are then used to program devices, like robots, to look and act more human-like, helping to bridge the gap between man and machine.
A person’s gaze is one of the facets of nonverbal communication Mutlu has found to be especially interesting. “It turns out that gaze tells us all sorts of things about attention, about mental states, about roles in conversations,” he says.
For example, if you focus your gaze on a specific individual while talking to a group of people, it communicates that what’s being said is especially relevant to that individual. Research also shows when you finish saying something in a conversation and your gaze is directed to one particular person, that person is likely to take the next turn speaking in the discussion. These nonverbal cues tell people where our attention is focused and what we mean when we direct a question or comment in a conversation. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Michael Braun, David Asher, and Matthew Levitt||March 23rd 2012|
Given the growing confluence of drugs and terror, Washington needs to be more focused on Hizballah’s illicit activities, particularly in the Western Hemisphere. A long-established relationship with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Qods Force provides Hizballah, Iran’s trusted proxy group, opportunities to build operational capacity in the global illicit drug trade.
Hizballah entered the global narcotics trade approximately seven years ago by acquiring relatively small amounts of cocaine in 15kg–20kg quantities. Trafficking the drugs from the Tri-Border Area (Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina), across the Atlantic, and into locations like Europe, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, this initial investment produced hefty profits almost overnight. Today, Hizballah is moving tons of cocaine into West Africa, onward to North Africa, and eventually into European markets.
For decades, Hizballah has been a master at identifying and exploiting existing smuggling and organized crime infrastructure. Conservatively, the DEA has linked at least half of the U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations to the global drug trade. Hizballah’s illicit activity is directly linked to the group’s ability to build contacts and relationships globally. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Brian Nitz||March 23rd 2012|
A fleet of oil tankers is heading from Saudi Arabia to the US in order to drive down “unjustified” oil prices of $127 per barrel.
Saudi Arabia’s current capacity of 9.9 million barrels per day already exceeds self-imposed OPEC quotas. Saudi Petroleum minister Ali Naimi said production could go up another 25 percent to 12.5 million barrels per day, if necessary.
To put this into perspective, despite the fact that Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) oil reserve has been a cornerstone of U.S. political wrangling for decades, pumping at this rate would deplete ANWR in 21 months. Dumping oil, what does it mean? The phrase “oil dumping” can be used to describe illegal oil disposal or accidents such as BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster. But in the context of world trade, dumping has a special meaning. A commodity is dumped into a market, often below production cost, in order to suppress or squeeze out competition.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) generally frowns on dumping, but enforcement is inconsistent. U.S. officials are hypersensitive to the dumping of steel and aluminum but the U.S., E.U. and Japan protested when China stopped dumping rare earth metals. In an overlooked bit of ironic timing, the United States Department of Commerce imposed a 2.9% to 4.73% anti-dumping tariff on Chinese photovoltaic solar panels on March 20th, the same day Ali Naimi announced his plan to force oil prices lower. Read more ..
South Carolina on Edge
|Caitlin Ginley||March 23rd 2012|
|South Carolina State Capitol|
In response to South Carolina’s failing grade from the State Integrity Investigation, House Democrats there have proposed historic ethics reforms. South Carolina was ranked 45th out of 50 states, with a score of 57 percent. “It is time for South Carolina to get serious about ethics reform,” said Rep. Boyd Brown, (D-Winnsboro), in a press release that cited the investigation’s “scathing” assessment of South Carolina. “Corruption is plaguing our great state and it’s high time we do something about it. South Carolina is ripe for another ‘Operation Lost Trust’ and I refuse to stand idly by while that happens again.” Operation Lost Trust, a vote buying scandal that involved more than two dozen lobbyists and lawmakers, sparked a major ethics overall in South Carolina in the early 1990s, severely restricting gifts and campaign contributions from lobbyists.The new proposal includes term limits, a revamping of the State Ethics Commissions and a two-year ban on the revolving door between legislating and lobbying. Read more ..
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