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The Battle for Syria

Syrian Nightmare Worsens at 11,000 Refugees Flee in Single Day

November 9th 2012

Syrians by VOA photog Elizabeth Arrot

Dispatches from Mideast media and diplomatic sources indicate the Syrian crisis has escalated to a new level of carnage and human misery. The Daily Star of Lebanon reports: "Thousands of Syrians fled their country on Friday in one of the biggest refugee exoduses of the 20 month war after rebels seized a border town. Syria's fractious opposition was meeting in Qatar, under increasing pressure from the United States and Qatar to unite and form a credible body capable of ruling the country effectively if President Bashar al-Assad falls. The United Nations said 11,000 refugees had fled in 24 hours, most to Turkey. The exodus is testing the patience of Ankara, the most militarily capable of Syria's neighbours and a strong opponent of Assad. Ankara has long said a full-blown refugee emergency would demand robust intervention."

One town alone yielded thousands of residents pouring out of the Arab and Kurd town, in the northeastern oil-producing province of Hasaka, 600 km (375 miles) from Damascus.

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan hit out at world powers on the U.N. Security Council over their inaction. "It is very strange. There are currently atrocities being committed in Syria and these atrocities are being directed by a state leader," he said. "How far will this go? When will the permanent members of the Security Council take responsibility?" Read more ..


The Two Koreas

S. Korean Presidential Frontrunner Willing to Meet North's Leader

November 8th 2012

Park Geun-hye

South Korea holds a hotly-contested election December 19 to choose a successor to President Lee Myung-bak. He is limited to a single five-year term under South Korea's constitution. Park Geun-hye, the front-runner from the governing party,  spoke to correspondents in Seoul Thursday for the first time during her current run. Saying the situation on the Korean peninsula is in an unprecedented state of flux, Park is portraying herself as the best candidate to lead during this critical time. Addressing correspondents in Seoul, the Saenuri (New Frontier) Party presidential candidate noted tensions in Northeast Asia are on the rise, unlike in any previous period.

“If it helps in moving forward South-North relations, I am willing to meet with the new North Korean leader," Park said. "But, importantly, I will not seek a meeting just for the sake of having a meeting. Rather, such a summit must involve an honest dialogue on issues of mutual concern.” Read more ..


The Vote Aftermath

Obama's Election Victory and National Impasse

November 7th 2012

Obamas

The United States held elections last night, and nothing changed. Barack Obama remains president. The Democrats remain in control of the Senate with a non-filibuster-proof majority. The Republicans remain in control of the House of Representatives. The national political dynamic has resulted in an extended immobilization of the government. With the House -- a body where party discipline is the norm -- under Republican control, passing legislation will be difficult and require compromise. Since the Senate is in Democratic hands, the probability of it overriding any unilateral administrative actions is small. Nevertheless, Obama does not have enough congressional support for dramatic new initiatives, and getting appointments through the Senate that Republicans oppose will be difficult. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Can America Avoid another Election Debacle?

November 6th 2012

Vote Buttons

What if Hurricane Sandy had taken place one week later? What would happen if the elections were disrupted seriously in a number of states, to a point where polling places could not open and people could not travel to the polls?

The answer is, there is no answer.

There is no federal law or precedent for postponing a federal election, or having the outcomes in critical states based only on early voting or voting in portions of the states. The law does give some leeway to states to choose electors if that cannot be accomplished on Election Day — but just imagine letting a state legislature unilaterally determine the outcome of a presidential election.
When the New York primary elections slated for Sept. 11, 2001, were postponed, that was a decision affecting local, not federal, elections, and it was a decision made by executive order.

Imagine if we had Election Day under the immediate cloud of a massive hurricane and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) decided to use his executive power to shut down voting in Democratic-dominated Philadelphia but allowed voting go ahead in Republican-heavy western Pennsylvania. Or imagine Corbett canceling the vote in the state and letting the Republican legislature choose electors, when the state’s voters would likely have gone for the Democratic candidate. Or imagine if it were left to President Barack Obama to postpone the presidential contest in which his fate was at stake. Or imagine if the Supreme Court were called in to review whether an action of this sort by the president was legitimate.

Read more ..

America After Sandy

Sandy Victims in Staten Island Get Help from Near and Far

November 6th 2012

Staten Island community

One of the places hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy last week was the New York City borough of Staten Island, where hundreds of homes were devastated when sea water flowed into low-lying neighborhoods near the shoreline.  But help is flowing in from near and far. Along Staten Island's oceanfront, for several blocks in from the shoreline there are piles of trash mounting in front of homes and businesses devastated by flood waters.

Workers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as FEMA, are providing displaced people with temporary shelter and explaining procedures for filing claims. State and local officials are also providing assistance. Government help is arriving, but many victims are being aided by neighbors, friends, and family.

Read more ..

The Iran Threat

Obama Adviser Valerie Jarrett is Reported to Lead Secret Talks With Iran

November 5th 2012

Iranian clerics

Just weeks after the New York Times reported that the United States and Iran had agreed to one-on-one nuclear talks, and the Obama Administrations’ subsequent denial, Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot reported today that “senior officials in Jerusalem know of secret negotiations taking place between the sides for several months,” and that the talks were initiated by, and are headed by, senior adviser to President Barack Obama, Valerie Jarrett, who was born in Iran.

“According to senior sources in Israel,” writes the paper, “the attorney from Chicago serves as the American president’s personal envoy for contacts with representatives of the spiritual leader Khamenei.” Whilst striving to minimize the communication, the White House did subsequently acknowledge that talks were talking place through a secret channel, stressing however that no meetings were arranged between the sides. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Electoral Moment is Upon the Nation

November 5th 2012

Vote Buttons

President Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney will spend their final day before the election stumping in battleground states crucial to each campaign’s electoral hopes. Obama will focus on shoring up his Midwestern firewall of Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin, while Romney will swing through Florida, Virginia and Ohio before finishing his day in New Hampshire. The two will wrap up weeks of exhaustive barnstorming in what is a razor’s edge election, with polls Sunday showing the candidates in a dead heat nationally and within striking distance of each other in multiple swing-states.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed Obama with a one-point edge at 48-47, while an ABC News/Washington Post poll also put the president up one at 49-48. Conservative-leaning Rasmussen showed Obama and Romney tied, with 49 each. Romney’s stops in Florida and Virginia on Monday come just weeks after his campaign confidently predicted the states were sure locks for him. But polls in both states now show tight races in contests that are must-wins for the GOP nominee — but alone aren’t enough for him to win the Electoral College. Read more ..


America After Sandy

Fuel Shortage, Cold Weather Hamper US East Coast Recovery

November 4th 2012

Storm Route bus

The New York Marathon was called off late Friday by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  But there are severe fuel shortages and cold temperatures hampering recovery from Superstorm Sandy that hit the northeastern United States last week.

Two-and-one-half-million homes lack electricity, and people are running out of gasoline to run their cars and home generators.  Lines at many gas stations are as long as two kilometers.

Marijane Funess of Pelham, New York says lack of gas is a problem. “Now, though, the worry is gas.  And it seems so...  it is such a primitive thing to be worried about l know, because we take it for granted that there will always be gas,” said Funess. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says gasoline is on its way.  And, the New York City subway system, the largest in the world, is 80 percent operational. Read more ..


The Edge of the Universe

Universe's Earliest Stars Detected

November 4th 2012

protoplanetary disk

The most-distant, super-luminous supernovae found to date have been observed by an international team, including Raymond Carlberg of the University of Toronto's Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics. The stellar explosions would have occurred at a time when the universe was much younger and probably soon after the Big Bang.

"The objects are both unusually bright and unusually slow to fade. These are properties that are consistent with what is known as pair-instability supernova, a rare mechanism for explosion which is expected to happen for high-mass stars with almost no metal content. That is, the very first stars to form," said Carlberg.

The two supernovae, identified as SN2213 and SN1000+2016, were discovered in image data obtained via the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Legacy Survey. In recent years, various surveys have enabled astronomers to open new windows on the universe, including the discovery over the past decade of super-luminous supernovae that are tens to hundreds of times more luminous than regular supernovae. "The Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Legacy Survey stands out as the first really deep survey of the sky, covering large volumes of the universe," said Carlberg, a Canadian leader of the Survey. Read more ..


America After Sandy

New Jersey Struggles to Recover from Hurricane Sandy

November 4th 2012

Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy slammed the coast of New Jersey four days ago, damaging an area popular with residents of nearby urban centers like New York and Philadelphia as well as with people from the Garden State. But the effort to clean up and recover in Atlantic City, New Jersey is already well underway.

Contractors are clearing sand and debris from this street near the beach in the shoreline community of Ocean City, New Jersey.   Some houses right up against the beach have had sand driven through the lower floors by giant waves, while others have only suffered minor flooding. 

It was sand, formed into high dunes, that saved many New Jersey homes from the devastation seen elsewhere along the coast.  But the dunes also took a beating from Hurricane Sandy, so restoring them is one more challenge facing this community. Thousands of people who left the area during the storm have returned in recent days, enduring long traffic jams.  Among those who rode out the storm here is Sha-Ree Lloyd, an avid beach runner. "It wasn't as bad as everybody thought it would be, and I am grateful for that, but it could have been a lot worse," said Lloyd. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Why Americans of Mideast Descent Have Shifted to Romney

November 3rd 2012

Mitt Romney

When Senator Barack Obama ran for office in 2008, most Americans of Arabic and Middle Eastern origin supported him. Mobilized as were many Americans for “change” on the one hand, these communities were also submitted to an impressive campaign by Islamist-leaning organizations and supporters of Arab regimes, on the other hand, all opposed to the incumbent’s foreign policy then. They used President Bush’s endorsement of Arizona Senate Republican John McCain to frame Obama’s opponent as anti-Arab and border Islamophobe. To them, Obama was squaring off with a candidate who supported the so-called “Bush wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, many young people of Iranian and Arab descent viewed Barack Obama as a breaker of US political taboos. “If an African-American can become a President” they thought, “so can we.” The sky was the limit. McCain, however, received the support of most Lebanese-Americans who had watched their mother country fall into the hands of Hezbollah that same year. Lebanon notwithstanding, most in the global Arab and Middle Eastern community supported Obama. Four years later, the political landscape has changed dramatically among Arab and Mideast groups. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Obamacare Plagued by Conflict of Interest Charges

November 3rd 2012

medicine and money

The Obama administration is relying heavily on outside contractors to implement a core component of healthcare reform as it races to set up a federal health insurance marketplace before 2014. The fast-approaching deadline gives the administration little time to scrutinize private-sector partners for conflicts of interest.

The purchase of one of these contractors, Quality Software Services, Inc. (QSSI), by UnitedHealth Group, a major healthcare conglomerate, has sparked concerns about a potentially uneven playing field.
QSSI, a Maryland-based contractor, in January won a large contract to build a federal data services hub to help run the complex federal health insurance exchange. It will be working with several other contractors, including CGI Federal, Inc., to create the technological architecture for the exchange.

The quiet nature of the transaction, which was not disclosed to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), has fueled suspicion among industry insiders that UnitedHealth Group may be gaining an advantage for its subsidiary, UnitedHealthcare. UnitedHealth Group’s acquisition has caught the attention of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee. He has expressed alarm over what he calls a lack of transparency in setting up a national insurance marketplace covering more than 30 states. He asked Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in an Oct. 19 letter for a full account of contractors hired to set up the national exchange and a list of administration officials who signed off on those awards. Read more ..


The Edge of the Universe

Solar System's Birth Record Revised

November 2nd 2012

Solar System Birth

THE SOLAR SYSTEM Some 4.567 billion years ago, our solar system’s planets spawned from an expansive disc of gas and dust rotating around the sun. While similar processes are witnessed in younger solar systems throughout the Milky Way, the formative stages of our own solar system were believed to have taken twice as long to occur. Now, new research lead by the Centre for Star and Planet Formation at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, suggests otherwise. Indeed, our solar system is not quite as special as once believed.

Using improved methods of analysis of uranium and lead isotopes, the current study of primitive meteorites has enabled researchers to date the formation of two very different types of materials, so-called calcium-aluminum-rich inclusions (or CAI’s for short) and chondrules, found within the same meteorite. By doing so, the chronology and therefore overall understanding of our solar system’s development has been altered. The study has just been published in the renowned scientific journal, Science. Read more ..


Obama and Benghazi

Issa Accuses the Obama administration of Hiding Information on Benghazi

November 2nd 2012

Libyan rioters at US consulate Sep 2012 #2

The chairman of the House oversight panel sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a scathing letter on Thursday accusing the administration of hiding information pointing to Libyan authorities' possible involvement in the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

The letter comes after Foreign Policy reported earlier in the day that reporters in Benghazi had found evidence that a Benghazi police officer appeared to have photographed the inside of the mission on the morning of the attack. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died when Islamist militants attacked the mission that night. “These documents paint a disturbing picture indicating that elements of the Libyan government might have been complicit in the September 11, 2012 attack on the compound and the murder of four Americans,” wrote Issa and the chairman of his committee's national security subpanel, Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). “It also reiterates the fact that the U.S. government may have had evidence indicating that the attack was not a spontaneous event but rather a preplanned terrorist attack that included prior surveillance of the compound as a target. Read more ..


Jewry on Edge

Greek Jews Mobilize to Defend Themselves Against Rise of Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party

November 2nd 2012

Click to select Image

Antisemitism has been on the rise in Europe since the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000, but for the Jewish community in Greece, it has now reached the point where what was once unthinkable is now reality: A neo-Nazi political party has won real political power.

The Golden Dawn, which preaches that Greeks are racially superior to others; foments violence against minorities, immigrants, and homosexuals; and openly denies the Holocaust won 18 seats in parliament in the last elections, and is now poised to become the third-largest party in the country. This is a stunning and terrifyingly meteoric rise for what was just a few years ago a fringe movement universally despised by the Greek political establishment. Like the Nazi party, Golden Dawn has exploited economic and political instability in order to achieve political power, and one of its most potent weapons is antisemitism. Read more ..


The Cyber Edge

American Banks are Under Cyber Attack

November 1st 2012

JP Morgan Chase

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Wednesday warned that some of the largest U.S. financial institutions "are actively under attack" from cyber hackers. While Napolitano sounded the alarm about the attacks at a cybersecurity event hosted by The Washington Post, she declined to provide any details about them.

"Right now, financial institutions are actively under attack. We know that. I'm not giving you any classified information," she said. "I will say this has involved some of our nation's largest institutions. We've also had our stock exchanges attacked over the last [few] years, so we know ... there are vulnerabilities. We're working with them on that."

When asked by Post editor Mary Jordan about whether hackers are stealing information or money from banks, Napolitano answered "yes" and then quickly added, "I really don't want to go into that per se."

"All I want to say is that there are active matters going on with financial institutions," she said. 

The public websites of Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and others were hit by a series of denial of service attacks this fall, which made their sites inaccessible to customers. A denial of service attack inundates a Web server with large numbers of page requests until the site fails to load. It does not let the hackers siphon sensitive information from its victim.

After Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the East Coast, Napolitano said people should look than no further than the damage caused by the massive storm to understand the need to boost the nation's cybersecurity protections. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Physicists Confirm First Planet Discovered in a Quadruple Star System

October 31st 2012

Exoplanet candidate UCF-1.01

Justin Crepp, assistant professor of physics at the University of Notre Dame, provided the high-contrast imaging observations that confirmed the first extrasolar planet discovered in a quadruple star system. He is a coauthor on a paper about the discovery, "Planet Hunters: A Transiting Circumbinary Planet in a Quadruple Star System," recently posted to the open-access arXiv.org, and submitted for publication to the Astrophysical Journal.

Crepp's images revealed that the system involved two sets of binary stars. The planet was first noticed by volunteer citizen scientists studying publicly available Kepler data as part of the Planet Hunters citizen science project. Crepp says human observers sometimes are more likely than computer algorithms to recognize planets orbiting binary stars because the complex systems do not produce periodic fluctuations like planets orbiting a single star. Read more ..


America After Sandy

New York, New Jersey Begin Recovery After 'Sandy'

October 31st 2012

Hurricane Sandy New York

President Barack Obama promised help for storm victims on the East Coast of the United States assistance ahead of a visit to New Jersey on Wednesday. New Jersey beach communities were among the hardest hit by super storm Sandy - which killed at least 43 people - as she came ashore Monday night. New York City was also dealing with continued power outages and mass transit stoppages, but is slowly trying to restart business in the country's financial capital.

Wednesday morning the New York Stock Exchange is due to reopen. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the trading floor did not sustain any damage and is fully operational.

The city is also working to get its mass transit system back on track. Some 8.5 million people use public transport daily. As of Tuesday evening, limited bus service was beginning in the five boroughs, but subway service remained halted, because flooded tunnels still need to be pumped of millions of gallons of water. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Why Iran Wants to Attack the United States

October 31st 2012

Iranian Women

An Iranian-American used car salesman pleaded guilty this month to conspiring with Iranian agents to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States. Mansour Arbabsiar's guilty plea would appear to be the end of this story, but in truth it raises more questions than it answers.

The facts were never really in dispute. U.S. officials learned of the plot early on and built an airtight case. The assassin Arbabsiar tried to hire was in fact a DEA informant. Once arrested, Arbabsiar confessed. At the direction of law enforcement, he then called his cousin and Quds Force handler, Gholam Shakuri. With agents listening, Shakuri insisted Arbabsiar go ahead with the plot. "Just do it quickly. It's late."

But why was the Quds Force, which had earned a reputation for operational prowess even among its enemies, so eager to move forward with an obviously flawed operation? Arbabsiar appears to have been a weak character who "wants to be important," as a government-retained psychiatrist determined. He was drawn into the plot by his cousin, a general in the Quds Force, the arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps responsible for external operations. So the real question is: What was the Quds Force thinking?

Read more ..

America After Sandy

American East Awakes to Devastation as Obama Declares Major Disasters

October 30th 2012

Click to select Image

Emergency officials along the U.S. east coast are assessing damage from the massive storm named Sandy, which is now blamed for at least 28 U.S. deaths. President Barack Obama has declared "major disasters" in the northeastern states of New York and New Jersey, where the storm has flooded low-lying areas, damaged structures and caused widespread power outages. Tuesday's declarations free up federal disaster funds to help with disaster relief efforts.  During a Tuesday conference at the White House, the president also pledged to deliver additional resources to hard-hit areas. The storm moved ashore late Monday south of New York with hurricane-strength winds.  It weakened as it moved inland. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Hurricane Sandy Throws The Presidential Campaigns Off Course

October 30th 2012

Hurricane Sandy Lashes Ocean City

Hurricane Sandy has left more than 7.5 million people without power on the East Coast and thrown both presidential candidates off their schedule from a week from Election Day. New York and New Jersey bore the brunt of the powerful storm, which knocked out power and could leave New York City’s subway system stalled for a week.

The storm is a challenge for President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney, who were forced off the campaign trail at a critical moment in their tightening race. Sandy presented particular problems for Romney, who has had momentum in the fight for the White House. While Obama traveled to Washington to direct federal relief operations, Romney announced he and running mate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would participate in “storm relief” events.

Read more ..

America on Edge

Cell Phone Carriers Prepare for Mass Outages as Hurricane Sandy Makes Landfall

October 29th 2012

I-phone

Wireless carriers say they're taking precautionary steps to prevent and quickly respond to potential phone and Internet service outages from Hurricane Sandy.

U.S. officials have warned about the potential damage Sandy could wreak across the northeast. Even after the derecho thunderstorm this summer disabled some mobile and landline phone services in the Mid-Atlantic, the carriers say they're prepared for Sandy. Verizon has national and regional command centers tracking the storm's progress and effect on its operations, the company said in a statement. The wireless company is bringing in additional equipment, such as fiber-optic and copper cable and portable cell sites, to areas that are expected to be hit hard by the storm so cell service stays up and running.

Verizon said it's also coordinating with state and local agencies, as well as the public safety community, on its response efforts. “We live and work in the towns and cities in the storm’s path, and we are dedicated to keeping our friends, families and neighbors connected in times like these," Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead said in a company statement. "We prepare for situations like this year-round, and pride ourselves in our ability to be there for our customers when they count on us most.” Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Tight Polls and Monster Storm Inject Unpredictability into Election

October 29th 2012

Vote Buttons

Tight polls in a number of battleground states and a monumental storm that could hamper get-out-the-vote efforts have shuffled an already unpredictable presidential race, with eight days remaining before Election Day. Hurricane Sandy is poised to be this year’s October surprise, forcing both President Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney to rearrange their campaign schedules, cancelling events in important states, with little time left before the election.

Those lost opportunities for the presidential contenders to rally supporters and sway undecided voters in key states could be crucial. Both candidates scrapped events in battleground Virginia over the weekend to allow local authorities to focus on storm preparations. The Obama campaign also canceled the president's visit to Orlando, Fla. on Monday morning so that he could fly back to Washington to oversee the response to the hurricane.

Obama's campaign previously had cancelled his events in Ohio and Virginia on Monday and his trip to Colorado on Tuesday as well as the first lady's trip to New Hampshire that day.  Read more ..


China Rising

China’s Escalates its Economic Role in Latin America

October 28th 2012

China-Latin America leaders

There is much talk of China’s escalating economic influence in Latin America. But it’s worth looking at what has (and hasn’t) actually happened in the three main ways that China interacts with the region’s economies: trade, foreign direct investment (FDI), and loans (from state-owned banks).

Trade is the most visible and important connection. Over the last several years, goods flowing back and forth have increased some 30 percent per year, bringing today’s total to roughly US$250 billion. This trade leans in China’s favor, with a deficit (nearly all with Mexico) of nearly US$100 billion. While sizable numbers, this is still just a quarter of Latin America’s trade with the United States. And it appears to be leveling off, suggesting that China won’t overtake the United States as the region’s primary trading partner anytime soon.

This trade is also quite concentrated. Exports to China come primarily from Brazil, Chile, Peru, and Argentina, and are mainly raw materials (copper, iron ore, lead, tin, soya, and sugar). Of the goods China sends east nearly half go to Mexico—a mix of consumer goods and capital goods (equipment for production). Trade with China has expanded dramatically over the past decade. But it is worth remembering that it both started from a low base and is unevenly distributed—affecting a few countries significantly and others very little. Read more ..


Myanmar on Edge

UN Says 22,000 Displaced in Burma Fighting

October 28th 2012

Ethnic strife

The top U.N. official in Burma says 22,000 people have been displaced in a week of sectarian fighting between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Burma's Rakhine state. The U.N. chief in Rangoon, Ashok Nigam, said Sunday that getting aid to those who fled their homes will be a challenge, because some fled on boats and others have sought refuge on isolated hilltops. The Burmese government said Saturday that the fighting has left more than 2,800 houses burned down and 67 people dead in the past week.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement Saturday that it fears the death toll is far higher, based on the accounts of witnesses fleeing the fighting, which it says has disproportionately targeted Muslims. On Thursday, the U.N. released a statement calling on Burmese authorities to bring lawlessness and vigilante attacks under control and to put a stop to threats and extremist rhetoric. Read more ..


Oil Addcition

Iraqi Oil Could Reshape Global Energy

October 27th 2012

Saudi Oil

The International Energy Agency has reconfirmed what Washington has long suspected: Iraq has the potential to reshape the global energy landscape in the years ahead, thanks to its huge untapped oil reserves.  But whether Baghdad can capitalize on this opportunity is far from clear. The stakes are high—both for the global economy and the country’s future.

Despite decades of turmoil and bloodshed, Iraq is already one of the world’s major oil suppliers. The roughly 3 million barrels a day it pumps make it the world’s third-largest exporter. Consider that Iran, hobbled by Western sanctions, is only producing half as much oil today as Iraq, whose wells are putting out more than twice what they did in 2003, the year of the Iraq War.

Yet by the 2030s, according to the IEA, Iraq may double its current output, leapfrogging energy-powerhouse Russia as the second-largest oil exporter in the world. This is hardly a far-fetched forecast. The country’s proven oil reserves are the fifth largest in the world, its proven gas reserves the thirteenth largest. Its actual rank is likely far higher. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Looking Hard at The Electoral College

October 27th 2012

Vote Buttons

President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are among the politicians whose past criticisms of the Electoral College system would draw new scrutiny if there is a split verdict in this year’s presidential election. National and swing state polls suggest it’s possible Republican Mitt Romney could win this year’s popular vote while Obama triumphs in the Electoral College — potentially marking the second time the rare split in outcomes has occurred in the last 12 years.

The last time it happened was in 2000, when Democratic candidate Al Gore won the popular vote but lost where it mattered. George W. Bush won Florida’s disputed recount, propelling him to 271 electoral votes — one more than he needed to take the White House. The outcome triggered an intense — if shortlived — debate over reforming the Electoral College. Today, lawmakers in Washington are no closer to agreeing on whether to change the rules of how someone wins the presidency. Read more ..


The Arab Winter of Rage

CIA Was Denied Military Backup in Benghazi

October 26th 2012

libya-consulate

On Friday, sources in Benghazi during the attack on the U.S. consulate said that Central Intelligence Agency operatives twice asked for permission to help Ambassador Chris Stevens and his staff, and twice were told to 'stand down' -- while a later request for military backup was denied, according to a Fox News Channel alert by Megyn Kelly.

But, during a U.S. Defense Department press conference on Wednesday, when reporters asked about the U.S. failure to respond to a terrorist attack on a U.S. Consulate in Libya, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta made short shrift of the confusing -- some say deliberately misleading -- White House statements over the last several weeks.

Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, were viciously attacked and murdered during an attack that occurred on Sept. 11, 2012, and began at 10 p.m., Libyan time, at the consulate, which attackers set afire, and spread to the nearby annex during the course of six or more hours. Read more ..


Israel's Looming Attack

Western Diplomats: Iran has Finished Installing Centrifuges at Fordow Plant

October 26th 2012

Iran centrifuges

According to Western diplomats Iran has nearly finished installing centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. The underground plant was disclosed by the country in 2009 only after Western spy agencies discovered it.

A report in Reuters states that “the diplomats said they had heard of indications that Iran had put in place the last 640 or so uranium centrifuges of a planned total of some 2,800 at the site, but had not started running them yet.” “I understand that they have installed all the centrifuges there,” one envoy told Reuters.

Fordow is especially worrisome to the West because Iran is refining uranium there to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, which Iran says it needs for a medical reactor. However, twenty percent purity is only a short technical step from weapons grade. The West fears that this refinement, for peaceful purposes according to Iran, is in fact a cover for developing nuclear weapons—or the capability of developing them quickly if it decides to. Read more ..


The Arab Winter of Rage

Benghazi Attack Organization Ansar Al-Sharia Controls Seats in Egypt's New Parliament

October 25th 2012

Libyan rioters at US consulate Sep 2012 #2

With the release on Wednesday of emails connected to the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, more and more Americans are learning about a radical Islamist group named Ansar Al-Sharia. What is not widely known, according to a knowledgeable source, is that the Egyptian-based Salifists, who won a considerable number of seats in the new Egyptian legislature, changed their name to Ansar Al-Sharia. The upheaval in the Arab world and the political changes in several Muslim nations have given extremists an opportunity to change the names of their terror organizations. That includes the Salafist movement, according to an Israeli National Police source on Monday night via telephone.

Until recently, the Salafi-Jihadi movement operated in Arab nations as an underground group. However, the rise of Islamist governments in some Arab countries has enabled it to come out into the open. As part of this movement's makeover, several Salafist groups have adopted the name "Ansar Al-Sharia" ("Supporters of the Sharia"), or other similar names. Such re-branding helps to unify the separate groups into a single movement dedicated to spreading the message and promoting the goals of the Salafi-jihadi philosophy. Read more ..


The Arab Winter of Rage

Sudan Vows Retribution for Alleged Attack by Israel

October 24th 2012

Israeli Jet Dive Bombing

The minister of information for Sudan’s Islamist government accused Israel of attacking an arms factory in the East African nation’s capital, Khartoum. According to Information Minister Ahmed Belal Osman, "Four military planes attacked the Yarmouk plant ... We believe that Israel is behind it," adding that "the planes had appeared to approach the site from the east." Various news sources, including Al Jazeera and Reuters have reported on the October 24 incident that has been attributed to Israel. Osman also told reporters, "Sudan reserves the right to strike back at Israel," for the deaths of two Sudanese citizens and the partial destruction of the arms factory.

"We are now certain that this flagrant attack was authorized by the same state of Israel. The main purpose is to frustrate our military capabilities and stop any development there and ultimately weaken our national sovereignty," Osman said. He said that his government will take up the issue with UN Security Council. According to a spokesman for Sudan’s military, the incident happened just past midnight. "Israel is a country of injustice that needs to be deterred," Vice President Ali Osman Taha, standing next to President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, told a mob of hundreds that gathered in Khartoum on October 24. "This attack only strengthens our resolve." Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

GOP Threatens Subpoenas in Probe of Obama Healthcare Law PR Campaigns

October 24th 2012

Obama in front of AMA

House Republicans on Wednesday threatened to subpoena the Obama administration over public-relations contracts to promote President Obama's healthcare law.

It's the third healthcare-related subpoena threat in two weeks. This one came from Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee, who said they haven't received a response to their inquiries about public-relations contracts.

The Health and Human Services Department (HHS) has signed at least 2 PR contracts to promote the president's landmark Affordable Care Act. HHS signed a $20-million deal to raise awareness of new coverage for preventive services, and a separate $3-million contract is focused on the federally run insurance exchange, which will begin operating in 2014. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Opposite Behaviors? Arctic Sea Ice Shrinks, Antarctic Grows

October 24th 2012

Glacier calving

The steady and dramatic decline in the sea ice cover of the Arctic Ocean over the last three decades has become a focus of media and public attention. At the opposite end of the Earth, however, something more complex is happening.

A new NASA study shows that from 1978 to 2010 the total extent of sea ice surrounding Antarctica in the Southern Ocean grew by roughly 6,600 square miles every year, an area larger than the state of Connecticut. And previous research by the same authors indicates that this rate of increase has recently accelerated, up from an average rate of almost 4,300 square miles per year from 1978 to 2006.

"There's been an overall increase in the sea ice cover in the Antarctic, which is the opposite of what is happening in the Arctic,” said lead author Claire Parkinson, a climate scientist with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "However, this growth rate is not nearly as large as the decrease in the Arctic.” Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Iran's Nuclear Timetable--How Long to a Bomb

October 24th 2012

Ahmadinejad at Iranian nuclear plant

Although both Washington and Tehran deny reports that they have agreed to bilateral nuclear negotiations, the rumors will prompt fresh debate about what concessions the United States can or should make.

International diplomacy concerning Iran's nuclear program centers on the regime's lack of compliance with agreements it has signed to ensure that peaceful nuclear work is not used as a cover for weapons development. Tehran denies that it has any nuclear military intentions, but it continues to obstruct International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) efforts to confirm this. The challenge for diplomacy is to break this logjam -- and quickly.

The main concern at the moment is Iran's uranium enrichment efforts, which are conducted using centrifuge technology acquired from Pakistan in the 1980s. The fear is that without resolution of uncertainties about Tehran's intentions, the regime will be able to amass enough high-enriched uranium to make at least one nuclear bomb within a matter of months. This is known as breakout. Unfortunately, much of the public debate about this potential scenario is hampered because Iran's current enrichment level -- which produces uranium with slightly less than 20 percent of the fissile isotope U-235 -- sounds a long way from the 90 percent needed for a bomb. This is not the case. Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu tried to explain why in the drawing he displayed during his September UN address, but largely failed. Read more ..


The New Tunisia

Tunisia One Year After the Vote

October 24th 2012

Tunisians Vote

To be fair, the constitution drafting process is ongoing, with a draft of the constitution released in August. Nonetheless, the assembly is far from consensus on several profound issues related to governance and identity. These include the role of the judiciary, the structure of the government (a parliamentary versus a presidential system), the language that defines women’s rights, and protections of free speech and religion. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Does Generation X Know Our Place in the Galaxy?

October 23rd 2012

Jupiter

Less than half of Generation X adults can identify our home in the universe, a spiral galaxy, according to a University of Michigan report. "Knowing your cosmic address is not a necessary job skill, but it is an important part of human knowledge about our universe and—to some extent—about ourselves," said Jon D. Miller, author of "The Generation X Report" and director of the Longitudinal Study of American Youth at the U-M Institute for Social Research.

The study, funded by the National Science Foundation since 1986, now includes responses from approximately 4,000 adults ages 37-40—the core of Generation X. The latest report examines the scientific literacy of Gen Xers about their location in the universe. Miller provided Generation X participants in the study with high-quality image of a spiral galaxy taken by the Hubble space telescope, and asked them to identify the image, first in an open-ended response and then by selecting from multiple choices.

Forty-three percent of the Gen Xers surveyed were able to provide a correct answer that indicated that they recognized the object as a galaxy similar to our own. Miller found that 53 percent of males correctly identified the image, compared with just 32 percent of females, and that the proportion who identified the image correctly rose steadily with education, from 21 percent who had less than a high school education to 63 percent of those with doctorates or professional degrees. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Romney Chides Obama: "We Can't Kill our Way out of this Mess' in the Middle East

October 23rd 2012

Romney

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney opened Monday night's debate by calling for a measured U.S. policy in the Middle East. “We can't kill our way out of this mess,” Romney said. “We don't want another Iraq, we don't want another Afghanistan.”

Romney also ruled out military action in Syria including no-fly zones prompting President Obama to say the Republican candidate would do the same things he has. “And that's because we're doing exactly what we should be doing.”

The comments highlighted the relative similarities between Obama’s and Romney’s policies with those countries, while distinguishing Romney from the previous Republican administration of George W. Bush, who sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Issa Defends Release of Libya Diplomatic Cables

October 22nd 2012

Darrell Issa

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on Sunday pushed back against criticism that his release of diplomatic cables had endangered the lives of Libyans, accusing the administration of “falsely politicizing the issue.”

In particular, Issa disputed claims from an administration official that a human-rights activist identified in the cables was in danger in Libya, claiming that a past visit to the U.S. by the activist had already been publicly documented.

“The Libyan-rights activist who was highlighted by the Obama administration in news accounts as having not been ‘publicly associated with the U.S.’ until the Oversight Committee released documents had actually been brought to the U.S. in December 2011 by the State Department and her trip is highlighted on the Internet,” said Issa in the statement, released late Sunday night.
“President Obama should be ashamed of yet another example where his administration has been caught trying to mislead the American people about what happened in Libya,” he continued. Read more ..


Lebanon on Edge

Beirut Burning As Sectarian Clashes Break Out

October 22nd 2012

Lebanon agitatioin

Beirut exploded into violence on Sunday following a public funeral for the country's intelligence chief, whose murder has been widely blamed on Syria and its proxy militia Hezbollah.

Wissam al-Hassan was killed in a massive explosion on Friday that also killed eight others. He is believed to have been targeted because he helped finger Syria and Hezbollah as responsible for the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, who also opposed Syria and Hezbollah.

Current Prime Minister Najib Mikati heads a government dominated by Hezbollah, which many see as little more than a Syria-controlled puppet government. Following al-Hassan's funeral, thousands of protesters advanced on Mikati's offices, demanding the government resign and justice be done on al-Hassan's murderers. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Putin Gets Tough on Nationalists and Immigrants

October 21st 2012

Putin Gesticulates

On the eve of Russia's presidential election, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has criticized nationalist attempts to stir up ethnic discord while and the same time called for tougher immigration laws. In a lengthy article published in the daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and reprinted on his official campaign website, Putin put forth a vision of a multiethnic and multiconfessional Russia and decried nationalists for promoting a vision of the country as a “national” and “mono-ethnic” state. He also dismissed a nationalist opposition slogan championed by anticorruption crusader Aleksei Navalny, saying that “Stop Feeding the Caucasus” is as senseless as calls for the Kremlin to stop subsidizing Siberia or the Moscow Region. "We have lived together for centuries. We fought together in the worst war. And we will live together in the future. And those who want or are trying to divide us, I can say just one thing -- keep waiting," Putin wrote. Read more ..



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