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The 2012 Vote

Obama Hit from All Sides on Benghazi Attack

October 20th 2012

Obama Bowed Head

Republicans are hitting President Obama from all sides over his handling of the attack in Libya as he prepares to go head-to-head with Mitt Romney in Monday night’s foreign policy debate.

Bolstering the criticism of his Senate colleagues, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) took direct aim at the president in a sharply worded letter Friday demanding to know why the administration drew down the U.S. security presence in Libya amid a surge in violence.

“Americans … deserve a complete explanation about your administration's decision to accelerate a normalized presence in Libya at what now appears to be at the cost of endangering lives,” Issa wrote. “These critical foreign policy decisions are not made by low or mid-level career officials — they are typically made through a structured and well-reasoned process that includes the National Security Council at the White House.

“The ultimate responsibility rests with you as the President of the United States,” Issa wrote.

Meanwhile, Senate hawks John McCain (R-Ariz.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have flooded the TV airwaves to slam the administration's shifting account of the attack that killed four Americans at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Romney's foreign policy surrogate, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), is expected to carry the criticism forward during his three scheduled appearances on Sunday news shows.

And on Friday, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s seven Republicans — including Rubio — demanded to know who leaked information about possible retaliation for the Libya assault. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

Afghan Woman's Beheading Latest In Alarming Trend

October 20th 2012

Afgan Women in Burka

A disturbing spate of violent attacks against women has gripped western Afghanistan, where over a dozen women have been killed this year. In the latest incident, an 18-year-old identified only as Najibullah was arrested on October 13 in connection with the gruesome torture and beheading two days earlier of a woman in the western city of Herat, near the border with Iran.

Mahgul, a 25-year-old newlywed, was found dead outside her home by her family, who then carried her mutilated body to the local Department for Women's Affairs to raise awareness of her killing. Najibullah, who gave a confession in front of journalists and television cameras on October 15, said he was forced to carry out the act by his aunt, Mahgul's mother-in-law, Parigul. He said Parigul restrained Mahgul, while he took a sharp knife and beheaded her. Read more ..


Broken Borders

American Dream Becomes Nightmare as Immigrant Spouses are Barred for Years

October 19th 2012

Immigration Protest

In a nation built by immigrants, they thought they could pursue their American Dream — with loved ones at their side. Instead, they're living an American nightmare that's tearing families apart and forcing Americans into exile. Chris Xitco, a native of Los Angeles, never imagined that after marrying his wife Delia in 2002 and trying to legalize her, she'd end up barred by U.S. officials for life, with no pardon even possible for 10 years. She now lives south of Tijuana, Mexico, alone with the couple’s two small children. T.J. Barbour, a native of San Diego, has been struggling every day to care for a 10-year-old son, since his wife Maythe was deported and then barred from the United States in 2011 for what could be 20 years. In central North Carolina, Anita Mann Perez has been financially ruined trying to raise three small children since her husband Jorge was exiled for 10 years in 2007. Now she's moved to Mexico to join him.

Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Defining Al Qaeda and its Persistent Goals

October 18th 2012

al Qaeda Fighters
Al Qaeda's Abu Hamza

The Obama administration's efforts to counter the threat posed by al Qaeda and the wider jihadist movement have been a contentious topic in the U.S. presidential race. Political rhetoric abounds on both sides; administration officials claim that al Qaeda has been seriously crippled, while some critics of the administration allege that the group is stronger than ever. As with most political rhetoric, both claims bear elements of truth, but the truth depends largely on how al Qaeda and jihadism are defined. Unfortunately, politicians and the media tend to define al Qaeda loosely and incorrectly.

The jihadist threat will persist regardless of who is elected president, so understanding the actors involved is critical. But a true understanding of those actors requires taxonomical acuity. It seems worthwhile, then, to revisit Stratfor's definitions of al Qaeda and the wider jihadist movement. Read more ..


America and Israel

Massive Joint U.S./Israel Exercise to test Iron Dome and Missile Defenses

October 17th 2012

Israeli Jets Parked

A large joint U.S.-Israel air defense training exercise will commence on Sunday and is expected to last four weeks. The drill is expected to simulate a ballistic missile attack on Israel.

Both countries will test a wide-range of operational air-defense systems, as well as those still in their planning stages, including the Israeli "Arrow 2" and "Arrow 3" anti-ballistic missile systems; the American "Thaad" (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system to shoot down short, medium, and intermediate ballistic missiles) system; Israel's "Patriot" surface-to-air missile array; Israel's "Magic Wand" system (designed to intercept medium- to long-range rockets and slower-flying cruise missiles), and even Israel's "Iron Dome" system (designed to intercept and destroy short-range rockets and artillery shells), which has already proven its effectiveness in the Gaza arena. In addition, next week the Israel Defense Forces Homefront Command, in conjunction with the Homefront Defense Ministry, will also hold a training exercise to simulate a large-scale earthquake with thousands of casualties. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Clinton Takes Responsibility for Diplomatic Security

October 16th 2012

Libyan rioters at US consulate Sep 2012 #2

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is taking responsibility for a deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya last month, saying it is her job to be in charge of security for State Department employees working around the world. Clinton said in television interviews during a visit to Peru Monday that President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden would not know about specific decisions made by security personnel.  She also said circumstances surrounding attacks like the one on September 11 that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans are not always clear at the time.

The attack, and the Obama administration's response, have become an issue in the presidential campaign.  Republican candidate Mitt Romney has criticized Obama for not providing more security at the consulate in Benghazi. Clinton said Monday she did not want the attack to be part of a political "blame game." The Obama administration initially said the assault came after a protest against an anti-Islam film made in the United States, but now says it was a terrorist attack. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Hezbollah's Top Moneyman Defects To Israel

October 15th 2012

Hezbollah Nazi Salute

The chief financial officer of the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah has defected to Israel, the Arab media reported on Saturday.

According to Now Lebanon and Al-Arabiya, Hussein Fahs "has crossed to Israel carrying with him $5 million in embezzled money from the group. Fahs is also head of Hezbollah’s operational communications network." According to Al-Arabiya, Fahs was arrested in September by Iranian intelligence, which suspected him of embezzlement and spying for Israel. While not explicitly stated, Fahs's arrest appears to be his primary motivation for defecting.

According to "Hezbollah officials," money was not the only thing Fahs took with him. He was also in possession of "classified documents and maps." One must also assume that, as CFO of Hezbollah, he would also have been privy to an enormous amount of information about the inner workings of the group. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Solar Winds May be Source of Water Locked in Lunar Soils

October 15th 2012

Click to select Image

The most likely source of the water locked inside soils on the moon's surface is the constant stream of charged particles from the sun known as the solar wind, a University of Michigan researcher and his colleagues have concluded. Over the last five years, spacecraft observations and new lab measurements of Apollo lunar samples have overturned the long-held belief that the moon is bone-dry.

In 2009, NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing satellite, known as LCROSS, slammed into a permanently shadowed lunar crater and ejected a plume of material that was surprisingly rich in water ice. Water and related compounds have also been detected in the lunar regolith, the layer of fine powder and rock fragments that coats the lunar surface.

But the origin of lunar surface water has remained unclear. Is it mainly the result of impacts from water-bearing comets and other chunks of space debris, or could there be other sources? Theoretical models of lunar water stability dating to the late 1970s suggest that hydrogen ions (protons) from the solar wind can combine with oxygen on the moon's surface to form water and related compounds called hydroxyls, which consist of one atom of hydrogen and one of oxygen and are known as OH. Read more ..


China on Edge

China Central Bank Says Priority is Keeping Prices Stable

October 14th 2012

Bank of China

China's central bankers on Sunday allowed some public and direct insight into their thinking. A top official of the People's Bank of China delivered remarks to those who had been attending a joint meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Tokyo.

The deputy governor of the People's Bank of China, Yi Gang, says the priority for monetary authorities in Beijing is on stable prices and they want to pursue a sustainable path of economic development.

China's next stimulus package - focused on expanding the country's transportation infrastructure, will be an appropriate one, according to Yi. "When I say appropriate in terms of size that is large enough to stabilize the growth but not too large to cause some further negative impact or negative problem in the future." China's economy has slowed for the past six consecutive quarters. But it still has cash reserves estimated to be around 40 percent of its gross domestic product and with official foreign currency reserves around three-and-a-quarter trillion dollars. Read more ..


The Geologic Edge

Identifying the Trigger for Earth's Largest Volcanic Eruptions

October 13th 2012

Volcano

Scientists from the University of Southampton have identified a repeating trigger for the largest explosive volcanic eruptions on Earth.

The Las Cañadas volcanic caldera on Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, has generated at least eight major eruptions during the last 700,000 years. These catastrophic events have resulted in eruption columns of over 25km high and expelled widespread pyroclastic material over 130km. By comparison, even the smallest of these eruptions expelled over 25 times more material than the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland. By analysing crystal cumulate nodules (igneous rocks formed by the accumulation of crystals in magma) discovered in pyroclastic deposits of major eruptions, the scientists found that pre-eruptive mixing within the magma chamber – where older cooler magma mixed with younger hotter magma – appears to be the repeating trigger in large-scale eruptions. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Initiative to allow UN to Control, Tax, and Regulate the Internet Gains Momentum

October 13th 2012

Russian computer user

U.S. Ambassador Terry Kramer warned on Friday that a proposal to give a United Nations agency more control over the Internet is gaining momentum in other countries. Proposals to expand the U.N.'s International Telecommunications Union's (ITU) authority over the Internet could come up at a treaty conference in Dubai in December. European telecommunications companies are pushing a plan that would create new rules that would allow them to charge more to carry international traffic.

The proposal by the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association could force websites like Google, Facebook and Netflix to pay fees to network operators around the world.

Kramer said the idea of an international Internet fee is "gaining more interest in the African states and also in the Arab states." He said the United States delegation to the conference will have to redouble its efforts to convince other countries that the proposal would only stifle innovation and economic growth. "We support efforts to grow broadband markets—not just divvying a static pie of revenue between operators and governments," Kramer said in a speech in Washington hosted by the Telecommunications Industry Association. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Top Taliban Bomb Maker Captured in Afghanistan

October 12th 2012

Bomb explosion

A top Taliban bomb maker who specialized as an improvised explosive device (IED) producer in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province was captured by Afghan and coalition security forces on Wednesday night, according to U.S. military officials.

The arrested Taliban facilitator is accused of managing the production of an enormous number of IEDs, as well as acting as an organizer for the distribution of the IEDs and other weapons to support the terrorists and insurgents operating in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The captured Taliban bomb maker is suspected of being directly involved in organizing and executing IED placements that target Afghan and coalition forces. The American-led security force detained several suspected terrorists and also seized 2 pounds of illegal narcotics, according to officials. In other counterterrorism operations around Afghanistan on Wednesday, a security force in Paktika province arrested a Haqqani network member believed to be responsible for January and May suicide bombings in Paktika and to have direct ties to a recent suicide bombing in Khost province. The security force also detained two suspected insurgents and seized their cache of weapons. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

UN Paints Bleak Rights Picture In Iran

October 12th 2012

Iranian Women

The UN human rights expert on Iran has painted a bleak picture of rights abuses in the Islamic Republic. Ahmed Shaheed said human rights activists are beaten with batons, raped, deprived sleep and undergo mock hangings among other things. 

Shaheed said Iran has executed at least 223 people over the first half of 2012, most for drug-related offensives. Shaheed also condemned Iran's reliance on stoning as a form of punishment. 
Shaheed said Iran is now cracking down on Internet users, with 19 bloggers and Internet commentators now detained, with four of them sentenced to death in January after being accused of "enmity against God" and "corruption on earth." 

"Sakhi Righi" was sentenced to 20 years in prison for "publishing false information" and "committing acts against national security" in what is believed to be the harshest sentence yet to a blogger in the country. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Romney Gains Big in Swing State Polls After Debate Triumph

October 11th 2012

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney gaining in three key swing states one week after his strong debate performance, according to a new poll released late Wednesday. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls show Romney and President Obama in a statistical tie in Virginia and Florida with Obama holding a slight edge in Ohio, a third major battleground.

In Virginia, Romney now leads the president with 48-47 percent, a 3-point shift from the same poll released last week on the day of the debate. In Florida, Obama is holding on to his pre-debate, 1-point edge. Obama won 48 percent support in the new poll compared to 47 percent for Romney. In last week's poll, Obama had a 47-46 percent edge.

Among likely Ohio voters, Obama still leads Romney 51-45 percent, but the new figures show a 2-point bounce for the GOP challenger. Last week Romney trailed in the state 51-43 percent. The NBC/WSJ/Marist numbers are the latest in a slew of polls showing Romney enjoying a bounce post-debate, with a Gallup tracking survey of likely voters earlier this wek showing him leading nationally for the first time. A Pew Research poll also found Romney up nationally by four points. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Planet Made of Diamonds Discovered

October 11th 2012

Exoplanet candidate UCF-1.01

New research led by Yale University scientists suggests that a rocky planet twice Earth's size orbiting a nearby star is a diamond planet.

"This is our first glimpse of a rocky world with a fundamentally different chemistry from Earth," said lead researcher Nikku Madhusudhan, a Yale postdoctoral researcher in physics and astronomy. "The surface of this planet is likely covered in graphite and diamond rather than water and granite."

The planet — called 55 Cancri e — has a radius twice Earth's, and a mass eight times greater, making it a "super-Earth." It is one of five planets orbiting a sun-like star, 55 Cancri, that is located 40 light years from Earth yet visible to the naked eye in the constellation of Cancer. The planet orbits at hyper speed — its year lasts just 18 hours, in contrast to Earth's 365 days. It is also blazingly hot, with a temperature of about 3,900 degrees Fahrenheit, researchers said, a far cry from a habitable world. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

House Hearings on Benghazi Consulate Attack Reveals Ineptness and Waffling

October 10th 2012

Libyan rioters at US consulate Sep 2012 #1

A House Oversight and Government Reform Committee probe today into the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, is revealing an inept, uninformed and dishonest Obama administration and State Department.

Prior to the deadly terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Ambassador Chris Stevens' request for additional security officials was turned down by the Obama administration in order to project a friendly atmosphere to the distrusting Islamic population, a State Department security official in Washington, D.C., told a Congressional panel Wednesday.

"In the immediate aftermath of the attack, and then for several days, administration officials contended that the attack on the consulate was a spontaneous reaction to a crude anti-Islamic movie trailer posted to YouTube. The New York Times, Reuters, and Fox News have in the last few days published stories, based on what these news organizations said were reliable sources, that “within hours” of the attack, U.S. intelligence agencies submitted dozens of reports to high officials suggesting that an al Qaeda-affiliated Libyan militia was behind the attack," according to Homeland Security Newswire. Read more ..


North Korea's Nukes

North Korea Threatens Its Rockets can hit U.S. Mainland

October 10th 2012

North Korean Missile

The isolated North Korea regime has declared its rockets can hit the U.S. mainland. Reclusive North Korea has been enginering an ICBM missile with a range of more than 4,000 miles that can hit the American coastline. Two tests have failed, but development continues. North Korean rocket are capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.

"We do not hide (the fact) that the revolutionary armed forces ... including the strategic rocket forces are keeping within the scope of strike not only the bases of the puppet forces and the U.S. imperialist aggression forces' bases in the inviolable land of Korea [South Korea], but also Japan, Guam and the U.S. mainland," KCNA said.

In Washington, the State Department declined to comment. "Certainly rather than bragging about its missile capability, they ought to be feeding their own people," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, adding that "threats or provocations" by North Korea would only undermine its efforts to seek more engagement with the international community. Read more ..


Israel's Looming Strike

Is a Joint US-Israeli Strike Against Iran in the Offing

October 9th 2012

B-2 Bomber

In Mitt Romney's "Hope Is Not a Strategy" speech at the Virginia Military Institute, the Republican challenger zeroed in on the current unrest in the Middle East as a sign that President Barack Obama's foreign policy is not working. The most biting implication in the speech is the assertion that al Qaeda is resurgent -- in other words that killing Osama bin Laden, emotionally satisfying as it was, was not the game-changer in the region that the Obama administration has implied it was.

But of equal importance to the Republican critique of Obama is Romney's assessment that Obama's efforts to reverse Iran's course toward gaining nuclear weapons have been unsuccessful. In the hours before the speech was delivered, neoconservative Romney foreign-policy advisor Dan Senor suggested on MSNBC's Morning Joe that Obama effectively had to be dragged against his will toward tougher sanctions on Iran -- the same tough sanctions for which the administration is now regularly taking credit because they have started to work. Senor noted that both Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and former Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg pushed back against bipartisan congressional support for the sanctions out of concern that they would have unintended negative consequences for the U.S. and global economies. Read more ..


Inside Venezuela

Venezuela's President Chavez Re-elected--Aims for 20 Years in Office

October 8th 2012

Hugo Chavez infirm

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez emerged victorious Sunday from the presidential election. If he completes his six-year term, the South American leader will have held the reins of power in the oil-rich country for 20 years. President Chavez was not able to campaign as vigorously this year as he has in the past. He has been fighting cancer and that battle has left him weak and exhausted. The president has not given specific information about the cancer other than it was in the pelvic region and is currently in remission. Analysts have questioned whether the 58-year-old leader is strong enough to continue to preside over South America's largest oil exporting country and also find solutions for Venezuela's crumbling infrastructure and high murder rate.

The leftist leader has nationalized much of Venezuela's economy since he took power in 1999.  He says he wants to improve the life of the country's poor majority.  Critics say his policies are scaring off investors.  For many poor voters, his socialist vision is a fresh start after decades of governments that paid scant attention to their needs. Read more ..


China and the US

China's Expanding Economic Influence Within the Critical National Infrastructure of the United States

October 7th 2012

The East is Red

In June 2012, the People's Republic of China held approximately $1.1643 trillion in U.S. Government debt, which was up slightly from the $1.1640 trillion in debt during the previous month of May. However, Chinese ownership of U.S. Government debt hit an historical peak of $1.3149 trillion in July 2011. The slight decline in U.S. debt to China  is attributed to increased purchase of U.S. Government debt by Japan during the past twelve months.

The U.S. financial debt to China has only been one area of concern during the past several years. Events during the last six months for example, have given rise to new concerns regarding China's interest in expanding its economic influence in the United States. These concerns include the purchase by the Chinese National-owned Ralls Corporation and its interest in the Oregon wind farms it had purchased earlier this year, and its planned development and expansion of state-of-the-art telecommunications facilities within the U.S. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Turkey Retaliates as Syrian Refugees Stream over the Border

October 7th 2012

Syrian Rebels in Aleppo

Turkey launched retaliatory artillery fire at Syria for a fifth straight day on October 7 after another mortar round exploded in the Turkish village of Akcakale, in the southwestern region of the Anatolian country. Last week, five civilians were killed by a previous Syrian strike. According to Turkish TV reports, a mortar round landed very close to a public building. There were, however, no reports of casualties followed the attack.

A rebel flag flew over a Syrian government army outpost near the Turkish border province of Hatay on the same day after rebels seized the building. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels took control of the area near the Syrian town of Khirbat al-Joz on October 6 after a 12-hour battle. Syrian troops continued their offensive on to retake areas controlled by rebels in Aleppo, Homs, and towns in the periphery of Damascus, the Syrian capital. They were also seeking to bring the southern villages to heel on the border with Jordan. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Iranian Money Becomes Worthless

October 6th 2012

Iranian Rial Close-Up

The Iranian currency is in a free fall, the economy is in shambles, and Iranian citizens across the country are bearing the brunt. To get an idea of how average Iranians are coping with the currency crisis, we spoke to Hamid (not his real name), a student in his mid-20s who works in a computer shop near Tehran, and to Reza, a 20-something living in Iran's second city of Isfahan. Hamid says uncertainty, anxiety, and fear of the future have become part of the daily life of many middle-class Iranians and those from the lower strata of society.

"Life has become so difficult," he says with a sigh, lamenting that he and others are struggling to make ends meet. "We don't know what the future will bring. We actually don't even know how things will be in the next few hours," he says. "Our money has become worthless, affecting all aspects of life." Iranians feel the sting of the plunging rial when they go shopping. Prices of food staples and other goods, including imported medicines, have doubled or even tripled, in some cases. The price of home appliances and electronic devices has skyrocketed. Prices increase every day, Hamid complains. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Evolution Occurs Every Day Around Us

October 6th 2012

Jaguar

Take a good look around on your next nature hike. Not only are you experiencing the wonders of the outdoors – you're probably also witnessing evolution in action. New research from the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) on the effect of insects on plant populations has shown that evolution can happen more quickly than was previously assumed, even over a single generation.

"Scientists have long hypothesized that the interaction between plants and insects has led to much of the diversity we see among plants, including crops, but until now we had limited direct experimental evidence," says Marc Johnson, Assistant Professor in the UTM Department of Biology. "This research fills a fundamental gap in our understanding of how natural selection by insects causes evolutionary changes in plants as they adapt, and demonstrates how rapidly these changes can happen in nature." Read more ..


The Battle for Jordan

Jordan Bracing for Muslim Brotherhood Protests

October 5th 2012

Muslim Brotherhood Jordan

Tomorrow, a loose coalition of Jordan's Islamist and tribal opposition factions will hold a demonstration in downtown Amman to demand faster and deeper political and economic reform. The movement's leaders predict that 50,000 protestors will take part. Their "Inkath al-Watan ("Save the Homeland") march will be countered by an "initiative of gratitude" to the king, a pro-monarchy rally titled "Ihna Maak" ("We Are with You"). It is unclear whether the Friday demonstrations -- which promise to be the largest outpouring in the kingdom since the start of the region-wide Arab uprisings -- will lead to violence. The opposition turnout and the palace's handling of the protestors may provide some indication of Jordan's trajectory. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

The Specter of Turkish-Syrian War

October 4th 2012

Turkish Tanks

The Syrian regime grew markedly weaker this week, and will get weaker still as Turkey paves the way for action against Assad one strike at a time. On Wednesday Turkey shelled a military outpost across its border with Syria. The move was retaliation for Syrian mortar fire earlier that day that hit the Turkish border town of Akcakale, killing at least five civilians.

The shelling, which continued on Thursday, marks the first military action by a foreign state in Syria since the uprising against Bashar Assad began last spring. Assad's forces have hit several Turkish targets since the start of the Syrian conflict, in which Ankara has shown increasing support for the anti-regime rebels.

Unless Damascus reacts recklessly to this week's exchange, which doesn't appear likely, the two countries probably aren't headed for a full-scale war -- yet. Nevertheless, the escalation with Turkey only bodes ill for the Assad regime, which is as alienated abroad as it is weak at home. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Romney Scores Knock-Out in First Debate Completely Dominating Obama

October 4th 2012

Romney

Mitt Romney dominated the critical first presidential debate Wednesday night, landing punch after punch on a noticeably subdued President Obama. The GOP nominee came into the evening needing to shake up the narrative of the race, and he appeared to succeed. Throughout the 90-minute debate in Denver, the first showdown of the presidential contest, Romney aggressively questioned the president's record while defending his own economic priorities. Meanwhile, as Obama offered a safe defense of his record and policies, Romney often interrupted and seemed eager to engage. He spent the evening on the offensive and came off well-prepared for his encounter with Obama, who seemed hesitant and forced.

And while Romney hit his marks, Obama missed opportunities when he failed to mention two of his campaign’s most effective attacks against Romney — the GOP nominee's tenure at the private equity firm Bain Capital and the comments about the "47 percent" captured on video at a private fundraiser. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Shelling Strikes Turkish Town--Ankara Rushes Forces to Border

October 3rd 2012

Turkish Tanks
Turkish Tanks on the Move

Turkey says its armed forces have fired on targets inside Syria in retaliation for a Syrian mortar attack that killed five Turkish civilians in a Turkish border town. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's office said Turkish forces in the border region immediately shelled Syrian targets spotted by radar Wednesday, in response to what it called a "heinous" attack on the Turkish town of Akcakale. Official Turkish sources confirmed a mobilization of its forces at the border.

“Our armed forces at the border region responded to this atrocious attack with artillery fire on points in Syria that were detected with radar, in line with the rules of engagement,” the Turkish statement said. “Turkey, acting within the rules of engagement and international laws, will never leave unreciprocated such provocations by the Syrian regime against our national security,” it said. Turkey’s NTV television said Turkish radar had pinpointed the positions from which the shells were fired on Akcakale, and that those positions were hit. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

National Intelligence Fusion Centers Have Been Useless--Senate Report

October 3rd 2012

National Fusion center

An alarming report published by the Department of Homeland Security in March 2010 called attention to the theft of dozens of pounds of dangerous explosives from an airport storage bunker in Washington state. Like many such warnings, it drew on information gathered by one of the department’s “fusion centers” created to exchange data among state, local and federal officials, all at a cost to the federal government of hundreds of millions of dollars.

There was just one problem with that report, and many others like it: the theft had occurred seven months earlier, and it had been highlighted within five days in a press release by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which was seeking citizen assistance in tracking down the culprits. The DHS report’s tardiness and its duplication of work by others has been a commonplace failing of work performed by fusion centers nationwide, according to a new investigation of the DHS-funded centers by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

High-Arctic Heat Tops 1,800-Year High

October 2nd 2012

Glacier-Svalbard

Summers on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard are now warmer than at any other time in the last 1,800 years, including during medieval times when parts of the northern hemisphere were as hot as, or hotter, than today, according to a new study in the journal Geology.

“The Medieval Warm Period was not as uniformly warm as we once thought--we can start calling it the Medieval Period again,” said the study’s lead author, William D’Andrea, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “Our record indicates that recent summer temperatures on Svalbard are greater than even the warmest periods at that time.”

The naturally driven Medieval Warm Period, from about 950 to 1250, has been a favorite time for people who deny evidence that humans are heating the planet with industrial greenhouse gases. But the climate reconstruction from Svalbard casts new doubt on that era’s reach, and undercuts skeptics who argue that current warming is also natural. Since 1987, summers on Svalbard have been 2 degrees to 2.5 degrees C (3.6 to 4.5 degrees F) hotter than they were there during warmest parts of the Medieval Warm Period, the study found. Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

Kurdish Woes Brings Turkey Closer to the United States

October 1st 2012

Turk flags

Ankara is re-embracing its old allies in Washington at the expense of Tehran and Damascus.

The Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, has made a bloody comeback in Turkey. According to a recent report by the International Crisis Group, PKK-related violence has killed some 700 people since the summer of 2011. This deadly toll recalls the horrors of the 1990s, when thousands of civilians were killed in PKK terror attacks and a brutal war in eastern Turkey between the government and Kurdish militants.

The resurgence of PKK violence is no accident. It is directly related to Turkey's defiant posture in support of the Syrian uprising and against the Assad regime and its patrons in Iran. The upside for the West is that Ankara is starting to re-embrace its old friends in Washington. Read more ..


Israel's Looming Attack

Responding to an Israeli Strike on Iran's Nuclear Complex

September 29th 2012

Israeli Jets Parked

Although an Israeli military strike against Iran’s nuclear program is far from certain, the potential consequences for the United States are clear. Such a development would present major crisis-management challenges—and, perhaps, opportunities to advance U.S. interests.

The immediate challenge would be to limit escalation by constraining Tehran’s freedom to act, minimizing the damage caused by its retaliation, and keeping Hizballah and other Iranian proxies out of the fray. Moreover, by curbing Iran’s escalatory options in the Persian Gulf, Washington might prevent a prolonged spike in oil prices. This could in turn help preserve international support for efforts to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. To accomplish these objectives, Washington would need to take a number of steps both prior to and immediately after a strike. It must also be prepared to respond quickly to miscalculations—whether its own or those of friends and adversaries—as well as other unintended consequences that could complicate poststrike diplomacy. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Canada PM Sees Iran as “Clear and Present Danger”

September 28th 2012

Iran centrifuges

Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, said the government of Iran constitutes, “unambiguously, a clear and present danger and thus demands a very sober assessment.”

Speaking after receiving the World Statesman Award from Rabbi Arthur Schneier’s Appeal of Conscience Foundation, Prime Minister Harper said: “I speak not merely of its appalling record of human rights abuse, or its active assistance to the brutal regime in Syria, or its undeniable support of terrorist entities, or its determined pursuit of nuclear weapons, rather it is the combination of all these things with a truly malevolent ideology.”

“I believe that the appeal of our conscience requires us to speak out against what the Iranian regime stands for,” the Canadian Prime Minister said to nearly 1,000 black-tie guests at a dinner in his honor at the Waldorf-Astoria, in New York City. “It likewise requires us to speak in support of the country that its hatred most immediately threatens, The State of Israel.”

Introducing the prime minister, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, spoke of the UN Security Council, where “the five permanent members, for the past 10 years, have been discussing how Iran’s nuclear proliferation is unacceptable, and now it’s time to define what unacceptable behavior means.” Read more ..


The Edge of the Universe

Hubble Shows Earliest Galaxies, Closes in on Big Bang

September 28th 2012

Hubble XDF image, Sep 2012
Hubble XDF image (credit: NASA; ESA; G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and
P. Oesch (UC Santa Cruz); R. Bouwens (Leiden University); and
the HUDF09 Team)

NASA’s Hubble space telescope has captured the deepest view to date of the universe, a photograph showing galaxies going back almost to the beginning of time. Hubble’s latest view of the universe, called the eXtreme Deep Field (XDF), is a photograph combining 10 years of data and showing about 5,500 galaxies, the oldest of which is about 13.2 billion years old. The universe is estimated to be about 13.7 billion years old.

“The XDF is the deepest image of the sky ever obtained and reveals the faintest and most distant galaxies ever seen,” said Garth Illingworth of UC Santa Cruz, a scientist working on the project. “XDF allows us to explore further back in time than ever before.”

The XDF image is even more detailed than the original Hubble Ultra Deep Field image, thanks to the additional observations, and contains about 5500 galaxies, even within its smaller field of view. The faintest galaxies are one ten-billionth the brightness that the unaided human eye can see. Hubble repeatedly focused on a tiny patch of southern sky during the past decade, with a total exposure time of two million seconds. More than 2000 images of the same field were taken with Hubble’s two primary cameras, which were then combined to form the XDF. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Prime Minister Netanyahu Addresses United Nations General Assemply

September 27th 2012

Netanyhu-UN

Speaking at the General Assembly of the United Nations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resorted to graphics to indicate where Iran may reach by the middle of 2013 in its quest for nuclear weapons.

It’s a pleasure to see the General Assembly presided by the Ambassador from Israel, and it’s good to see all of you, distinguished delegates.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Three thousand years ago, King David reigned over the Jewish state in our eternal capital, Jerusalem. I say that to all those who proclaim that the Jewish state has no roots in our region and that it will soon disappear. Throughout our history, the Jewish people have overcome all the tyrants who have sought our destruction. It’s their ideologies that have been discarded by history. The people of Israel live on. We say in Hebrew, “Am Yisrael Chai,” and the Jewish state will live forever.

The Jewish people have lived in the land of Israel for thousands of years. Even after most of our people were exiled from it, Jews continued to live in the land of Israel throughout the ages. The masses of our people never gave up the dreamed of returning to our ancient homeland.

His full speech follows. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Inside Iran's Nuclear Warhead

September 27th 2012

Edwin Black

Since the last century, Iran has been methodically pursuing the in-house capability of developing a missile-delivered nuclear bomb. The regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is now closer than ever and probably in the latter stages of perfecting an atomic bomb with a multipoint detonation mechanism, compact enough to insert into a Shahab-3 missile nosecone.

For years, the Obama administration, Western governments, the United Nations, and the International Atomic Energy Administration (IAEA) have been fully aware of the specific details of Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, down to the blueprints and names of the engineers. Whether or not Iran will complete the last leg of its decades-long journey toward a deliverable atomic bomb is still unknown. The difference in viewing the cannon is whether you are staring down the muzzle or observing it through a telescope from a perch six thousand miles away. Israel is peering into the muzzle, hence its assessment is different than Washington’s.

Protracted multilateral negotiations, crippling international sanctions, and even elaborate programs of sabotage have delayed but not derailed the nearly autarkic program. Now the world teeters at the brink of a regional war with profound global ramifications because the threat may have been ignored too long.

Here are the four determining factors, the dynamics of which will govern whether Israel launches a preemptive attack against Tehran’s massive nuclear infrastructure.

The four technological achievements are key to completing Tehran’s nuclear weapon are: 1) accretion of enough nuclear materials, highly enriched to 90 percent, to make the bomb; 2) machining that highly-enriched material into metal for a spheroid warhead so it can fit into a missile nosecone for detonation; 3) a trigger mechanism to initiate the atomic explosion at the precise moment of missile reentry; and, of course, 4) a reliable rocket delivery system to carry such a weapon. Read more ..


The Edge of the Universe

The Rich Colors of a Cosmic Seagull

September 26th 2012

Seagull Nebula, Sh 2-292 from ESO
Part of the Seagull Nebula, Sh 2-292 (credit: ESO)

Nebulae are among the most visually impressive objects in the night sky. They are interstellar clouds of dust, molecules, hydrogen, helium, and other ionised gases where new stars are being born. Although they come in different shapes and colours, many share a common characteristic: when observed for the first time, their odd and evocative shapes trigger astronomers’ imaginations and lead to curious names. This dramatic region of star formation, which has acquired the nickname of the Seagull Nebula, is no exception.

This new image from the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile shows the head part of the Seagull Nebula. It is just one part of the larger nebula known more formally as IC 2177, which spreads its wings with a span of over 100 light-years and resembles a seagull in flight. This cloud of gas and dust is located about 3700 light-years away from Earth. The entire bird shows up best in wide-field images.

This object has received many other names through the years; it is also known as Sh 2-292, RCW 2, and Gum 1. The name Sh 2-292 means that the object is #292 in the second Sharpless catalogue of HII regions, published in 1959. The RCW number refers to the catalogue compiled by Rodgers, Campbell, and Whiteoak and published in 1960. This object was also the first in an earlier list of southern nebulae compiled by Colin Gum, and published in 1955. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Hizbullah Threatens to Strike Strategic Israeli Targets in Response to an Attack on Iran’s Nuclear Facilities

September 26th 2012

Click to select Image

The intensive public discourse in Israel about an approaching attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities has led Iran and Hizbullah to ramp up their threats of harsh retaliation. Hizbullah is a central component of Iran’s deterrent and offensive strategy toward Israel and is considered Iran’s first line of defense in the spatial dimension of its conflict with Israel. Senior Iranian spokesmen say so publicly, and Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah backs them up. 

The military adviser of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, made clear on September 8, 2012, that Hizbullah would respond to any Israeli attack on Iran. “If the Zionist regime does anything against us, resistance groups – especially the Lebanese Hizbullah – as our strategic defensive depth, will give response to this regime more easily.” Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Business and Labor Face-Off in Battleground Michigan Ballot

September 25th 2012

Michigan labor protesters

After two bruising years for organized labor in the Midwest, the movement has managed to land two pro-union measures on the November ballot in Michigan.

Michigan locals and their national leaders now face an ad campaign by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and its friends, urging voters to resist “D.C. union bosses.” Unions, however, have far outraised their detractors, bringing in a quarter of the $30 million total raised for the state’s six ballot initiatives, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

Labor wants to repeal Gov. Rick Snyder’s landmark emergency manager law, which has been a bane to public sector unions, and to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state constitution to stave off future attacks. Efforts to curtail union rights “really did spike” since the GOP swept into power in 20 more state legislative houses in 2010, said Jeanne Mejeur, labor expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures. “Last year we saw about 950 [labor-related] bills nationwide, compared to about 100 a year over the last 10 years.” What happens in Michigan may be an even greater measure of the labor movement’s influence than its unsuccessful attempt to remove union-busting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker from office earlier this year. Read more ..


The Arab Winter of Rage

How Jihadism Took Root in Libya

September 24th 2012

Libya Voter

The tragic death of U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other diplomatic personnel in the recent attack on the American consulate in Benghazi was the latest episode of violence attributed to Islamist extremists in Libya.

A small contingent of local jihadists has emerged since Muammar Qadhafi's ouster, and they have applauded the recent attacks, though it is not clear how much responsibility they bear for carrying them out. The growth of such groups is a worrisome development that reinforces the importance of active U.S. engagement with the new Libyan authorities.

LIBYAN JIHADISM BEFORE THE WAR

Prior to the 2011 uprising, the country's main organized jihadist movement, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, had already deradicalized and retired. Founded after the anti-Soviet jihad, the LIFG attempted to overthrow the Qadhafi regime in the mid-1990s but began to move away from armed conflict in 2006. In 2009, the group's shura council members -- some in Libyan prison, others in exile in Europe -- negotiated an end to conflict with the regime via Qadhafi's son Saif al-Islam. The minority that disagreed with that decision joined al-Qaeda in Pakistan, leaving no organized presence in Libya. Therefore, on the eve of last year's war, organized violent jihadism in Libya was more or less extinct. Read more ..


The Edge of the Universe

Quasars Mark the Universe's Expansion

September 23rd 2012

Five quasar gravitational lens
Five quasar gravitational lens
(credt K. Sharon, Tel Aviv U; E. Ofek, Caltech; ESA; NASA)

Scientists can’t travel deep space the way Columbus sailed and charted the New World or Lewis and Clark mapped the west. But, researchers at Case Western Reserve University and two partnering institutions have found a possible way to map the spread and structure of the universe, guided by the light of quasars.

The technique, combined with the expected discovery of millions more far-away quasars over the next decade, could yield an unprecedented look back to a time shortly after the Big Bang, when the universe was a fraction the size it is today.

Researchers found the key while analyzing the visible light from a small group of quasars. Patterns of light variation over time were consistent from one quasar to another when corrected for the quasar’s redshift. This redshift occurs because an expanding universe carries the quasars away from us, thus making the light from them appear redder (hence the term), and also making the time variations appear to occur more slowly. Read more ..



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