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Iran's Nukes

The Economic Cost of a Nuclear Iran

December 19th 2012

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

After the looming fiscal cliff, the next major challenge facing the United States will be preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapons capability. Living with a nuclear Iran is strategically untenable. Like the fiscal cliff, this is a matter of both economic and national security. Preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons carries various risks, but inaction has its costs, too -- especially to the price of oil and, in turn, to the U.S. economy.

International sanctions against Iran have already restricted its oil exports, reducing global supply and putting upward pressure on oil prices. But a military strike against the Islamic Republic could disrupt the flow of oil in the region, as Iran might retaliate against the West by attempting to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which one-fifth of the world's oil supplies pass.

The disruption of oil flows would have significant economic repercussions. Yet failure to stop Iran's nuclear-weapons program also would have myriad direct and indirect consequences. We led a Bipartisan Policy Center task force -- including former elected officials, military leaders, diplomats, energy analysts and economists -- that examined the energy-related costs of inaction. Read more ..


America on Edge

Food Insecurity Predicts Mental Health Problems In Adolescents

December 18th 2012

Boy in pain

A study published in the December 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that adolescents who experienced food insecurity in the past year have a higher prevalence of mental disorders than adolescents whose families have reliable access to food.

Using data from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A), a group of researchers led by Dr. Katie McLaughlin, of Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, examined 6,483 adolescents aged 13-17 years to examine the relationship between food insecurity and past-year mental disorders. Food insecurity was defined as the inability to purchase adequate amounts of food to meet basic needs. The study examined whether food insecurity, as reported by adolescents and a parent or guardian, was associated with the presence of past-year mental disorders in adolescents over and above the effects of other indicators of socio-economic status including parental education, income, and poverty status.

The study found that a one standard deviation increase in food insecurity was associated with a 14% increased odds of past-year mental disorder among adolescents, even after controlling for poverty and numerous other indicators of socio-economic status. Food insecurity was associated with elevated odds of every class of common mental disorder examined in the study, including mood, anxiety, behavioral, and substance disorders. Food insecurity was associated with adolescent mental disorders more strongly than parental education and income. Read more ..


The Darkest Edge

Connecticut Tragedy Renews National Debate on Gun Control

December 17th 2012

Bullets

The horrific school shooting in Newtown, Conn. has rekindled the always volatile debate in Washington over gun control policy. It appears unlikely that any of the oft-discussed proposals for change would have altered the tragic outcome in Connecticut. But outrage over the shooting is nevertheless engendering fresh discussion of steps that might curb gun violence or limit access to firearms.

The New York Times reported Sunday that the Justice Department last year considered changes in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System that grew out of the landmark Brady Act. Specifically, federal officials considered steps to increase the system's access to information on persons who should be prohibited from buying guns. Read more ..


China On Edge

Labor Data Show That China Is a Bubble Waiting to Burst

December 16th 2012

The East is Red

As our figure above shows, the share of the Chinese labor force working in manufacturing and construction, at 38%, is roughly twice the global average – towering well above manufacturing powerhouses like Germany (25%) and South Korea (23%).  Manufacturing’s share of the Chinese work force, at 29%, is also 6 percentage points higher than the level at which other fast growing economies have typically begun slowing.  Once that share exceeds 23%, according to analysis by Barry Eichengreen, it “becomes necessary to shift workers into services, where productivity growth is slower.” Read more ..


The Drug Wars

Cocaine’s Forgotten Victims

December 16th 2012

Cocaine

Each year, thousands of Colombian peasants, primarily women and children, trek through the Amazon with their meager possessions, seeking asylum from the violence encompassing their traditional rural villages. Ecuador is home to the highest number of refugees to be found in Latin America, 98 percent of whom are Colombian. Most of these have fled the violence associated with coca cultivation and processing, as well as the violent after effects resulting from the U.S.-sponsored War on Drugs between narco-traffickers and security forces. This conflict has internally displaced an estimated 5 million Colombians, more than 300,000 of them fleeing over the particularly porous southern border with Ecuador. Despite political tensions between Ecuador and Colombia, the Ecuadorian government has welcomed Colombian refugees. However, these refugees often face severe discrimination and poor living conditions once they arrive in Ecuador, despite the efforts of hardworking NGOs such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Insurance Industry Scrambles to Cope with Greater Climate Disasters

December 15th 2012

Katrina

The insurance industry, the world's largest business with $4.6 trillion in revenues, is making larger efforts to manage climate change-related risks, according to a new study published today in the journal Science.

"Weather- and climate-related insurance losses today average $50 billion a year. These losses have more than doubled each decade since the 1980s, adjusted for inflation," says the study's author Evan Mills, a scientist in Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab)'s Environmental Energy Technologies Division. "Insurers have become quite adept at quantifying and managing the risks of climate change, and using their market presence to drive broader societal efforts at mitigation and adaptation." Hurricane Sandy is only the most recent U.S. example of the kinds of increasing liabilities posed by severe weather events in a changing climate.

Managing a portfolio of $25 trillion in assets, similar in size to mutual funds or pensions globally, the insurance industry has become a significant voice in world policy forums addressing the issue, as well as a market force, investing at least $23 billion in emissions-reduction technologies, securities, and financing, plus $5 billion in funds with environmental screens, seeing risks to investments in polluting industries and opportunities in being part of the clean-tech revolution. Read more ..


The Darkest Edge

A Heartbroken Nation Mourns Connecticut Mass Murder of Children

December 14th 2012

Obama Wipes Tear After CT School Shooting

U.S. President Barack Obama says he and parents across the country are feeling overwhelming grief over the mass school shooting Friday that killed children and school staff in the northeastern state of Connecticut. Obama, visibly upset and wiping tears from his eye as he spoke at the White House, said most of the victims were children who had their whole lives in front of them.

“They had their entire lives ahead of them -- birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.  Among the fallen were also teachers, men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams.  So our hearts are broken today - for the parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers of these little children and for the families of the adults who were lost.” A state police lieutenant, Paul Vance, told reporters that 20 children and six adults were killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. He said the gunman was also dead. The president called the shooting a "heinous crime." He said the country has endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years and will have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent another such incident. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

US, UK and Canada Refuse to Sign Troubling UN Internet Treaty

December 14th 2012

computer keyboard woman hands

The United States said Thursday that it will not sign a United Nations telecommunications treaty that U.S. technology companies warn would disrupt governance of the Internet and open the door to online censorship. The U.K. and Canada also said they would not ratify the treaty after negotiations ended at a conference hosted by the U.N. International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in Dubai.

U.S. Ambassador Terry Kramer, who led the U.S. delegation during the conference, told reporters on a conference call that the U.S. could not sign the treaty because there were “too many issues here that were problematic for us.”

The treaty is intended to govern how telephone calls and other communications traffic are exchanged internationally. While it is not a legally binding document, Kramer said the U.S. opposed extending the scope of the treaty to include Internet governance and online content matters. Read more ..


The Edge of the Universe

Hubble Reveals Primitive Galaxies Near Cosmic Dawn

December 14th 2012

Hubble XDF image, Sep 2012

Astronomers have used NASA's Earth orbiting Hubble Space Telescope to reveal primitive galaxies -- vast clusters of stars -- that are more than 13 billion years old. One of them might be the oldest ever observed.

Here on Earth, when researchers study the dawn of civilization, they often rely on findings from archeological digs.  Astronomers describe a different kind of dig when they study the dawn of the cosmos. A team of scientists used NASA's Hubble Space Telescope for a cosmic "dig" of sorts, peering even deeper into the universe, looking, in effect, even further back in time.  They discovered seven previously unseen galaxies that formed more than 13 billion years ago, not that long in cosmic time, after the birth of the universe.

Hubble's new images show a dense scattering of bright specks, slashes and swirls of reds, yellows and violets against the backdrop of black space. "These are baby pictures of the universe," John Grunsfeld of NASA's Science Mission Directorate told reporters during a NASA teleconference Wednesday.  "It's back to the fundamental origin story.  We're always wondering, 'Where did we come from and where are we going?' And Hubble is providing answers to both those questions." Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syria Could Use Chem Weapons "At a Moment's Notice"--House Intel Commitee

December 13th 2012

Syrian Chemical Weapons

Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

FEMA Program Finances Dubious Counter-Terror Toys

December 13th 2012

Officials in central Indianapolis thought deeply a few years back about what equipment they needed to defend against a local attack involving weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical arms or a nuclear bomb, and their answer was (ba dum, ba dum) a hovercraft!

Luckily, the city didn’t even have to foot the$69,000 bill. The funds instead came from a Federal Emergency Management Agency program known as the Urban Area Security Initiative, which has so far spent more than $7 billion trying to make about five dozen of America’s cities safe from the threat of terrorism.

When officials in Louisiana calculated how they could best deal with the terrorism threat in their own backyard, their answer in part was – yes, really – a teleprompter and a lapel microphone, again purchased with funds from the FEMA initiative. Similarly, Oxnard-Thousand Oaks officials in California deliberated and decided to buy new fins and snorkels for their dive team.

But the City of Clovis in that state was even more creative: They used a $250,000 FEMA grant to buy an armored vehicle known as the BearCat, which wound up being used to patrol at an Easter egg hunt and other public events. Read more ..


The North Korean Threat

Defiant North Korea Carries Out 'Space Launch'

December 12th 2012

North Korean launch

North Korea has carried out what it characterizes as a “groundbreaking” peaceful launch to place a weather satellite into orbit, despite warnings from the United Nations and the United States. The event is being viewed by most of the world as a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Seoul, Tokyo, Washington and the United Nations quickly condemned the Wednesday morning launch.

Leaders in Japan and South Korea convened emergency national security meetings

South Korea's foreign minister, Kim Sung-hwan, criticized Pyongyang for ignoring repeated warnings and requests to cancel the launch. ​​The foreign minister says this action will further isolate North Korea from the international community and the country should instead use the immense financial resources spent on nuclear and missile development “to solve the desperate lives of its people.” Read more ..


Broken Banking

HSBC Admits Massive Fraud and Moneylaundering for NarcoTerrorists and Rogue Politicians--Pays Record $1.9 Billion Penalty--Execs Avoid Jail

December 11th 2012

HSBC

British banking giant HSBC has agreed to pay more than $1.9 billion to U.S. authorities -- the largest penalty ever paid by a bank -- after failing to abide by anti-money laundering and sanctions laws, it said on Tuesday. The agreement helps HSBC avoid a legal battle that could tarnish its reputation further and undermine confidence in the global banking system. It was the latest in a string of scandals by major banks since the financial crisis began in 2008.

The global banking giant admitted that lax vigilance made it vulnerable to money laundering by Mexican drug cartels, as well as transactions involving Iran that are banned under U.S. law. HSBC managers pledged to do better in testimony before a Senate investigative committee. U.S. law seeks to disrupt the cash flow of criminal organizations, from drug traffickers to terrorist groups. But for years, London-based HSBC seemingly turned a blind eye to illegal transactions originating in Mexico and elsewhere that used the bank’s U.S. affiliates as a gateway to America’s financial system. Senator Carl Levin of Michigan said HSBC is a prime example of a widespread problem in international banking. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

X-Ray Vision Can Reveal the Moment of Birth of Violent Supernovae

December 11th 2012

Tycho Type 1a Supernova Remnant
Tycho Type 1a Supernova Remnant (credit: NASA et al)

A team of astronomers led by the University of Leicester has uncovered new evidence that suggests that X-ray detectors in space could be the first to witness new supernovae that signal the death of massive stars. Astronomers have measured an excess of X-ray radiation in the first few minutes of collapsing massive stars, which may be the signature of the supernova shock wave first escaping from the star.

The findings have come as a surprise to Dr Rhaana Starling, of the University of Leicester Department of Physics and Astronomy whose research is published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, published by Oxford University Press.

Dr Starling said: “The most massive stars can be tens to a hundred times larger than the Sun. When one of these giants runs out of hydrogen gas it collapses catastrophically and explodes as a supernova, blowing off its outer layers which enrich the Universe. But this is no ordinary supernova; in the explosion narrowly confined streams of material are forced out of the poles of the star at almost the speed of light. These so-called relativistic jets give rise to brief flashes of energetic gamma-radiation called gamma-ray bursts, which are picked up by monitoring instruments in Space, that in turn alert astronomers.” Read more ..


The North Korean Threat

North Korea Reportedly Removes Rocket From Launch Pad

December 11th 2012

North Korean rocket Apr 2012

North Korea appears to have taken apart and moved its long-range rocket, a day after announcing that technical difficulties had caused a one-week delay of its launch. South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted a military source as saying satellite photos suggest technicians have disassembled the three-stage rocket and moved it to a nearby assembly facility. The unidentified source said North Korea pulled the rocket from the launch pad to fix technical problems.

Moving forward

​​Pyongyang has vowed to proceed with the launch, despite widespread international condemnation, a long period of cold weather and technical difficulties. On Monday, North Korea extended the deadline of the rocket launch by a week, until December 29, citing a "technical deficiency in the first stage control engine module of the rocket."The launch had been scheduled for December 10-22 to coincide with the first anniversary of the death of former North Korean ruler Kim Jong Il. Read more ..


The Obama Edge

Obama Jumps Headfirst into Fight Over Michigan 'Right-to-Work' Law

December 10th 2012

Obama

President Obama on Monday waded into the fight over changing Michigan into a right-to-work state, saying the move was all about politics and about your “rights to bargain for better wages.”

During a visit to a Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Michigan, Obama signaled the White House will be more active in this labor fight than it was during a similar fight in Wisconsin in 2011. He described the proposed changes in Michigan as being part of a “race to the bottom” that won’t help the economy.

“What we shouldn’t be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages,” Obama told a small crowd at the plant. “We don’t want a race to the bottom. We want a race to the top.” Obama said the laws “don’t have to do with economics. They have everything to do with politics."

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who greeted Obama in Detroit on Monday, is expected to sign legislation on Tuesday to make Michigan the 24th right-to-work state. The move has angered union workers who protested the legislation in Lansing. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Israeli Special Forces Inside Syria Tracking Chemical and Biological Weapons

December 10th 2012

Troops

London’s Sunday Times is reporting that Israeli special forces are operating within Syria in an effort to track the Syrian regime’s stocks of chemical and biological weapons. The operation is part of a secret war to track Syria’s non-conventional armaments and sabotage their development according to the Times. “For years we’ve known the exact location of Syria’s chemical and biological munitions,” an Israeli source said, according to The Sunday Times. “But in the past week we’ve got signs that munitions have been moved to new locations.”

Several world leaders have warned Syria in recent days that the use of biological and chemical weapons would be a red line and would prompt a military response from the international community. Syria has designated biological weapons as part of its conventional arsenal, suggesting it wouldn’t hesitate to use them against its citizens or any other entity it deems a threat. According to the Sunday Times article, Jill Bellamy-van Aalst, a former bio-defence consultant to NATO, said: “It’s just another type of weapon for the regime and they may not make the moral distinctions we do.” Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

Egyptian President Annuls Emergency Decree

December 9th 2012

Morsi

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has annulled a decree he issued last month granting him sweeping emergency powers, in a push to defuse political tensions and deadly violence gripping the country.

But a spokesman, speaking late Saturday in Cairo, said a referendum on a controversial draft constitution will still go forward as planned December 15. There has been no formal opposition response to the decree annulment, and it was not immediately clear what impact it will have on opposition protesters who have camped out near the presidential palace since Tuesday.

The two issues -- the decree and the referendum -- are at the heart of anti-Morsi demonstrations that have rocked the country for much of the past two weeks.

An opposition umbrella of liberals, secularists and supporters of the former regime claim the draft constitution was pushed through by President Morsi's Islamist backers, without opposition participation. They have demanded the referendum be canceled and a new draft formulated with opposition input. Read more ..


Edging Toward the Fiscal Cliff

Mortgage Deduction May Be on the Chopping Block

December 9th 2012

Foreclosure

Housing industry leaders are maintaining close ties with other groups seeking to protect their tax deductions targeted in deficit-reduction talks. The National Association of Home Builders is keeping in close contact with nonprofits and other groups that want to save tax breaks for itemized deductions, including charitable giving and mortgage interest. The groups similarly argue that changes, such as caps, on the deductions would severely affect economic growth by dampening interest in home purchases and reducing donations that would most profoundly affect those who benefit from services.

Jerry Howard, head of the National Association of Home Builders, said making any changes to the mortgage interest deduction in a year-end deal would have unintended consequences on a housing market that is sparking back to life. "It's a ludicrous concept," Howard stated. "This is the last thing Congress should be considering when what we're trying to do is stabilize the economy," he said. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

The Rise of Al Qaeda in Syria

December 8th 2012

Syrian Jihadis

President Barack Obama's administration is reportedly planning to designate the Syrian jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra ("the Support Front") as a terrorist organization. The group, which was first announced in late January 2012, has become a growing part of the armed opposition due to its fighting prowess -- perhaps no surprise, as many of its fighters honed their skills in battlefields in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen. As a result, Jabhat al-Nusra has carved out an important niche in the fight to oust the Syrian regime even as it remains outside of the mainstream opposition.

The U.S. administration, in designating Jabhat al-Nusra, is likely to argue that the group is an outgrowth of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). While there is not much open-source evidence of this, classified material may offer proof -- and there is certainly circumstantial evidence that Jabhat al-Nusra operates as a branch of the ISI. Read more ..


Nature on Edge

Manila Rhino Horn Bust Shows Smugglers’ Resilience

December 7th 2012

Rhino, black, Tanzania

Authorities in the Philippines recently seized a consignment of rhino horn, which they believe was being shipped through Manila to China. Many environmentalists say the find highlights how adept crime syndicates are at exploiting new routes to smuggle endangered wildlife from Africa into Asia, and how resilient they are when it comes to writing off losses and evading arrest.

According to Oliver Valiente, chief of the Philippines Customs Intelligence Investigation Service (CIIS), the consignment of horn was impounded at the Port of Manila in early September. “This is the first time we have encountered rhinoceros horn,” he said. “Six pieces were hidden in sacks of cashew nut.”

Speaking by phone from Manila, where he and his team are investigating links to the illegal cargo, he says the seizure sets a disturbing new precedent. Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

Egypt's New Constitution: Laying the Basis for an Islamist, Sharia State

December 7th 2012

Egyptian hijabi

On November 30, a Constituent Assembly consisting almost 100 percent of Islamists voted to approve the draft of Egypt’s new Constitution. The next day, President Muhammad Mursi ordered that a referendum be held on December 15. In other words, Egypt’s population will be given two weeks to consider the main law, which has 230 articles, that will govern their lives for decades to come.

Most of the non-Islamists had walked out of the Assembly because they objected to the proposed Constitution and it seems as if the remaining opposition members did not even attend the vote. So great is the outrage that Egypt's judges--who supervise elections and were explicitly asked by Mursi to oversee the forthcoming referendum--have refused to do so. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s chief spiritual guide. raved about how great the Constitution is and then responded to the walk-out with a phrase that might serve as the slogan for the new democracy in Egypt and other Arabic-speaking countries: "You should not have withdrawn. It's your right to express your opinions freely." Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

USS Eisenhower Nears Syrian Coast--Poised for Strike

December 6th 2012

Nimitz

The USS Eisenhower, an American aircraft carrier that holds eight fighter bomber squadrons and 8,000 men, arrived at the Syrian coast yesterday in the midst of a heavy storm, indicating US preparation for a potential ground intervention. While the Obama administration has not announced any sort of American-led military intervention in the war-torn country, the US is now ready to launch such action “within days” if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad decides to use chemical weapons against the opposition, the Times reports.

Some have suggested that the Assad regime may use chemical weapons against the opposition fighters in the coming days or weeks. The arrival of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, one of the 11 US Navy aircraft carriers that has the capacity to hold thousands of men, is now stationed at the coast of Syria. The aircraft carrier joined the USS Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group, which holds about 2,500 Marines. Read more ..


After the BP Spill

BP Engulfed in Lawsuit Over 40-Day Texas Flare

December 5th 2012

BP Protest

By now images of the April 2010 Gulf oil spill are indelible: The rig engulfed in smoke, oil gushing into the ocean, beaches stained on the coast. These images defined the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history — and sealed BP PLC’s reputation as a corporate polluter.

But two weeks before the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, killing 11 workers and spewing millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, BP was spewing a different kind of pollution — in a major case that has received far less attention.

This case involved dirtying the air around its refinery in Texas City. Throughout most of April and May of 2010, the Texas refinery belched massive amounts of pollutants — toxic chemicals including benzene, toluene and hydrogen sulfide — from a towering flare designed to burn only during emergencies. The single “emissions event,” as BP reported it to the state, triggered by an equipment breakdown, lasted 959 hours and 30 minutes — or 40 days .“The release went so long,” said Bruce Clawson, of Texas City’s emergency response division, which tracks such incidents. “We’ve never had a release go that long before.” Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

Muslim Brotherhood Rallies Against Morsi Protesters

December 5th 2012

Islam against Copts

Egypt's capital was in chaos, as anti-Morsi demonstrators remained camped out at Cairo's Tahrir Square and in front of the presidential palace. The Islamist group called for the demonstration later Wednesday outside of the presidential palace. They said the rally was called because opposition protesters were trying to "impose their opinions through force." Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Wednesday for an open dialogue in Egypt. "The upheaval we are seeing now once again in the streets of Cairo and other cities indicates that dialogue is urgently needed," Clinton said in Brussels after a two-day NATO foreign ministers meeting. Some opposition protesters in Cairo have vowed not to leave until Morsi abolishes a decree he issued last month granting him sweeping powers that place him above review from the judiciary. Read more ..

Egypt's Second Revolution

Morsi Flees Presidential Palace

December 4th 2012

Tahrir Square protest

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has fled the presidential palace as crowd violence ignited between police and more than 100,000 protesters jammed the streets of Cairo, according to breaking media reports.

Fox reports, "In a brief outburst, police fired tear gas to stop protesters approaching the palace in the capital's Heliopolis district. Morsi was in the palace conducting business as usual while the protesters gathered outside. But he left for home through a back door when the crowds "grew bigger," according to a presidential official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media." The outlet adds, "The official said Morsi left on the advice of security officials at the palace and to head off 'possible dangers' and to calm protesters." Morsi's spokesman claimed the president left routinely at the end of his work day through his usual door. Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

Egypt and the Strategic Balance

December 4th 2012

Egyptian bannerman

Immediately following the declaration of a cease-fire in Gaza, Egypt was plunged into a massive domestic crisis. Mohammed Morsi, elected in the first presidential election after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, passed a decree that would essentially neuter the independent judiciary by placing his executive powers above the high court and proposed changes to the constitution that would institutionalize the Muslim Brotherhood's power. Following the decree, Morsi's political opponents launched massive demonstrations that threw Egypt into domestic instability and uncertainty.

In the case of most countries, this would not be a matter of international note. But Egypt is not just another country. It is the largest Arab country and one that has been the traditional center of the Arab world. Equally important, if Egypt's domestic changes translate into shifts in its foreign policy, it could affect the regional balance of power for decades to come. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

White House Warns Syria it Will be 'Held Accountable' for Chemical Weapon Use

December 3rd 2012

Syrian Chemical Weapons

The White House issued a stern warning to Syria on Monday, telling its leaders that the use of chemical weapons would “cross a red line.”

“They will be held accountable by the United States and the international community if they use chemical weapons or fail to meet their obligation to secure them,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said, adding that use of the weapons “would cross a red line for the United States.”

The press secretary did not say whether the mere movement of the weapons could spur an American response, but expressed grave concern that the Syrian government could be weighing the use of the weapons.

“As the opposition makes strategic advances and grows in strength, the Assad regime has been unable to halt the opposition's progress through conventional means,” Carney said Monday. “And we are concerned that an increasingly beleaguered regime, having found its escalation of violence through conventional means inadequate, might be considering the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people.” Carney also did not explicitly discuss what an American response would consist of. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Google Warns U.N. Conference in Dubai to Not Censor the Internet

December 3rd 2012

Click to select Image

Google's chief Internet evangelist Vint Cerf underscored the importance of maintaining an open Internet in a company blog post published hours before countries convened to update a global telecommunications treaty. Cerf is typically referred to as "the godfather of the Internet" because he helped design its architecture and key Web protocols. In his latest blog post, Cerf said the openness of the Web has spurred innovation and enabled people to get their voices out — but he warned that some countries' proposals for the treaty conference in Dubai threaten to put those benefits in jeopardy. "Starting in 1973, when my colleagues and I proposed the technology behind the Internet, we advocated for an open standard to connect computer networks together. This wasn’t merely philosophical; it was also practical," Cerf wrote. "This openness is why the Internet creates so much value today." Read more ..


Kuwait on Edge

Kuwait’s Election Makes Gulf Arab Rulers Nervous

December 2nd 2012

Iraq Election 2010

On December 1, Kuwaiti voters went to the polls to decide who would represent them in the next national assembly, one of the Arab world’s most well-established parliaments. But instead of celebrating a democratic tradition, the election will likely emphasize divisions within Kuwaiti society and perpetuate a months-long political impasse. Other conservative Gulf Arab governments, which tend to emphasize a cautious consensus approach to any evolution of their essentially authoritarian systems, are watching with concern.

Kuwait’s parliament, which dates back almost fifty years, became an icon for the country’s independence and freedoms in 1991, when U.S.-led forces liberated the emirate following the Iraqi invasion. Since then, Kuwaiti politics have often been fractious. Although the government is dominated by the al-Sabah ruling family, activist members of parliament—namely, a loose coalition of Islamists, secular nationalists, and some tribal representatives—make frequent use of their limited powers to question ministers. In frustration, Kuwait’s eighty-three-year-old emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, has dissolved the parliament five times since 2006.

What’s different this time is trouble on the streets of Kuwait City. On November 15, protestors in the capital were beaten by police as they tried to march on the home of the prime minister, the emir’s relative Sheikh Nasser Muhammad al-Ahmed al-Sabah. Turned back, the angry crowd then stormed the locked gates of the parliamentary building, entered the chamber, and sang the national anthem. Previous clashes involved police using tear gas and rubber bullets against demonstrators. Read more ..


The Cyber Edge

Preventing a 'Cyber Pearl Harbor'

December 2nd 2012

Cyber warriors

Cyber attacks that have long caused major work disruption and theft of private information are becoming more sophisticated with prolonged attacks perpetrated by organized groups. In September 2012, Bank of America, Citibank, the New York Stock Exchange, and other financial institutions were targets of attacks for more than five weeks. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta warned that the United States was facing the possibility of a "cyber-Pearl Harbor" and was increasingly vulnerable to foreign computer hackers who could disrupt the government, utility, transportation, and financial networks.

Key to protecting online operations is a high degree of "cyber security awareness," according to human factors/ergonomics researchers Varun Dutt, Young-Suk Ahn, and Cleotilde Gonzalez. They developed a computer model that presented 500 simulated cyber attack scenarios to gauge simulated network security analysts' ability to detect attacks characterized as either "impatient" (the threat occurs early in the attack) or "patient" (the threat comes later in the attack and is not detected promptly). Their model was able to predict the detection rates of security analysts by varying the analysts' degree of experience and risk tolerance as well as an attacker's strategy (impatient or patient attack). Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Congressional Report Ties Middle East Terrorists To Mexican Drug Cartels

December 1st 2012

Hezbollah Lebanon

A new congressional report from the House Homeland Security Committee Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Management ties Middle East terror organizations to Mexican drug cartels.

The report, released Thursday, is titled “A Line in the Sand: Countering Crime, Violence and Terror at the Southwest Border.” It found that the “Southwest border has now become the greatest threat of terrorist infiltration into the United States.” It specifically cites a “growing influence” from Iranian and Hezbollah terror forces in Latin America.

“The presence of Hezbollah in Latin America is partially explained by the large Lebanese diaspora in South America,” the report reads. “In general, Hezbollah enjoys support by many in the Lebanese world community in part because of the numerous social programs it provides in Lebanon that include schools, hospitals, utilities and welfare.” Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syria Suffers a Total Internet Blackout

November 30th 2012

Syria fighting injured baby

Internet service and cellular networks were blacked out in Syria on Thursday, disrupting communications traveling into and outside of the country, according to the State Department. 

Renesys, a U.S.-based firm that monitors Internet networks, reported on its blog that Syria's Internet connectivity was shut down early Thursday afternoon and all of the country's IP address blocks were unreachable. Google also reported on its Transparency Report tool that its Web services were inaccessible in Syria on Thursday. The search company tweeted: "Internet access completely cut off in Syria. This is why a #freeandopen Internet is so important."

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said during a Thursday press briefing that groups affiliated with the opposition within Syria have reported that the Syrian government "does appear to be resorting to cutting off all kinds of communication," which has affected Internet access, landline and cellular service across the country. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

International Study Provides More Solid Measure of Melting in Polar Ice Sheets

November 30th 2012

Glaciers

The planet's two largest ice sheets have been losing ice faster during the past decade, causing widespread confusion and concern. A new international study provides a firmer read on the state of continental ice sheets and how much they are contributing to sea-level rise. Dozens of climate scientists have reconciled their measurements of ice sheet changes in Antarctica and Greenland over the past two decades. The results, roughly halve the uncertainty and discard some conflicting observations.

"We are just beginning an observational record for ice," said co-author Ian Joughin. "This creates a new long-term data set that will increase in importance as new measurements are made." The paper examined three methods that had been used by separate groups and established common places and times, allowing researchers to discard some outlying observations and showing that the results agree to within the uncertainties of the methods. Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

Egypt Rushes Vote on Draft Constitution

November 29th 2012

Nov 2012 protests

Amidst ongoing clashes in response to Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's decree granting himself near-absolute power, Egypt's Constituent Assembly surprised the country and began voting Thursday on a draft constitution. The assembly will vote on each of the draft's 234 articles and, upon passing the document, will send it to Morsi for approval. Once approved by the president, the constitution will be put to a public referendum.

Today's vote comes after Morsi gave the assembly an additional two months -- until February -- to complete its work. But with protests mounting in the streets, Morsi's supporters in the assembly quickly wrapped up deliberations and prepared for the unscheduled Thursday vote. They seem to hope that rushing through the constitution will help stem the current crisis aimed at the president, as Morsi has said he would relinquish the powers he recently bestowed upon himself once the constitution is ratified in a referendum. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

US Prisons Could House Gitmo Detainees Says GAO

November 29th 2012

Prison bars

Military and federal prisons in the United States could house the 166 detainees currently held in Guantánamo Bay, but there are legal and logistical complications that would require the facilities to be modified, a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found.

The GAO report, which was requested by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), investigated prisons run by the military and Justice Department for their viability to house Guantánamo detainees, many of whom are accused of terrorism charges.

The report found there were 98 federal Bureau of Prisons facilities that have custody of inmates charged with or convicted of terrorism-related crimes, and six Defense Department facilities that can house service members charged with crimes for more than one year. But to equip those facilities to house Guantánamo detainees, modifications would be needed to ensure the safety of U.S. personnel and to deal with legal issues housing foreign nationals. Read more ..


Jewry on Edge

Hungarian Jewish Community Files Lawsuit After Politician Calls for List to be Compiled of Jews Who Pose “National Security Risk”

November 28th 2012

Concentration Camp Survivor

Hungary’s Jewish community has initiated a criminal procedure today against a Hungarian far-right politician in that country who recently urged the government to compile a list of Jews who pose a “national security risk.”

According to a video posted on Jobbik’s website, and reported by Reuters, Marton Gyongyosi, who leads Jobbik’s foreign policy cabinet, told Parliament: “I know how many people with Hungarian ancestry live in Israel, and how many Israeli Jews live in Hungary.”

“I think such a conflict [between Hamas and Israel] makes it timely to tally up people of Jewish ancestry who live here, especially in the Hungarian Parliament and the Hungarian government, who, indeed, pose a national security risk to Hungary.”

The Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregration released a statement today announcing their legal action that read in part:”The fact that a far right party can address Nazi principles in the Parliament is shocking and disappointing for the
Hungarian Jewish Community and for every Hungarian Democrat.” Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

Protests Continue to Rage Against Egyptian Presidential Decree

November 27th 2012

Flames in Cairo

Thousands of protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square are rallying against Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, hours after the president told the nation's top judges that elements of his new decree granting himself more powers and authority must stand. Morsi's promise to enforce the constitutional declaration only in certain cases has done little to lessen the anger of those who see him as a dictator in the making. Protesters chanted for his downfall Tuesday and that of the Muslim Brotherhood's Supreme Guide. Many here feel it is the Brotherhood that pushed Morsi to expand his powers, despite his formal break with the organization that helped him win the presidency. Opponents said that words aside, the president has not changed the decrees themselves, which put his decisions above judicial review on a temporary basis.​​ Read more ..


The Edge of the Universe

Super-Jupiter Sized Exoplanet Discovered

November 26th 2012

Exoplanet candidate UCF-1.01

Astrophysicists at the University of Toronto and other institutions across the United States, Europe and Asia have discovered a 'super-Jupiter' around the massive star Kappa Andromedae. The object, which could represent the first new observed exoplanet system in almost four years, has a mass at least 13 times that of Jupiter and an orbit somewhat larger than Neptune's.

The host star around which the planet orbits has a mass 2.5 times that of the Sun, making it the highest mass star to ever host a directly observed planet. The star can be seen with the naked eye in the constellation Andromeda at a distance of about 170 light years.

"Our team identified a faint object located very close to Kappa Andromedae in January that looks much like other young, massive directly imaged planets but does not look like a star," said Thayne Currie. "It's likely a directly imaged planet." The researchers made the discovery based on an infrared imaging search carried out as part of the Strategic Explorations of Exoplanets and Disks with Subaru (SEEDS) program using the Subaru telescope located in Hawaii. Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

Egyptian President Meets Judges Amid Continued Riots

November 26th 2012

Egyptian

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi is due to meet with the country's Supreme Judicial Council, as judges try to persuade the president to limit the sweeping powers he granted himself last week. The decree has sparked protests by opposition activists, who continued to camp out in Cairo's Tahrir Square for a fourth day Monday demanding Morsi reverse his decision.  

The president is defending a decree placing his decisions above judicial review, stressing in a statement that the move is temporary.

The argument has done little to quell the unrest, expected to peak again Tuesday because of what his opponents see as a power grab. Opponents and supporters of the president have called for rival mass rallies in the city on Tuesday. "The precedent that he is making, that he is unquestionable, even for a few months, is really annoying and worrying and is really not the thing you expected from an elected president,” said political activist Wael Khalil.
Read more ..


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