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World Economy on Edge

Global Financial Markets and the New Political Realities in Europe

August 7th 2012

Euro Symbol

Louis M. Bacon is the head of Moore Capital Management, one of the largest and most influential hedge funds in the world. Last week, he announced that he was returning one quarter of his largest fund, about $2 billion, to his investors. The reason he gave to The New York Times was that he had found it difficult to invest given the impossibility of predicting the European situation. He was quoted as saying, "The political involvement is so extreme -- we have not seen this since the postwar era. What they are doing is trying to thwart natural market outcomes. It is amazing how important the decision-making of one person, Angela Merkel, has become to world markets."

The purpose of hedge funds is to make money, and what Bacon essentially said was that it is impossible to make money when there is heavy political involvement, because political involvement introduces unpredictability in the market. Therefore, prudent investment becomes impossible. Hedge funds have become critical to global capital allocation because their actions influence other important actors, and their unwillingness to invest and trade has significant implications for capital availability. If others follow Moore Capital's lead, as they will, there will be greater difficulty in raising the capital needed to address the problem of Europe. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

NASA’s Curiosity Lands Safely on Mars after “Seven Minutes of Terror”

August 6th 2012

Curiosty MSL at work
Curiosity at work (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA, the U.S. space agency, says that its Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) has made a successful landing on the red planet.

There will be several weeks of testing before NASA turns Curiosity loose to roam about the Martian surface, looking for signs that the planet once might have had conditions suitable to support life. But first the scientists and engineers at the Joint Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles did a little celebrating.

NASA described Curiosity’s plunge through the Martian atmosphere as “seven minutes of terror,” but the landing, which engineers said was the most complex ever attempted, proceeded flawlessly. Moments after touchdown the craft sent a picture back to Earth, showing one of its six wheels on the planet’s surface. The first pictures from the craft were received back on Earth almost immediately after confirmation of the landing Monday at about 5:30a.m. UTC. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

The Role of Iranian Security Forces in the Syrian Bloodshed

August 5th 2012

Riot Gear Police

Amid the intensifying crisis in Syria, which in recent weeks has seen massacres of the civilian population in various parts of the country, Iranian military, propaganda, and economic assistance keeps flowing in, and its aim is to help President Bashar al-Assad survive. Iran aided Assad in withstanding the waves of protest as soon as they erupted, and it is now backing him and advising him on how to overcome an existential crisis that put to the test the two countries’ strategic alliance. 

Iran, which has invested great military, economic, and political resources in Syria – a main pillar of the anti-Israel “resistance camp” and the gateway to aiding Hizbullah – now views Syria, amid the rapid changes in the Middle East, as a key battleground to confront the West. How this conflict unfolds will determine the new landscape that is being shaped in the region.

Syria as a Battlefield

The present state of affairs is highly reminiscent of what transpired after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in February 2005. Iran backed Hizbullah while Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, and Western states, supported the Lebanese freedom forces. The eventual outcome was Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon at the height of President Bush’s democratization campaign after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi elections of January 2005. Iran then viewed Lebanon as the first line of confrontation with the West, which was trying, unsuccessfully, to impose a rapid democratization there, too, and disarm Hizbullah. At present, Hizbullah weapons are serving as part of Assad’s apparatus of violent repression – under Iran’s command. Read more ..


The Obama Edge

Intel Leaks Must Stop, Rep. King Warns FBI Director

August 4th 2012

In the wake of what he termed "two more flagrant leaks of sensitive national security information," Rep. Peter T. King (R-NY), Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, urged the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Director Robert Mueller to expand his investigations into the continuing leaks allegedly emanating from the Obama Administration.

In a letter sent to Mueller on Thursday, King wrote: “These reported disclosures represent additional disturbing and irresponsible leaks of potentially classified information from this Administration. Obviously, the ongoing investigations have failed to deter further leaks. The Administration's leaks must stop before they further endanger the lives of men and women sent into harm's way on our Nation's behalf.”

According to the veteran congressman, on Aug. 1, 2012, a Reuters news service report stated that U.S. sources revealed President Barack Obama “signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government.” Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Democrats Apologize to Adelson for 'Chinese Prostitution' Comments After Libel Action Threatened

August 3rd 2012

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued an apology to casino mogul and prominent Republican donor Sheldon Adelson on Thursday, after the billionaire threatened to sue the organization over comments insinuating he profited from prostitution at his Chinese resorts.

"In press statements issued on June 29 and July 2, 2012, the DCCC made unsubstantiated allegations that attacked Sheldon Adelson, a supporter of the opposing party," the DCCC said in an e-mail released Thursday. "This was wrong.  The statements were untrue and unfair and we retract them.  The DCCC extends its sincere apology to Mr. Adelson and his family for any injury we have caused." The June 29 statement released by the DCCC cited an Associated Press story to assert that Adelson "personally approved of prostitution and knew of other improper activity at his company's properties," while the July 2 statement from DCCC spokesman Jesse Ferguson blasted House Republicans from accepting donations from Adelson. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

The Specter of Syrian Chemical Weapons

August 2nd 2012

Syrian Missiles

The unraveling of the al Assad regime in Syria will produce many geopolitical consequences. One potential consequence has garnered a great deal of media attention in recent days: the possibility of the regime losing control of its chemical weapons stockpile. In an interview aired July 30 on CNN, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said it would be a "disaster to have those chemical weapons fall into the wrong hands -- hands of Hezbollah or other extremists in that area." When he mentioned other extremists, Panetta was referring to local and transnational jihadists, such as members of the group Jabhat al-Nusra, which has been fighting with other opposition forces against the Syrian regime. He was also referring to the many Palestinian militant groups such as Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, which have long had a presence in Syria and until recently have been supported by the al Assad regime.

The fear is that the jihadists will obtain chemical weapons to use in terrorist attacks against the West. Israel is also concerned that Palestinian groups could use them in terrorist attacks inside Israel or that Hezbollah could use such weapons against the Israelis in a conventional military battle. Read more ..


Destination Israel

Dan Carmel--Unrivalled Majestic Views of Haifa City and Bay

August 1st 2012

Dan Carmel Haifa

When most people travel to Israel, they think of that country’s two major compelling cities—Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Jerusalem is the spiritual epicenter of Israel’s historic legacy. Tel Aviv offers the national mad dash to cosmopolitan nirvana. But, there is a third major city that most tourists often don’t visit. It is, of course, Haifa--Israel’s gleaming maritime city along its northern coast.

Haifa is a paragon of cross-ethnic cohesion where Arab and Jewish citizens have lived together as neighbors. Its great bay vistas and muscular architecture, buttressed by a diverse fabric of cultural and artistic enterprise, are exceeded only by its maddening traffic congestion. This is a city revolving ever faster around a multidimensional axis of technology, shipping and boating, Israel’s mushrooming business sector, and the de facto gateway to the country, Galilee and the northern realm. Here you find the wondrous Baha’i Temple with its hanging gardens and iridescent sheen, a spate of museums devoted to Israel’s historic intersection with the sea, an urban-functional mountain cable car, the pantheon of Israel’s technological magic including the Technion University, and of course the front door to Israel’s Golan and Galilee. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

NASA’s Curiosity Set for Mars Landing

August 1st 2012

Curiosity Rover at work
Mars Rover

The U.S. space agency is preparing for its newest Mars rover, Curiosity, to touch down on the Red Planet on August 6. The rover’s entry and descent will be nerve-wracking for NASA engineers, compounded by a 14-minute delay as the rover’s signals travel to Earth from Mars. If successful, Curiosity will be the sixth NASA spacecraft to land on the Red Planet.

Curiosity is the centerpiece of the $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft, launched in November aboard an Atlas V rocket. It’s traveled some 560 million kilometers toward its destination.

Curiosity is a “Mars scientist’s dream machine,” said Deputy Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada ahead of its launch. “This rover is not only the most technically capable rover ever sent to another planet, but it’s actually the most capable scientific explorer we’ve ever sent out,” he said. Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

Uganda Battles to Contain Ebola Outbreak

July 31st 2012

Victims of LRA

 Uganda is battling yet another outbreak of the Ebola virus, with 14 deaths reported so far and a number of people in quarantine. Ugandan newspapers are filled once again with images of hazmat suits and hospital beds, as the country is rocked by a new outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.

Addressing journalists on Monday, Minister of Health Christine Ondoa said there was no cause for alarm. She said the ministry, working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, had managed to contain the virus. But in an address to the nation the same day, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni urged people to avoid all physical contact, including shaking hands.

Although most of the cases come from western Uganda, some have also been reported in the capital, Kampala. The city’s main hospital has set up an isolation ward for those suspected of being infected, while a number of people in western Uganda have been placed in quarantine.

This is not the first time Ebola has gripped the country. Thirty-seven people died in the last outbreak in 2007, and an epidemic in 2000 killed nearly 200. Symptoms of the hemorrhagic fever include diarrhea and vomiting.

Denis Lwamafa of the Ministry of Health says Uganda has improved its ability to detect and diagnose Ebola. “Uganda now is probably at the forefront, in terms of handling viral hemorrhagic fevers, on the continent of Africa," says Lwamafa. "So this is now an indigenous local capacity of which we must take note. We’ve been able to elevate the level of proficiency in diagnosing even these highly infectious organisms here in Uganda, and I would like to report that the diagnosis of the Ebola virus was done here.” He adds that although the disease does occur in neighboring countries as well, it is not always detected. Read more ..


The Race for Smart Grid

Half of India Suffers Massive Power Outage

July 31st 2012

India Street Scene

India suffered a second day of a massive power breakdown that affected nearly half the country on Tuesday. India experienced its worst-ever power crisis, leaving more than 650 million people without electricity.  India's transport system screeched to a halt for a second day, as trains stopped and traffic signals stalled -- stranding passengers and drivers.

Three electricity grids failed Tuesday, with power cut from as far north as Kashmir to the eastern state of Assam.  The lights went out in major cities like the capital New Delhi and the eastern city of Kolkata shortly after 1 p.m. local time. It was the second day that India suffered a blackout - but this time it hit a far larger part of the country. On Monday, an outage affected seven northern states, leaving more than 300 million people without electricity for nearly ten hours. On Tuesday, more than a dozen states were hit. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Mitt Romney Captures Jerusalem

July 31st 2012

Romney in Jerusalem 7-31-12

Speaking to an often-cheering group of about 400 people in Jerusalem, Governor Mitt Romney gave a speech less notable for what he said that for the fact that the audience believed he was sincere in saying it. At a beautiful outdoor setting with the Old City in the background, Romney declared his strong support for Israel, using phrases often heard from American presidents. He also proclaimed his view that Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital. The difference, of course, is that those listening were less inclined to think that when President Barack Obama said similar things to AIPAC meetings he was describing his own views and policies.

Clearly, Romney was restrained by the American principle that partisan politics stops at the water’s edge, that no politician should criticize a president or U.S. government while abroad. Thus, Obama’s name—or even his specific policies—was never explicitly mentioned. What Romney did do, however, was to scatter among the assertions of U.S. support for Israel’s security and a strong belief in a U.S.-Israel alliance some subtle references that many viewers and much of the mass media are likely to miss. Here are the key ones, which give some hints about Romney’s future campaign and possibly his presidency: Read more ..


The Safety Edge

Landmark Worker Death Case Continues Against UCLA Chemistry Professor

July 29th 2012

nurse w/stethoscope

Sheri Sangji is on fire.

The 23-year-old research associate, a Pomona College graduate raised in Pakistan, has accidentally pulled the plunger out of a syringe while conducting an experiment in the Molecular Sciences Building at UCLA. The syringe contains a solution that combusts upon contact with air. The solution spills onto Sangji’s hands and torso, and she is instantly aflame. She isn’t wearing a lab coat; no one told her she has to. Her synthetic rubber gloves provide no protection as the fire burns through her hands to the tendons. She inhales toxic, superheated gases given off by her burning polyester sweater, a process that accelerates as she runs and screams.

It’s December 29, 2008, mid-afternoon. The UCLA campus is mostly quiet for the holidays, but chemistry professor Patrick Harran’s team is working. Harran is in his office, one floor up from Room 4221, where at his direction Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji has been trying to produce a chemical that holds promise as an appetite suppressant. She is unsupervised. Read more ..


Broken Elections

Million-dollar Donation in Indiana Race May Skirt Limits on Corporate Giving

July 27th 2012

Bundles of Cash

The RGA Right Direction PAC is a Washington, D.C.-based super PAC, registered with federal regulators to make independent expenditures supporting or opposing candidates. So what is it doing giving $1 million directly to the Republican running for governor of Indiana?

The donation to Mike Pence, the largest to his campaign, appears to be a way around state laws limiting corporate contributions to candidates. “In one way, it’s legal,” said Andrew Downs of the Center for Indiana Politics, at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. “But if you say this is a way to give in excess of corporate limits, that’s also absolutely true.”

Right Direction is funded entirely by the Republican Governors Association, a so-called 527 organization dedicated to electing as many Republicans to governorships as possible—a mission fueled by contributions from some of the largest corporations in the country. In Indiana, candidates can accept unlimited donations from individuals and political action committees but only $5,000 from corporations and unions. Corporations and unions can also give to PACs, but only in small sums. Whether the check to Pence was drawn on a bank account that contained corporate money is not a matter of public record. Read more ..


The London Olympics

The Cutting Edge News To Blank for One Minute in Tribute to 11 Slain Olympians

July 27th 2012

Munich athletes slain

The Cutting Edge News will blank its entire site today—July 27—for one minute at 4 pm ET in tribute to 11 slain Israeli Olympians. The site will go dark just before the Opening Ceremony in London. TCEN has asked other prominent websites to blank at 4 pm ET as well.

The 11 Israelis were murdered in 1972 by organized Arab terrorists in Munich's Olympic Village. The nightmare played out as the whole world watched. Despite calls by world leaders and waves of mass petitions to observe sixty seconds of silence in tribute to the massacre, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge has ruled such a moment inappropriate.

NBC sportscaster Bob Costas has declared that he will observe a minute on air—regardless of the IOC's reluctance or prohibition.

A number of other tragedies have been commemorated at past opening ceremonies, including at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics where the victims of the September 11 were remembered. At the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics in Norway, a moment of silence was held for the victims of the Siege of Sarajevo.  In Vancouver, at the 2010 Winter Olympics, a minute was observed to memorialize Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili who died in a tragic training accident.

The opening Olympic ceremonies promise to be a celebration of all that is life, but just a minute—one minute—is appropriate for history and the sanctity of life. This crime occured at the Olympics against the Olympics. If not here and now ... where and when? If not us ... who?

The Cutting Edge News goes dark for one minute today to remind all that we cannot understand what is happening in our world unless we can understand what has happened. Just for a minute.


The 2012 Vote

House, Senate Aim to Prevent Shutdown Before Election

July 26th 2012

Capitol Senate

Senior House and Senate leaders voiced optimism that they could reach agreement on a stopgap spending measure that would prevent a government shutdown shortly before the November election.

Congress has more than two months to figure out how to fund the government this fall, but because lawmakers are only in session for less than three weeks during that time, discussions about a continuing resolution have heated up in recent days. The Senate has made little progress passing annual appropriations bills, necessitating a stopgap measure to keep the government’s lights on through the November election.

It could be political suicide to have a government shutdown before voters go to the polls — for both sides of the aisle. Congress's approval rating is a scant 16 percent, according to a July Gallup poll. The central issue has been the length of a stopgap, and both sides appeared to be moving toward a six-month bill, which would keep the government running into 2013. Read more ..


The New Libya

Libya's Uncertain Post-Electoral Direction

July 25th 2012

Libya Voter

The impressive electoral performance of nominally liberal parties in Libya is being widely portrayed as a setback to Islamist political momentum in North Africa, but the reality is more complicated.

Following Libya's first free parliamentary elections since 1965, 60 percent of the members who won seats allocated to individuals rather than parties have yet to declare their party affiliation in the legislature. In a country historically riven by geographical divisions, Libyans voted for regional parties and candidates they knew rather than backing unfamiliar national factions with hastily conceived platforms. In response, Washington has characterized the elections as an "important step" in Libya's "democratic transition," but such optimism may be premature.

BACKGROUND
Libya's new General National Congress consists of 200 seats, 80 elected by party-list balloting and 120 allocated to individual candidates. During the July 7 contest -- in which 62 percent of registered voters participated -- 374 parties vied for the 80 dedicated seats, while 2,639 candidates competed for the individual slots. The National Forces Alliance (NFA), a coalition of about 60 parties, emerged with 39 seats, while the Muslim Brotherhood's Justice and Building Party finished a distant second with 17. The National Front, a group led by Libya's leading exiled opposition party, took 3 seats, and the Union for Homeland Party (UH) -- a regional faction based in Libya's third-largest city, Misratah -- captured 2.  Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Egyptian Lawmaker from Terrorist Group Was Thoroughly 'Vetted'

July 25th 2012

Janet Napolitano

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told lawmakers on Wednesday that a member of an Egyptian militant group labeled by the United States as a terrorist organization was vetted by three U.S. agencies before visiting the White House. Napolitano said the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Secret Service all thoroughly examined the Egyptian man, Hani Nour Eldin, before his visit to Washington, D.C., where he met with members of Congress and senior administration officials.

Eldin is a member of the Gama’a al-Islamiyya, or Islamic Group, which has been designated by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization. But Eldin was also recently elected as a member of Egypt’s parliament in the Islamic Group’s political offshoot, the Building and Development Party.

Napolitano, at a hearing on Wednesday, echoed comments made by the House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.), who said that as the Arab Spring results in reformed governmental structures in the Middle East, the United States — in an effort to maintain diplomatic ties with the revamped countries — may be forced to talk with groups and individuals that it once labeled terrorists, but which have now been democratically elected to office.

“As we move forward, we are going to continue to have visitors to this country that the State Department and others feel are useful to bring to the country, to have discussions moving forward, who say they're members of a political party that in the past has been so designated,” said Napolitano. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Is War With Hezbollah Coming?

July 24th 2012

Israeli Tanks Gaza Strip
Israeli Tanks

Israeli officials warned Tuesday that war with Iranian-backed Hezbollah might break out if the Jewish state learns Syria's chemical weapons cache has been transferred to the terrorist organization. In three separate statements, Israel's president, foreign minister, and army chief of staff all warned of a looming conflict.

Benny Gantz, the Israeli army's chief of staff, told a Knesset committee Tuesday that Syria's chemical weapons cache is secure for the moment. But if Israel is forced to search for the weapons, a war with Hezbollah would be imminent.

"To the best of my knowledge, at this moment there is control over this system…and it has not yet passed to bad hands - that not to say that this will stay this way. It is likely that this will change, and then we will have a dilemma," said Gantz. "There is a possibility that we will find it hard to locate (the shipments of transferred chemical weapons) and if you work broadly you can quite quickly find yourself in a campaign that is broader than you had intended." Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Dealing with Syria's Chemical Weapons: Military Options

July 23rd 2012

Israeli Jet Dive Bombing

Given the complexities of military action, Washington and its partners should pursue a policy of deterrence, assistance, containment, and elimination to prevent the use or diversion of Syria's chemical arsenal.

Growing violence in Syria has raised concerns that the Assad regime might use its massive stockpile of chemical weapons (CW) against the opposition, or that antiregime insurgents, al-Qaeda, Hizballah, or other states might divert some of these arms for their own use. Just yesterday, Nawaf al-Fares -- Syria's former ambassador to Iraq who recently defected to the opposition -- warned that the regime would use CW if cornered. Such concerns have prompted calls for action to deal with this threat. Yet past experience in Iraq and Libya demonstrates the complex nature of this operational and policy problem.

Syria has probably the largest and most advanced chemical warfare program in the Arab world, reportedly including thousands of tube and rocket artillery rounds filled with mustard-type blister agents, thousands of bombs filled with the nerve agents sarin and possibly VX , and binary-type and cluster CW warheads filled with nerve agents for all its major missile systems. Its CW infrastructure is believed to include several production facilities and numerous storage sites, mostly dispersed throughout the western half of the country. (Syria is also believed to have a biological warfare research and development program, though it is not believed to have produced biological weapons.)

Read more ..

Broken Banking

Geithner, Libor Scandal Before Congress

July 22nd 2012

Tim Geithner

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will be mounting a defense of the financial reform law and his own stint running the Federal Reserve Bank of New York as ongoing scandals cast renewed clouds over Wall Street.

The president’s top economic advisor is set to testify this week before banking panels in the House and Senate, just days after the Wall Street overhaul turns two years old, and in the midst of a rate-rigging scandal that could reach far across the financial sector. Geithner’s upcoming testimony has been in the works for weeks, and was intended to address a broad range of issues tied to the financial reform law.

But a burgeoning banking scandal over the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor) now will compete for the spotlight. Before becoming Treasury Secretary, Geithner was president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York when it first learned potential rigging of the benchmark interest rate was occurring.

Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas), who heads the House panel’s subcommittee on investigations, told The Hill earlier this month that he is confident Geithner will be faced with questions about the scandal during his appearance. Geithner may have gotten a sneak preview from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s testimony before the same two committees this past week. Like Geithner, Bernanke was invited to give his regular testimony on the state of the nation’s monetary policy. And while plenty of lawmakers did press him on the Fed’s plans for the economy, many also took the opportunity to dig into the Libor scandal. Read more ..


America on Edge

Drones over America: Lawmakers Probe Domestic UAVs

July 22nd 2012

The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Management, chaired by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), held a hearing titled, “Using Unmanned Aerial Systems Within the Homeland: Security Game Changer?” on Thursday. It was a meeting that received scant media coverage considering the seriousness of the subject, according to several counterterrorism and legal experts. According to some House lawmakers, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, have enhanced surveillance capabilities for military operations abroad and have increasingly been used within the continental United States as part of homeland security, such as border security operations. However, as of June 2012, President Barack Obama's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) appointees have authorized about 60 private and government entities to operate UAVs in domestic airspace. The authorized entities include Federal, State and local law enforcement and academic institutions. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

As Syria's Assad Regime Crumbles, al-Qaeda Streams Across Border--Anticipates New Islamist State

July 21st 2012

Free Syrian Army

Officials with the United Nations Mission in Syria reported yesterday that the Assad regime may be close to defeat with the killing and destruction in Damascus reaching an almost apocalyptic level. At the same time, according to a former police trainer who served in Iraq, officials he spoke with said that members of al-Qaeda's terrorist groups (al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) have been pouring across the border into Syria hoping to turn Syria into an Islamist nation complete with a constitution based on Sharia law.

The source's information was later confirmed by Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari who said members of the al-Qaeda terrorism network have crossed the border into Syria "Yes indeed, we have solid information and intelligence that members of al-Qaeda terrorist network have gone in the other direction to Syria to help and to liaise to carry out terrorist attacks," Zebari told reporters at a news conference in Baghdad. The foreign minister told reporters that Iraq had warned the Syrian regime that extremist militants were crossing borders into Iraq, but now the terrorists are going back to fight in the Syrian conflict. "This is a fact that the extremist groups have an important role in the level of violence that is going on in Syria," Zebari added. Read more ..


The Geological Edge

X-rays Illuminate Origin of Volcanic Hotspots, Provide Evidence for Mantle Plume Hypothesis

July 21st 2012

Kīlauea eruption 1983
Kīlauea, 1983 (credit: J.D. Griggs, USGS)

Scientists have recreated the extreme conditions at the boundary between Earth’s core and its mantle, 2,900 km beneath the surface. Using the world’s most brilliant beam of X-rays, they probed speck-sized samples of rock at very high temperature and pressure to show for the first time that partially molten rock under these conditions is buoyant and should segregate towards the Earth’s surface. This observation is a strong evidence for the theory that volcanic hotspots like the Hawaiian Islands originate from mantle plumes generated at the Earth’s core-mantle boundary. The results were published in Nature on 19 July 2012.

The group of scientists was led by Denis Andrault from the Laboratoire Magmas et Volcans of University Blaise Pascal in Clermont, and included scientists from the CNRS in Clermont and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France. Most volcanoes are situated where continental plates are pushed or pulled against each other. Here, the continental crust is weakened, and the magma can break through to the surface. The Pacific “Ring of Fire,” for example, exhibits such plate movements, resulting in powerful earthquakes and numerous active volcanoes. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

HSBC Admits Money Laundering Billions for Drug Lords and Terrorists

July 19th 2012

HSBC

Global private banking giant HSBC has 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.

“Some international banks abuse their U.S. access. Some allow affiliates operating in countries with severe money laundering, drug trafficking, or terrorist financing threats to open up U.S. dollar accounts without establishing safeguards at their U.S. affiliate," said Levin. "The end result is that the U.S. affiliate can become a sinkhole of risk for an entire network of bank affiliates and their clients around the world playing fast and loose with U.S. rules. The U.S. bank can end up aiding and abetting transactions that fund terrorists, drug cartels, corrupt dictators, and tax cheats.” Read more ..


Jews and Christians

Malcolm Hoenlein Rocks Christian Conference

July 18th 2012

Malcolm Hoenlein

Malcolm Hoenlein rocked CUFI on Tuesday.

Christianson United for Israel held their annual policy conference July 16-18, 2012 in Washington's gargantuan Convention Center.

Hoenlein, the long-time executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, was one of the central keynotes for the Tuesday session of the conference. On fire, Hoenlein spoke of the historic ties Christians and Jews have to Israel and the persistent efforts by Arab and Palestinian apologists to erase, reinvent, and transmogrify that history. Citing the Bible, held sacred to both Christians and Jews, punctuated with the latest archeological findings that validate ancient Jewish presence, Hoenlein thundered down a checklist of recent attempts to rewrite the history of Israel and Palestine. Thousands of CUFI attendees repeatedly jumped to their feet to interrupt Hoenlein with cheers and ovations. Shofar blasts from across the grand hall punctuated his presentation.

Officials of the Palestinian Authority and various synchronous agencies of the United Nations have mounted a campaign to deny the historic connection between Jews and Christians. A simultaneous Palestinian campaign has been waged to undercut the Jewish and Christian Bibles as works of fiction. In this vein, a well-orchestrated boycott and delegitimization campaign has claimed the Jewish Temple never existed, that Jewish Holy sites are in fact mosques, and has even postulated that Jesus was a Palestinian martyr.

The Koran, in Chapter 4, verse 157, states that Jesus was never crucified, and that an imposter was employed. The verse reads: "And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. … And they did not kill him, for certain."

At one point, Hoenlein dramatically put it to the audience: If there there was no Jewish Temple, what was Jesus doing up there? Hoenlein added that the best way to steal the Jewish future was to erase the Jewish history. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Newly Discovered Exoplanet Neighbor Smaller than Earth

July 18th 2012

Exoplanet candidate UCF-1.01
Artist’s conception of small, hot exoplanet candidate UCF-1.01
(credit: NASA)

The University of Central Florida has detected what could be its first planet, only two-thirds the size of Earth and located right around the corner, cosmically speaking, at a mere 33 light-years away. The exoplanet candidate, called UCF 1.01, is close to its star—so close it goes around the star in 1.4 days. The planet’s surface likely reaches temperatures of more than 1,000° Fahrenheit. The discoverers believe that it has no atmosphere, is only two-thirds the gravity of Earth, and that its surface may be volcanic or molten.

“We have found strong evidence for a very small, very hot, and very close-by planet with the help of the Spitzer Space Telescope,” said Kevin Stevenson, a recent PhD graduate from the UCF and lead author of the paper, which is scheduled to appear online in The Astrophysical Journal. “This discovery is a significant accomplishment for UCF.”

Stevenson and his colleagues were studying a hot-Neptune exoplanet, designated GJ 436b, already known to exist around the red dwarf star GJ 436, when data revealed clues that led them to suspect there could be at least one new planet in that system, perhaps two. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Israeli Tourists Massacred in Bulgarian Bus Explosion

July 18th 2012

Bulgarian Bus Explosion 7-18-12

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is blaming Iran for an explosion on a bus in Bulgaria with Israeli tourists aboard that killed at least four people and wounded nearly 30 others. The blast occurred at the airport in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Burgas shortly after a plane from Tel Aviv had landed. Bulgaria is a popular destination for Israeli tourists.

Local police called the explosion a terrorist act but cautioned they could not confirm the nationalities of those killed and injured. Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said police were investigating two possible causes of the blast -- that an explosive device was put in the bus before the tourists boarded or that the explosives were in the tourists' luggage. Bulgaria's President Rosen Plevneliev interrupted his schedule to go to the scene of the explosion. In Israel, Netanyahu released a statement about the attack that said "all signs lead to Iran." Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Contingency Plans for Syria's Chemical Weapons

July 17th 2012

Syrian Missiles

Like blurred windows into another world, cell phone video footage and hastily written messages seep through the Internet from Syria, giving outsiders a glimpse of the civil war raging in multiple locations. The defense establishment in Israel has long ago concluded that there can be only one eventual conclusion to the 16-month struggle that has claimed up to 17,000 lives so far; The ejection of the minority Alawite dictator, Bashar al-Assad, from power at the hands of Sunni fighters.

In recent days, the battles have edged into Damascus, and are slowly making their way to the center of the Syrian capital. This, in all likelihood, marks the beginning of the end for the Assad regime. From Israel's perspective, the earthquake now shaking Syria has several consequences, some immediate.

The most pressing issue is the fate of Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons, which is the largest in the Middle East. Assad is in possession of deadly Sarin and mustard gas compounds, as well as nerve agents, some of which have been fixed onto Scud missiles as chemical warheads, and, according to some reports, placed in specialized artillery shells. Read more ..


The New Iraq

Billions Wasted in Iraq Aid, Inspectors Find

July 17th 2012

Revolutionary Guards

The official in charge of monitoring America’s $51 billion effort to reconstruct Iraq has estimated that $6 billion to $8 billion of that amount was lost to waste, fraud and abuse. Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) for the past eight years, gave that estimate in an interview with the Center for Public Integrity on Monday, shortly after releasing a new summary of his office’s many grim discoveries since it began work in in 2004.

In the report, Bowen said the exact funds lost to fraud and waste “can never be known,” largely because of poor record-keeping by the U.S. agencies involved in the effort. These include the Departments of State and Defense, along with the U.S. Agency for International Development. According to the report, auditors repeatedly found that the State Department and Defense Department failed to properly review invoices from government contractors, often approving billions of dollars in services without checking if costs were accurate or efficient. “I think the consistent theme throughout our eight years of oversight work has been the inconsistent availability of records and information on contracts and costs,” said Bowen, a former Texas lawyer.

Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syrian Rebels Reach Parts of Damascus

July 16th 2012

Syrian uprising

Syria moved armored vehicles into the capital Damascus as opposition fighters battled Syrian government forces in what residents described as the fiercest fighting yet inside the capital.

Activists said Monday the fighting had spread to several neighborhoods and in the center of the city. The spread of fighting came as U.N. peace mediator Kofi Annan was going to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has resisted Western calls to increase pressure on Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday accused the West of using 'blackmail" to pressure Moscow into backing a stronger U.N. resolution against Syria.  Lavrov said that tying the threat of sanctions to a measure that would extend the U.N. observer mission in Syria is a "dangerous approach." He also rejected suggestions that Russia is protecting the Syrian president. "Of course you've heard the mantra many times that Moscow holds the key to the Syrian solution," Lavrov said. "When we ask them what they mean by that, they tell us, 'you should convince Assad to resign on his own will.'  But this is unrealistic, I've already said that." Read more ..


After the Holocaust

Nazi War Criminal Found in Hungary 64 Years after Death Sentence

July 16th 2012

Concentration Camp Survivor

One of the last surviving Nazi war criminals, a man who evaded a death sentence for 64 years, has been found living in Budapest, Hungary. A Hungarian national, László (or Ladislaus) Csizsik-Csatáry was placed in charge of the Jewish ghetto in Kassa (now located in Slovakia) during World War II. He was noted even at the time for the apparently sadistic pleasure he took in acts of cruelty and violence.

In the spring of 1944, he committed the crime that wrote his name into the history of infamy: he rounded up and deported almost 16,000 Jews to the Nazi death camps.

After the war, Csizsik-Csatáry's story became one of thwarted justice and bureaucratic malfeasance, as the murderer moved from country to country fleeing the inevitable punishment for his crimes.

He was first tried, in absentia, by Czechoslovakia, who sentenced him to death. Traveling under the false pretense of being a Yugoslavian citizen, Csizsik-Csatáry managed to find sanctuary in Canada. For decades, Csizsik-Csatáry must have believed he had escaped. Indeed, it was not until 1997 that his true identity was revealed, and his citizenship revoked. Somehow, he evaded justice again, disappearing from sight and prompting an international search by Nazi hunters. Read more ..


China on Edge

Is China's Economy Headed for Slowdown?

July 14th 2012

The East is Red

As the United States and Europe work to recover from their own economic crises, China has been one of the world's bright spots. But recent figures show that the country's fast economic growth is slowing. Days ago, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao signaled that the country's top leadership is concerned about an impending economic slowdown. He urged the government to implement policies to offset the “huge downward pressure” on the Chinese economy. His comments foreshadowed China's second quarter growth figures for this year, which were announced Friday by National Bureau of Statistics spokesman Sheng Laiyun.

Sheng says China's economy grew by 7.8 percent for the first half of this year. Meanwhile, he says the economic growth rate for the second quarter of this year slowed from 8.1 percent in the first quarter to 7.6 percent. He acknowledges that this is the first time in three years that China's GDP growth rate has dipped below eight percent, but adds he does not think it is a bad thing. According to Sheng, people should not only focus on the numbers, but also take into account unspecified domestic and external factors. From this perspective, he says China's economy has maintained what he described as steady growth. Read more ..


The Edge of Crime

London Olympics Spark Intense Anti-gang Operations

July 13th 2012

British bus

Besides anti-terrorism operations by Scotland Yard and MI5 to make London safer for the anticipated throngs of 2012 Olympic Games athletes, staff and spectators, the Yard is also attempting to prevent the city from being overrun by street gangs, a federal law enforcement source stated today. This month scores of suspected gang members were targeted in a series of coordinated operations as part of a major crack down on by the Metropolitan Police Service, according to the Home Office this week. The operation was spearheaded by a newly formed Trident Gang Crime Command. It's seen as the beginning of a step change in how the MPS tackles gang crime in the capital and forms a key part of the Met Commissioner's total war on crime.

Hundreds of police officers took part in this month's operation, which saw suspected gang members being pursued for a series of crimes, including assault, robbery and drugs supply in a refreshed approach to help stop young people getting killed or seriously injured. One thousand officers are specifically dedicated to tackling gang crime in London with the creation of a central Trident Gang Crime Command as well as the introduction of local task forces across London. Read more ..


Faster and More Furiously

The Other Consequences of Fast and Furious

July 12th 2012

Guns for sale

On the night of Dec. 14, 2010, U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was shot and killed while on patrol in an Arizona canyon near the U.S.-Mexico border. Two guns found at the scene were linked to an investigation being run by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) called “Operation Fast and Furious,” sparking a congressional inquiry into the program and generating considerable criticism of the ATF and the Obama administration. Because of this criticism, in August 2011 ATF acting director Kenneth Melson was reassigned from his post and the U.S. attorney for Arizona was forced to resign.

Currently, the congressional inquiry is focused on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who has been accused of misleading Congress about what he knew about Fast and Furious and when he learned it. The Obama administration has invoked executive privilege to block the release of some of the Department of Justice emails and memos sought by Congress pertaining to the operation. The controversy escalated June 28 when the U.S. House of Representatives voted to hold Holder in contempt of Congress for ignoring its subpoenas. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Romney Booed at NAACP Convention for Vowing to Repeal ‘ObamaCare’

July 11th 2012

Ask Mitt

Mitt Romney was booed on Wednesday at the NAACP for vowing to repeal President Obama's signature healthcare law.

"I will reduce government spending," Romney told the civil rights group during an address at their national convention in Houston. "Our high level of debt slows GDP growth and that means fewer jobs. If our goal is jobs, we must, must stop spending over a trillion dollars more than we earn. To do this, I will eliminate expensive non-essential programs like ObamaCare."

The remark drew a chorus of "boos" from the crowd. He paused to acknowledge them, and then deviated from his prepared remarks to double down on his pledge to repeal the legislation. “I say again, if our priority is jobs, and that’s my priority, that’s something I’d change,” Romney said, referring to a study indicating that the legislation makes employers less likely to hire.  Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Astronomers Discover Vanishing Act

July 10th 2012

Planet-forming disk
Artist's conception of a planet-forming disk similar to the one around
TYC 8241 2652—which vanished. (Credit: NASA JPL/CalTech)

Astronomers report a baffling discovery never seen before: An extraordinary amount of dust around a nearby star has mysteriously disappeared.

“It’s like the classic magician’s trick—now you see it, now you don't,” said Carl Melis, a postdoctoral scholar at UC San Diego and lead author of the research. “Only in this case, we're talking about enough dust to fill an inner solar system, and it really is gone!”

“It's as if the rings around Saturn had disappeared,” said co-author Benjamin Zuckerman, a UCLA professor of physics and astronomy. “This is even more shocking because the dusty disc of rocky debris was bigger and much more massive than Saturn's rings. The disc around this star, if it were in our solar system, would have extended from the sun halfway out to Earth, near the orbit of Mercury.”

The research on this cosmic vanishing act, which occurred around a star some 450 light years from Earth, in the direction of the constellation Centaurus, appeared in July the journal Nature. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Voters Say Obama has Changed Things for the Worse

July 9th 2012

Obama pensive with flag

Two-thirds of likely voters say President Obama has kept his 2008 campaign promise to change America — but it’s changed for the worse, according to a sizable majority.

A new poll for The Hill found 56 percent of likely voters believe Obama’s first term has transformed the nation in a negative way, compared to 35 percent who believe the country has changed for the better under his leadership.

The results signal broad voter unease with the direction the nation has taken under Obama’s leadership and present a major challenge for the incumbent Democrat as he seeks reelection this fall.

Conducted for The Hill by Pulse Opinion Research, the poll comes in the wake of last month’s Supreme Court decision that upheld the primary elements of Obama’s signature healthcare legislation. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

Clinton Admits Tough Task Winning Aid for Afghanistan

July 7th 2012

Hillary Clinton 2

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is traveling to Tokyo this weekend for a key conference with 70 countries, where the United States and its allies hope to nail down aid to Afghanistan for a decade to come.

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has said he’s seeking international aid of $4 billion annually for Afghanistan after 2014, when NATO troops are set to hand off security control to the Afghan security forces.

That development aid, which would help with things like healthcare and education, would come in addition to the $4.1 billion in military aid pledged to Afghanistan’s army and police force after NATO troops withdraw in 2014.
The conference comes on the heels of Clinton’s unannounced visit to Kabul Saturday to announce the designation of Afghanistan a ‘major non-NATO ally.” But donor countries are growing increasingly wary about giving with corruption still rampant in the Afghanistan government. Analysts call corruption one of the biggest roadblocks to a successful transition in Afghanistan. In addition, some analysts argue that the pledges being collected in Japan won’t wind up being kept amid the uncertainty in Afghanistan, particularly with elections there set to occur in 2014. Read more ..


The Battle for Lebanon

Sunni Islamism Stirs In Lebanon

July 4th 2012

Lebanese Opposition

As the civil war in Syria grinds on and assumes an increasingly sectarian character, echoes of the strife are being heard across the border in Lebanon.

The main beneficiary of the Arab uprisings of the last year has been Sunni Islamism. In Syria, Sunnis are playing an increasingly important role in the rebellion against President Bashar Assad. In Lebanon, too, individuals and movements of this type are emerging to prominence and issuing a challenge to the dominant political force in the country – Hezbollah. Sunni northern Lebanon, in particular the town of Tripoli, is a center both of Sunni Islamism and of support for the Syrian rebellion. The town has become a gathering point for foreign jihadi fighters on their way to fight the Assad regime.

The fate of Lebanon has always been acutely influenced by events in its larger neighbor, to the sorrow of many Lebanese. Currently, too, the Assad regime and Hezbollah are members of the same Iran-led regional bloc. Read more ..


Broken Government

Compromise 2012 Farm Bill Plows Rift into House Dem Lawmakers

July 3rd 2012

wheat fields

Liberal Democrats are fuming over $16 billion in cuts to food stamp programs included in the House farm bill set for a markup on Wednesday.

Rep. Collin Peterson (Minn.), the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, agreed to the cuts as a pragmatic way of moving forward with legislation important to rural lawmakers. He said much of the cuts would be restored in a conference with the Senate. Yet the move has led to anger on the left, while raising questions over whether the farm bill can pass the House given opposition among Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) issued a scathing statement after the bill’s release that called it immoral and inhumane. “This bill increases subsidies to millionaires. This is a bill that robs the poor to pay the rich,” she told the Hill Friday. “This bill is an outrage.” Read more ..



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