|Anthony H. Cordesman||May 14th 2012|
Center for Strategic and International Studies
We badly need to rethink our approach to Iran’s nuclear programs. We are putting far too much emphasis on Iran’s nuclear efforts without considering how these programs fit into Iran’s over military and strategic objectives. At the same time, we are placing too much emphasis on whether Iran has revived its formal nuclear program and the current shape of its nuclear facilities. The ironic result is to put too much emphasis on both the wrong form of arms control negotiations and preventive military strikes.
To begin, it is essential to understand that Iran has moved far beyond the point where it lacked the technology base to produce nuclear weapons, or where searching through the statements of senior Iranian officials provides any meaningful picture of its progress and intentions. Iran has pursued every major area of nuclear weapons development, has carried out programs that have already given it every component of a weapon except fissile material, and there is strong evidence that it has carried out programs to integrate a nuclear warhead on to its missiles. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|J.J. Barrow and Trevor Aaronson||May 14th 2012|
Paz Oquendo, a worker at the U.S. Postal Service’s Orlando sorting facility, smelled the noxious odor first. It was Feb. 4, 2011, and the foul stench was coming from one of the large mailbags hanging near the package-conveyor belts. She ran over to Jeffrey A. Lill, the 44-year-old shift supervisor who was monitoring the sorting from a platform, and reported the smell. “I can’t breathe,” Oquendo told Lill.
Lill headed toward the center of the sorting floor—an area workers call “the belly”—to investigate the odor.
Then he smelled it—a strong chemical stench he couldn’t identify. It was coming from a bag wet with a brown viscous substance. Lill looked in the wet sack and saw a broken package with tubes and wires sticking out. He remembers reading the return address with surprise: Yemen. Four months earlier, two bombs from Yemen had been sent through FedEx and UPS, and the U.S. Postal Service had alerted everyone to be on the lookout for packages coming from the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Jonathan Spyer||May 13th 2012|
The port of Oktyabrsk is situated on the left bank of the Bug River, 58 km. north of the entry to the Black Sea. Close to the city of Nikolayev, this anonymous Ukrainian port could not seem further from the strife-torn Middle East. Yet in the last year, Oktyabrsk has played a key role in the international structure that enables the survival of the Assad dictatorship in Syria. It is the main point from which ships bearing the Russian arms that underwrite the Assad regime’s survival set off undisturbed on their journey to the Syrian coast.
Chartered by the state-owned Russian arms corporation Rosoboronexport, the ships make their way from Oktyabrsk to the Black Sea. They cross the Bosphorous Straits to Limassol in Cyprus and continue to the Russian deep sea port in Tartous, Syria. These shipments form a vital node in Moscow’s tireless effort to prevent revolution in Syria. They have received insufficient international attention. If Syria constitutes, as some believe, the central linchpin to understanding events in the Middle East, then the signs are not positive. Read more ..
Earth on Edge
|Pedro Teixeira||May 13th 2012|
Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology
|Eyjafjallajökull eruption, Apr 2010 (© 2010/credit: Marco Fulle)|
In May 2010, the ash cloud from the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull reached the Iberian Peninsula and brought airports to a halt all over Europe. At the time, scientists followed its paths using satellites, laser detectors, sun photometers, and other instruments. Two years later they have now presented the results and models that will help to prevent the consequences of such natural phenomena.
The eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in the south of Iceland began on 20 March 2010. On 14 April, it began to emit a cloud of ash that moved towards Northern and Central Europe, resulting in the closure of airspace. Hundreds of planes and millions of passengers were grounded. After a period of calm, volcanic activity intensified once again on 3 May. This time the winds transported the aerosols (a mixture of particles and gas) towards Spain and Portugal, where some airports had to close between 6 and 12 May. This was also a busy time for scientists, who took advantage of the situation to monitor the phenomenon. Read more ..
The Environmental Edge
|Mario Aguilera||May 13th 2012|
A 100-fold upsurge in human-produced plastic garbage in the ocean is altering habitats in the marine environment, according to a new study led by a graduate student researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. In 2009 an ambitious group of graduate students led the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition (SEAPLEX) to the North Pacific Ocean Subtropical Gyre aboard the Scripps research vessel New Horizon. During the voyage the researchers, who concentrated their studies a thousand miles west of California, documented an alarming amount of human-generated trash, mostly broken down bits of plastic the size of a fingernail floating across thousands of miles of open ocean.
At the time the researchers didn't have a clear idea of how such trash might be impacting the ocean environment, but a new study reveals that plastic debris in the area popularly known as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" has increased by 100 times over in the past 40 years, leading to changes in the natural habitat of animals such as the marine insect Halobates sericeus. These "sea skaters" or "water striders"—relatives of pond water skaters—inhabit water surfaces and lay their eggs on flotsam (floating objects). Read more ..
Broken Wall Street
|Peter Schroeder||May 12th 2012|
Democrats have been fighting a years-long uphill battle to protect the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. Now, thanks to JPMorgan Chase, they think they might have the edge back. When the banking titan announced Thursday evening that one of its traders’ moves had, in six weeks, lost the firm at least $2 billion, backers of the Wall Street overhaul could not have asked for a better example to make their case, or a better time. "It confirms our view that there needs to be regulation,” said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee. “It shows that if it can happen to them, it can happen to anybody.”
Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said the gigantic loss should be a wake-up call, after banks have been bringing pressure to bear for softer rules. “How many times do we have to be hit in the head with a financial sledgehammer to wake up and realize we’ve got to take action?” he said. “The big banks have been fighting Dodd-Frank tooth and nail. … Regrettably, the banks have largely been successful.”
When Dodd-Frank was signed into law nearly two years ago in the wake of the financial crisis, it was sold as one of the most sweeping overhauls of the financial industry in history. Read more ..
Greece on Edge
From RFE and Agencies
Greece's socialist leader, Evangelos Venizelos, says efforts to form a coalition government have failed. Venizelos, who was the last of three party leaders to try to reach an agreement, said he would hand the mandate back to President Carolos Papoulias on May 12. He made the comments after meeting with Alexis Tsipras, whose antiausterity Syriza party came second in last weekend's election. Tsipras said he would not join any government that intended to continue implementing the terms of Greece's international bailout agreement. The May 6 inconclusive elections have boosted the standing of antiausterity parties, which want to abolish Greece's bailout deal with the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Athens must pass new austerity measures worth 14.5 billion euros by June in order to qualify for the next installment of the bailout. New elections would have to be called in June. Read more ..
Russia on Edge
|Daisy Sindelar||May 11th 2012|
Authorities might have hoped that Moscow's tenacious protest movement would die down after hundreds of demonstrators were summarily arrested at a May 6 rally ahead of Vladimir Putin's presidential inauguration. But rather than giving up, protesters are adapting their tactics. This week has seen activists in the Russian capital gathering in public places for group strolls, sit-ins, and playful performances they say do not constitute political protests -- but still get the message across. At a series of "people's walks" this week, hundreds of Muscovites -- many dressed in white or wearing white ribbons, the symbolic color of the protest movement -- gathered in loose groups in central Moscow, singing, playing games, and listening to music.
Political slogans and speechifying were kept to a minimum, with most messages scrawled unobtrusively on skin or scribbled on the ground in chalk. One participant who brazenly displayed a political banner earned a chorus of boos from a group of peaceful participants including talk-show darling Ksenia Sobchak. "This isn't a protest, this is a walk," she scolded him. Read more ..
|Fred Schulte||May 10th 2012|
|Health and Human Services Washington DC|
Thousands of doctors across the country are billing Medicare for routine medical care at rates far above their peers, potentially costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in overcharges, according to a new government report. The audit released today by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General stopped short of accusing the high-billing doctors of ripping off the government health plan for the elderly. But it stated that Medicare’s payment scales for doctors have been “vulnerable to fraud and abuse” in recent years.
The doctor payment scales are known as “Evaluation and Management” or E/M codes. Doctors choose from five escalating payment levels for treating patients based on the “amount of skill, effort, time responsibility and medical knowledge required for the service.” In 2010, almost 370 million E/M services were provided by about 442,000 doctors nationwide. The code the doctor chooses can make a big difference to the bottom line. For instance, the Medicare fee for treating a new patient in 2010 ranged from $36.62 to $190.56, depending on the level of service provided by the doctor, and the code chosen for billing. Read more ..
The Drug Wars
The United States Department of Treasury added four members of a notorious and deadly Mexican drug cartel to its sanctions list on Tuesday. The Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control ( OFAC) branded Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel, including two sons of the group's drug lord Joaquin " Chapo" Guzman Loera, as Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers, a move that bars U.S. citizens from doing business with them and freezes their assets under U.S. jurisdiction.
The men are identified as Loera's sons Ivan Archivaldo Guzman Salazar and Ovidio Guzman Lopez, Noel Salgueiro Nevarez and Ovidio Limon Sanchez, who, according to the Treasury, are four key operatives of Sinaloa. Salazar was arrested in 2005 by Mexican authorities on money laundering charges but was later released, while Lopez plays a " significant" role in his father's drug trafficking activities, the Treasury said in a statement. Read more ..
Israel After the Coalition
|David Makovsky ||May 9th 2012|
|Binyamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz|
Read more ..
Israel's new national unity government strengthens both Binyamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz, but it will ultimately be judged by whether it makes progress on its foreign and domestic policy agenda. In a stunning political shift, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz, the newly elected head of the leading opposition party Kadima, forged a national unity government in Israel late Monday night. The move adds 28 Kadima parliamentarians to the ruling coalition, increasing the current government's tally to 94 of the Knesset's 120 seats, the most ever. Mofaz will become vice prime minister, a member of the inner security cabinet, and a minister-without-portfolio. Various portfolios will be given to other Kadima members. The move was announced mere hours after the preliminary passage of a bill calling for early elections on September 4. The parties have now pushed those elections to October 2013, the end of the full four-and-a-half-year term -- a longevity few Israeli governments have achieved.
Edge of Terrorism
|Peter Heinlein||May 8th 2012|
|Joseph Kony (l) at peace talks.|
Four Central African nations are preparing to ratchet up the hunt for the fugitive outlaw Joseph Kony and members of his rebel Lord's Resistance Army. Military leaders are organizing a coordinated campaign to put an end to nearly three decades of LRA terror.
The defense ministers and army chiefs of Uganda, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo Tuesday discussed the rules of engagement for an offensive to stamp out the LRA. South Sudan is also involved in the effort, but its officials were said to be busy elsewhere and could not attend.
Officials say the military chiefs will ask the African Union and the United Nations to endorse a robust mandate for their campaign. AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra says the goal is to neutralize not just the self-proclaimed prophet Kony, but his entire band of 150 to 200 followers. "Joseph Kony would be a good result of our concerted joint action but then you have to be sure you neutralize the whole organization," Lamamra said. Read more ..
The Bear is Back
|George Friedman||May 8th 2012|
This week, Vladimir Putin was sworn in for a third term as Russian president, and France's presidential election continued the trend of losses for incumbent European governments when French President Nicolas Sarkozy lost to socialist challenger Francois Hollande. Putin's return to the presidency was not unexpected; he was never really unseated as Russia's leader even during Dmitri Medvedev's presidency. Nevertheless, the changes in Europe exemplified by the French presidential election will require Russia to change its tactics in Europe.
Russia has been on the path to resurgence since Putin won the presidency in 1999. He inherited a broken, weak and chaotic Russia. As Stratfor has noted over the years, Putin did not seek to re-create the Soviet Union. He is a student of geopolitics, and he understands Russia's constraints and the overreaching that led to the fall of the Soviet Union. Putin's mission was to return Russia to stability and security -- a massive undertaking for the leader of a country that not only is the world's largest but also is internally diverse and surrounded by potentially hostile powers.
During his first presidential term, Putin launched a comprehensive series of reforms that recentralized power over the Russian regions, cracked down on militancy in the Russian Caucasus, purged the oligarch class and centralized the economy and political system. Putin implemented an autocratic regime and used the military and Russia's security apparatus (including the Federal Security Service), following the example of previous leaders, from the czars to the Soviet rulers. Putin's maneuvers were the natural evolution of how a successful leader rules Russia.
With Russia strong and steady, Putin was able to focus on his country's near abroad. However, the countries surrounding Russia were hostile to the Kremlin's view, with NATO and the European Union pushing ever closer to Russia's borders and forming partnerships with numerous former Soviet states. The czars and Soviet rulers used two primary tactics to counter such a situation. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Rick Pantaleo||May 7th 2012|
The recent discovery of Earth-like planets has changed the way scientists look for life on other planets, according to the scientist who inspired Jodie Foster’s character in “Contact,” a 1997 film about the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence. Astronomer Dr. Jill Tarter, director of the SETI Institute’s Center for SETI Research in California, has devoted her career to the search for signs of intelligent beings elsewhere. There’s always been a fascination with the possibility intelligent life exists beyond our planet. Last year’s discovery of a super-Earth planet some 600 light years away, which might support human-like life, added to that excitement.
Modern efforts in the search for extra-intelligence beyond Earth (SETI) can be traced back to the brilliant inventor Nikola Tesla who, in 1896, suggested that radio could be used to contact extraterrestrial life. Today, several scientific organizations, including the SETI institute, use sophisticated technology, such as powerful radio-telescopes, to search for intelligent forms of life somewhere out in the cosmos.
So, are we alone in the universe? Read more ..
|Francois Hollande |
Francois Hollande has been elected France's first Socialist president in nearly two decades, beating incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in a vote marked by anger over austerity measures, high unemployment and the country's lagging economy. Initial official results of Sunday's vote show Hollande winning with 52 percent of the vote. Surveys predicted Francois Hollande would be the winner in the second-round runoff. And the Socialist candidate and his supporters savored the victory.
Thousands of people gathered around the Socialist Party headquarters and the Place de la Bastille in Paris, a historic site of the French Revolution, to celebrate Hollande's victory. Crowds also packed Hollande's political home base of Tulles in southwestern France, where the president-elect delivered his victory speech. Hollande said Europe is watching France and he predicted that his victory would be celebrated in other European countries. He said it signified that economic austerity is not the final word and that his message is one of growth and prosperity. Read more ..
The Justice Department has been increasingly eager to prosecute officials for leaks of classified information, charging six individuals with disclosures that violate the Espionage Act just since the start of 2009. But at the same time, the government itself has lost track of hundreds of boxes filled with classified documents at its main records storage site, the Washington National Records Center .
According to a new report from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Office of Inspector General, more than 1,500 boxes of classified documents have gone missing at the site, located in Suitland, Maryland. While some are “still occasionally being located,” the Archives’ office of records services has stopped its internal searching, the report said, and the affected agencies have been notified.
Among the missing records are 81 boxes with documents labeled Top Secret, Secret, and Restricted Data, among the highest classification categories. They were from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Navy, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, the Energy Department, and other agencies. Restricted Data is a special category for data pertinent to nuclear weapons. Each box contains between 2,000 and 2,500 pieces of paper, states the IG’s report, which was first disclosed by The Washington Times.
These records weren’t stolen in an act of espionage. The IG places the blame for the loss of the boxes squarely on mismanagement by the records center, which is controlled by the Archives, an issue described in the report as “systemic.” That conclusion seems beyond dispute. The new report, which is itself labeled “Official Use Only,” discloses that in two previous inventories there, in 1998 and 2004, boxes of classified materials were found missing. But the results were never written up in a report and “minimal corrective actions” were taken, it states. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
If there is ever a moment when President Obama needed to capture the vintage version of himself, it is Saturday’s campaign rallies in swing state Ohio and Virginia. On the heels of a lukewarm jobs report, the graying, 50-year-old president who has suffered, as he puts it, “dings in the fender” during his three years in office is aiming to generate the level of excitement that typified his 2008 campaign. Obama will launch his bid for reelection in appearances with the first lady before jam-packed, rocking arenas—the president’s favorite campaign setting—at Ohio State University and Virginia Commonwealth University.
His message, foreshadowed in a seven-minute campaign video released this week, is that change is in progress but it takes time.
It’s a sentiment that reflects reality for a battle-scarred president. The economy continues to struggle after the deepest recession in decades, which has left millions unemployed and a jobless rate above 8 percent. And the jobs report released on Friday reveals only 115,000 jobs were added in April. Read more ..
Indian-Americans own roughly half of the motels in the United States, according to a new book about their dominance in a quintessentially American industry. Roadside motels are a quintessential feature of Americana dating back to the 1940s and '50s. Even today they are a staple of the American highway landscape. Their story, the subject of a new book, tells an equally American tale: The immigrant's life.
The U.S. motel industry, from small independent motels to large economy franchises, is now dominated by Indian-Americans, many of whom are gathering in Atlanta, Georgia this week for the annual convention of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association. The convention has enough pull to draw big name speakers such as former President Bill Clinton, former General Electric Chairman Jack Welch and other well-known celebrities.
The phenomenon of Indian-American predominance in the motel industry is explored in the new book, Life Behind the Lobby: Indian American Motel Owners and the American Dream, by Pawan Dhingra, a sociology professor at Oberlin College. Read more ..
|Martin Barillas||May 4th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
Spirit Airlines will begin charging $100 per bag for passengers who bring luggage for stowing in overhead bins. This is the first U.S. carrier to impose such fees for carry-on bags. Currently, the airline charges $45 when passengers show up at a gate with a carry-on bag. The rate hike is scheduled to go into effect on November 6, according to the airline’s website.
The change means that any passenger who comes to a boarding gate without having pre-paid for the privilege of stowing their carry-on will be charged at the new rate. Spirit offers a confusing menu of fees for baggage that are linked to the point during reservations when passengers ‘buy’ the option of taking a carry-on bag. Spirit offers to passengers "ultra low base fares" for airline tickets by paying fees only for "the extras they value," the website says. Read more ..
The Arab Winter in Libya
|Scott Stewart||May 3rd 2012|
In March 2011, while many of the arms depots belonging to the government of Libya were being looted, analysts noted how the weapons taken from Libyan government stockpiles could end up being used to fuel violence in the region and beyond. Since then, Tuareg militants, who were previously employed by the regime of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, left Libya with sizable stockpiles of weapons in their possession and returned to their homes in northern Mali, where they have successfully wrested control of the region away from the Malian government.
These Tuareg militants were aided greatly in their battle against the government by the hundreds of light pickup trucks mounted with crew-served heavy weapons that they looted from Libyan depots. These vehicles, known as "technicals," permitted the Tuareg rebels to outmaneuver and at times outgun the Malian military. Moreover, we have recently received reports that Tuareg rebels also brought back a sizable quantity of SA-7b shoulder fired surface-to-air missiles, also known as man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS).
While we have not yet seen reports of the Tuaregs using these missiles, reports of close interaction between the Tuaregs in northern Mali and regional jihadist franchise al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) raise concern that AQIM could buy or somehow acquire them from the Tuaregs. We have seen unconfirmed reports of AQIM fighters possessing MANPADS, and Algerian authorities have seized MANPADS among the weapons being smuggled into the country from Libya. For example, in mid-February, Algerian authorities seized 15 SA-24 and 28 SA-7 Russian-made MANPADS at a location in the southern desert called In Amenas. Read more ..
Coke and Confiscation
|Martin Barillas||May 2nd 2012|
Cutting Edge senior correspondent
Dispossessed Egyptian-Jewish businessman Refael Bigio is embarking upon his 15th year battling a goliath corporate adversary, The Coca-Cola Company, which, he charges, is utilizing his family’s property just outside Cairo which was expropriated by Egyptian President Gamel Nasser during one of Nasser’s anti-Jewish purges. Over the course of a decade and a half, the Coca-Cola Company has, Bigios’ lawyers say, steadfastly refused to bargain in good faith or to negotiate fair compensation for the expropriated property although Coca-Cola has reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from the operations of “Coca-Cola Egypt” that continues to utilize and exploit property which Coca-Cola has known since 1965 was seized unlawfully from Jewish owners by Nasser’s regime.
The Bigio family filed today a petition for a rehearing by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals’ 13 active Circuit Judges seeking to restore their lawsuit against Coca-Cola and ensure that the family will have an opportunity to litigate their claims in a US court. In March, a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit dismissed the case on the ground that the Bigios’ complaint did not sufficiently allege that Coca-Cola’s headquarters in the U.S. controlled “Coca-Cola Egypt.” In their petition for rehearing, the Bigios’ attorneys noted that the supposedly missing detailed facts regarding Coca-Cola’s internal operations could only be proved by evidence exclusively in Coca-Cola’s files. The lawyers stressed that the panel dismissed the Bigios’ case “before Coca-Cola even answered the complaint and plaintiffs were given any opportunity for discovery.” According to the petition for rehearing, the pleading standard applied by the Court of Appeals conflicts with the standard set by the U.S. Supreme Court and followed by the First, Sixth, Ninth and Eleventh Circuits.
The Bigios allege that Coca-Cola has been making millions of dollars annually in profits by exploiting, through “Coca-Cola Egypt,” property that Coca-Cola had, before 1965, leased from the Bigio family. The property was confiscated by the Egyptian government in Nasser’s anti-Jewish program of religious persecution, and it was used by a government-owned company called ENBC that purportedly leased it from a government-owned insurance company. Coca-Cola took control of the property in 1994 – over the Bigio family’s objection – by purchasing a substantial interest in ENBC, which was promptly renamed “Coca-Cola Egypt.” Read more ..
Iran on Edge
|Martin Barillas||May 2nd 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
While President Barack Obama was in Kabul overnight to meet with Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai to ink a strategic arrangement between the two countries over the U.S. military drawdown, the Pentagon is weighing contingency plans for war with Iran.
Based in Florida, the U.S. Central Command is capable of destroying or significantly degrading Iran’s armed forces in just three weeks by using the air and maritime assets at its disposal. Even now, the U.S. is stepping up its presence in the Persian Gulf, maintaining two aircraft carriers in the region as well as increasing the number of mine-detection vessels and helicopters. By strewing the Strait of Hormuz and to the Arabian Sea, a strategic chokepoint through which petroleum-laden ships must pass on their way through the Gulf to the open sea, Iran would thereby seal off approximately one-fifth of the world’s oil supply and cause significant worldwide economic disruption.
Aviation Week has reported that the Air Force has sent in its first-line stealth strike fighter, the F-22 Raptor, to a base in the United Arab Emirates, less than 200 miles across the Gulf from Iran. Iran’s defense minister, Gen. Ahmed Vahdi, said on April 30 that the deployment of the Raptors to theatre “is a harmful action and damages regional security." Gen. Vahidi characterized the move as “psychological warfare," on the part of the U.S., while averring that American military presence in the region "...will bear no fruit except insecurity and complications." The Raptors, the United States’ most advanced warplanes, are equipped with rockets and laser-guided munitions that could unleash havoc in Iran by striking military installations, oil refineries and fuel depots, as well as transportation hubs, as did US Air Force and Navy Fighting Falcons and Hornets during the initial phase of the Second Iraq War. Read more ..
The Drug Wars
South of the border, war is raging with guns mostly supplied by merchants in the United States.
The Government of Mexico has estimated that almost 50,000 people have been killed since 2006, a toll that has made its top officials irate about the persistent flow of weapons south. Some law enforcement officials in the U.S. government share the Mexicans’ concern, but their attempts to stanch the flow by obtaining better intelliegence about it have badly singed their fingers.
The notorious “Fast and Furious” operation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms—one in a string of attempts over a nearly decade-long period to tag and closely monitor the movement of individual arms—blew up when two of the weapons being tracked were used to kill a U.S. border patrol agent in 2010.
Republicans in Congress seized on the issue, holding multiple hearings last year. Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson was reassigned. The Phoenix U.S. attorney who oversaw the operation also resigned, and Republicans called for the resignation of Attorney General Eric Holder. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Megan Watzke||April 30th 2012|
Chandra X-ray Center
An extraordinary outburst produced by a black hole in a nearby galaxy has provided direct evidence for a population of old, volatile stellar black holes. The discovery, made by astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, provides new insight into the nature of a mysterious class of black holes that can produce as much energy in X-rays as a million suns radiate at all wavelengths. Researchers used Chandra to discover a new ultraluminous X-ray source, or ULX. These objects give off more X-rays than most binary systems, in which a companion star orbits the remains of a collapsed star. These collapsed stars form either a dense core called a neutron star or a black hole. The extra X-ray emission suggests ULXs contain black holes that might be much more massive than the ones found elsewhere in our galaxy. The companion stars to ULXs, when identified, are usually young, massive stars, implying their black holes are also young. The latest research, however, provides direct evidence that ULXs can contain much older black holes and some sources may have been misidentified as young ones. The intriguing new ULX is located in M83, a spiral galaxy about 15 million light years from Earth, discovered in 2010 with Chandra. Astronomers compared this data with Chandra images from 2000 and 2001, which showed the source had increased in X-ray brightness by at least 3,000 times and has since become the brightest X-ray source in M83. Read more ..
|Yoni Hirsch||April 29th 2012|
HaYom and Agencies
|An F-22 formation|
Read more ..
A prominent Iranian lawmaker says the reported basing of America's most sophisticated stealth jet fighters in the United Arab Emirates is a U.S.-Israel plot to create regional instability. The U.S. Air Force has moved several F-22 stealth combat aircraft to a base in the United Arab Emirates, 300 km (186) miles from the Iranian border, according to a report by the Aviation Report magazine on Saturday. The F-22 is considered one of the most technologically advanced aircraft in the U.S. Air Force, although it has yet to be utilized in actual combat.
Kazem Jalali was reacting to media reports of the recent deployment of F-22 Raptors at the UAE's Al Dhafra Air Base, which has long hosted U.S. warplanes. Aviation Report claims the planes were moved to the Al Dhafra air base, a short distance from Iran's southern border, but a U.S. Air Force spokesmen refused to disclose the location of the planes, saying only that they were located somewhere in southwest Asia. The UAE is in southwest Asia. Jalali was quoted by the semiofficial ISNA news agency Sunday.
The Race for Hi-Speed Rail
|James Brooke||April 28th 2012|
The country’s budgets are balanced. Debt is low. Savings are piling up. Russians are getting their pre-recession mojo back. On the consumer end, sales of foreign cars made in Russia jumped 90 percent during the first quarter of 2012 over last year.
In the Kremlin, leaders are thinking big again.
In rapid succession, the government leaked a plan to create a “super agency” to develop the Russian Far East; President-elect Vladimir Putin vowed to spend $17 billion a year for new and improved railroads, and Vladimir Yakunin, president of Russian Railways, promoted a think big plan — a rail and tunnel link connecting Russia and the United States.
“It is not a dream,” Yakunin, a close ally of Mr. Putin, told reporters last week. “I am convinced that Russia needs the development of areas of the Far East, Kamchatka. I think that the decision to build must be made within the next three-five years.” Next year, Russia’s railroad czar will open one big leg on the trip toward the Bering Strait – an 800 kilometer rail line to Yakutsk, capital of Sakha Republic, a mineral rich area larger than Argentina. Read more ..
The Mortgage Meltdown
|Peter Schroeder||April 28th 2012|
Roughly four years after the financial crisis hit, some on the left are wondering when, or even if, the Obama administration plans to pursue criminal prosecutions of the Wall Street figures that played a major role in the meltdown. Top White House officials, including the president himself, have vowed the slow, steady work of investigations is underway, and that those who broke the law on Wall Street will ultimately be held accountable. But despite those promises, there is scant public proof of progress, leaving some wondering how long it will take for the government to assign blame for the financial crisis.
"There's a little bit of mystification ... about just when and if the administration is going to do what it has said about the prosecutions," said Roger Hickey, co-director of the liberal Campaign for America's Future. "Many groups that are based in the Democratic Party just feel like they're getting the runaround." Many of those groups were heartened when the president announced in his January State of the Union address that he was establishing a team within the Department of Justice devoted specifically to rooting out wrongdoing in the housing market that precipitated the financial meltdown. "This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans," the president told lawmakers. Read more ..
The Edge of Physics
|Nathalie Hüber||April 27th 2012|
University of Zurich
|CERN compact muon solenoid endcap (credit CERN CMS)|
Physicists from the University of Zurich have discovered a previously unknown particle composed of three quarks using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). A new baryon could thus be detected for the first time at the LHC. The baryon—known as Xi_b^*—confirms fundamental assumptions of physics regarding the binding of quarks.
In particle physics, the baryon family refers to particles that are made up of three quarks. Quarks form a group of six particles that differ in their masses and charges. The two lightest quarks, the so-called “up” and “down” quarks, form the two atomic components: protons and neutrons. All baryons that are composed of the three lightest quarks (“up”, “down,” and “strange” quarks) are known. Only very few baryons with heavy quarks have been observed to date. They can only be generated artificially in particle accelerators as they are heavy and very unstable.
In the course of proton collisions in the LHC at CERN, physicists Claude Amsler, Vincenzo Chiochia, and Ernest Aguiló from the University of Zurich’s Physics Institute managed to detect a baryon with one light and two heavy quarks. The particle Xi_b^* comprises one “up”, one “strange” and one “bottom” quark (usb), is electrically neutral and has a spin of 3/2 (1.5). Its mass is comparable to that of a lithium atom. The new discovery means that two of the three baryons predicted in the usb composition by theory have now been observed. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Jia-Rui Cook ||April 26th 2012|
|Aquila Crater, Vesta (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)|
Findings from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft reveal new details about the giant asteroid Vesta, including its varied surface composition, sharp temperature changes and clues to its internal structure. The findings were presented in April at the European Geosciences Union meeting in Vienna, Austria, and will help scientists better understand the early solar system and processes that dominated its formation.
Images from Dawn’s framing camera and visible and infrared mapping spectrometer, taken 420 miles (680 kilometers) and 130 miles (210 kilometers) above the surface of the asteroid, show a variety of surface mineral and rock patterns. Coded false-color images help scientists better understand Vesta’s composition and enable them to identify material that was once molten below the asteroid’s surface.
Researchers also see breccias, which are rocks fused during impacts from space debris. Many of the materials seen by Dawn are composed of iron- and magnesium-rich minerals, which often are found in Earth’s volcanic rocks. Images also reveal smooth pond-like deposits, which might have formed as fine dust created during impacts settled into low regions. Read more ..
Russia on Edge
|George Friedman||April 24th 2012|
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 reversed a process that had been under way since the Russian Empire's emergence in the 17th century. It was ultimately to incorporate four general elements: Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Caucasus and Siberia. The St. Petersburg-Moscow axis was its core, and Russia, Belorussia and Ukraine were its center of gravity. The borders were always dynamic, mostly expanding but periodically contracting as the international situation warranted. At its farthest extent, from 1945 to 1989, it reached central Germany, dominating the lands it seized in World War II. The Russian Empire was never at peace. As with many empires, there were always parts of it putting up (sometimes violent) resistance and parts that bordering powers coveted -- as well as parts of other nations that Russia coveted.
The Russian Empire subverted the assumption that political and military power requires a strong economy: It was never prosperous, but it was frequently powerful. The Russians defeated Napoleon and Hitler and confronted the far wealthier Americans for more than four decades in the Cold War, in spite of having a less developed or less advanced economy. Its economic weakness certainly did undermine its military power at times, but to understand Russia, it is important to begin by understanding that the relationship between military and economic power is not a simple one.
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War Against the Weak
|Martin Barillas||April 23rd 2012|
Investigative journalist and author Edwin Black will launch the new expanded edition of his award-winning bestseller War Against the Weak during a live global event in the North Carolina General Assembly’s Legislative Auditorium in Raleigh, NC, at noon on April 25.
See the Live Global Launch here
The book has a special appendix on North Carolina’s program. During the launch event, Black will present his new findings on North Carolina’s program of eugenic genocide against its own citizens, which, he states, was executed in lockstep with national and Nazi eugenic leaders throughout America and in the Third Reich. After his presentation, Black will answer questions live from both audience members and remote participants worldwide. Advance requests have already come in from concentration camp scholars in Poland, genetic study groups in San Francisco, and from survivors of the North Carolina program.
NC State Rep. Earline Parmon of Winston-Salem will introduce the program and Black's presentation. Rep. Parmon, along with Rep. Larry Womble, has championed the cause of compensation for the state's surviving eugenic victims. More than 27 states joined the shameful decades-long utopian campaign of medically and legislatively engineered racial supremacy. But only one state, North Carolina, is now readying a massive plan of financial reparations to its surviving victims. Just how much North Carolina should pay—and who should write the check—is now the subject of a historically wrenching debate. Many suggest the legislature will vote $50,000 for each surviving victim.
The new appendix to War Against the Weak reveals that North Carolina eugenic officials in the 1930s and 1940s were less concerned about the state’s population than doing its bit to advance the worldwide campaign to create a Master Race. Raceologists at the apex of American eugenics were working with North Carolina officials. These include Harry Laughlin of the Carnegie Institution’s Eugenics Record Office. In 1938, Laughlin had set into motion Connecticut governor Wilbur Cross’s plan to declare thousands of Connecticut’s residents “unfit aliens,” and “deport” them to their “ancestral states,”including North Carolina. Under the state plan, never executed, Connecticut citizens would be stripped of their assets before deportation. It was presumed these “displaced” Americans would be so numerous and without funds, that they would be housed in receiver state confinement camps where they would be mass sterilized. Euthanasia, long a cause celebre of eugenicists, was also explored if a way could be found to make it legal. Laughlin’s plan was aborted when Governor Cross failed in his 1938 re-election bid. Nazi eugenics collapsed when the Third Reich fell in 1945. Read more ..
Edge of Space
|Andrea Elyse Messer||April 22nd 2012|
Autonomous, self-replicating robots -- exobots -- are the way to explore the universe, find and identify extraterrestrial life and perhaps clean up space debris in the process, according to a Penn State engineer, who notes that the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) is in its 50th year.
"The basic premise is that human space exploration must be highly efficient, cost effective, and autonomous as placing humans beyond low Earth orbit is fraught with political economic, and technical difficulties," John D. Mathews, professor of electrical engineering, reported in the current issue of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society.
If aliens are out there, they have the same problems we do: they need to conserve resources, are limited by the laws of physics and they may not even be eager to meet us, according to Mathews.
He suggests that "only by developing and deploying self-replicating robotic spacecraft -- and the incumbent communications systems -- can the human race efficiently explore even the asteroid belt, let alone the vast reaches of the Kuiper Belt, Oort Cloud, and beyond." Mathews assumes that any extraterrestrial would need to follow a similar path to the stars, sending robots rather than living beings, which would explain why SETI has not succeeded to date. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Aaron Mehta||April 22nd 2012|
President Barack Obama’s campaign raised $33.6 million last quarter from "bundlers," supporters of the president who collect checks from friends, family and associates and deliver them to the campaign, according to a list released by the campaign Friday night.
A total of 90 new bundlers appeared on the list, bringing the total to 532 and the total amount of contributions to $106 million. Among the new donors are Nicole Avant and her husband Ted Sarandos, who together reached the $500,000 level — the top tier for bundlers. Avant was Obama’s appointee as ambassador to the Bahamas until she resigned in November. She was the subject of a critical inspector general’s report that concluded her ambassadorship was “an extended period of dysfunctional leadership and mismanagement, which has caused problems throughout the embassy.”
According to some news reports, since her return to Beverly Hills, Calif., Avant has acted as a key Hollywood conduit for contributions to the Obama campaign. The campaign discloses its bundlers in four tiers: $50,000-100,000; $100,000-200,000; $200,000-500,000 and $500,000 or more. It is impossible to tell exactly how much each bundler raised, but it is possible to arrive at a minimum dollar amount. Read more ..
India on Edge
|Terrence Sterling||April 21st 2012|
India confirmed it successfully test-fired a new missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead as far as Beijing - announcing itself as a major "missile power." Indian media showed video of the long-range Agni-V missile in-flight after its launch from a test range in the eastern state of Orissa. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh congratulated the country's scientists for contributing to the country's "self reliance in defense." India's Defense Research and Development Organization chief Vijay Saraswat told Indian media that the country now has missile capabilities that match with the world's elite military powers.
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"The successful launch of Agni V missile is a tribute to the sophistications and commitment to national causes on the part of India's scientific technological community," said Singh. "I congratulate all the scientists and technologists who have been associated with this important project and I sincerely hope that in years to come our scientists and technologists will contribute a lot more to promoting self reliance in defense and other walks of national life."
The Agni-V has a range of 5,000 kilometers and had been described as a "quantum leap" in India's strategic capability - able to carry nuclear warheads as far as the Chinese capital as well as Shanghai. When asked about the launch at a press briefing in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said China and India are not competitors, but partners. He said both sides should work together to deepen strategic cooperation, promote mutual development and maintain peace and stability in the region.
The Digital Edge
|Rick Merritt||April 19th 2012|
A Google executive gave a rare peek inside the Web giant’s data center networks to show the OpenFlow standard it backs for software-defined networks is ready for commercial use. Google is using OpenFlow on custom-designed hardware for all the internal networks it runs connecting its global data centers, said Urs Holzle, senior vice president of technology infrastructure at Google, speaking in a keynote at the second annual Open Networking Summit here.
OpenFlow is a technique for controlling network operations in software run on centralized computer servers saving cost, time and power. It aims to simplify and virtualize today’s business networks that currently require a number of specialized, distributed systems, each with its own software load.
If OpenFlow becomes widely adopted, it could disrupt the fortunes of major router and switch makers such as Alcatel-Lucent and Cisco Systems as well as the ASICs and embedded processors they use. Google has enable “centralized traffic engineering” on its network using OpenFlow. So far it has found it can run such functions “literally 25 to 50 times faster on a 32-core workstation,” Holzle said. Read more ..
The Race for Solar
|Susan Kraemer||April 17th 2012|
Every square meter of Saudi Arabia produces an extraordinary 7 kilowatt hours of energy daily in each 12 hours of sun power. If the Saudis were to use up each days solar energy supply, or 12,425 TWh of electricity, it would be a 72 year supply. Put another way, in just one day, enough solar energy hits Saudi sands to power the kingdom for 72 years, according to a study made by the World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology.
That is an extraordinary resource. It is significantly more than the rest of the world. For example: as a Californian who used a typical 15 kilowatt hours of energy a day, this means my entire home could have been fully solar powered by just 2 square meters – or about 3 feet by 6 feet – of solar panels in Saudi Arabia! And Saudi Arabia has about 2 trillion square meters able to produce 14 trillion kilowatt hours of solar energy every sunny day – that is enough to power the world. Read more ..
The Afghan War
|Martin Barillas||April 17th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced on April 17 that most of her nation's troops will return by the end of 2013, one year ahead of their scheduled departure. Now numbering 1,500 troops, Australia's contingent among the allied forces in Afghanistan is the largest provided by any non-NATO country.
Aussie troops have been mainly engaged in training an Afghan National Army brigade to take responsibility for security in Oruzgan Province in the Central Asian country. Some 32 Austrailian troops have lost their lives in the Afghan conflict, while 100 more have been wounded. Public pressure in Australia to bring the Diggers home has steadily increased.
The announcement comes just two days after the Taliban launched a series of attacks across Afghanistan. The U.S. embassy in Kabul was hit by small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades in what the Pentagon admitted was a failure of military intelligence. Pentagon spokesmen have averred that 'gaps' in intelligence must be plugged. Read more ..
The Sudan on Edge
|Millard Burr||April 17th 2012|
News that forces of the nascent Government of South Sudan have occupied the Heglig Oil Field operated by the Government of the Sudan in its South Kordofan region is but the most recent chapter in a sad history that stretches back for more than a quarter-century.
Approached rationally, the distribution of oil wealth might have worked miracles in uniting the two Sudans whose fissiparous political and cultural tendencies were quite apparent even prior to its achieving independence in 1956. Predictably, the Sudanese Muslim majority that held power in Khartoum reacted selfishly, assuming a proprietary interest in the resource and giving short shrift to Southern claims.
Jaafar Numayri, President of the Sudan from 1969-1985, dealt the oil card to create divisions among Sudan's southern politicians, and in doing so he also expanded the growing breech between North and South. For most Muslims of the North, especially the politically powerful riverine Arabs, an impoverished Southern Sudan -- which comprised Bahr al-Ghazal, Upper Nile and Equatoria provinces -- really wasn't worth bothering about. Sudan had already suffered through one civil war (1955-1972), and the battle to maintain national cohesiveness was expensive; it would not have been worth the effort had it not been for the fact that had they been allowed to secede the Southern provinces could then tap the Upper Nile water resource which was crucial to Sudan and Egypt. Read more ..
|Paul Abowd||April 16th 2012|
Some of America’s best known brands are dropping their membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council at least partly in response to controversy over the group’s backing of voter ID laws. Coca-Cola quit on April 4 and Pepsi, Kraft Foods, Intuit, McDonalds and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation followed them out after a coalition of left-wing groups launched pressure campaigns. Nine states have passed strict voter ID requirements just since 2011, which opponents say could result in millions being unable to cast ballots in November.
But there’s been little attention paid to one major ALEC-affiliated sector behind several state legislators pushing these measures: the beer and wine industry.
Major players in beer and wine sit on an ALEC task force that crafted and approved voter ID model legislation in 2009. The industry’s major trade associations — the National Beer Wholesalers Association and Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America — are among them. Since 2007, the wholesalers have also pumped substantial cash into the campaigns of several ALEC politicians who have been authors or primary sponsors of voter ID bills in their states. Read more ..
Macedonia On Edge
|Terrence Sterling||April 14th 2012|
From RFE and agencies
thnic tensions have resurfaced in Macedonia following the announcement of the murder of the five men on the outskirts of the capital, Skopje. The killings have aggravated relations between Macedonians and the ethnic Albanian minority. Police said the five men were shot dead execution-style near a lake outside Skopje and their bodies found by fishermen late on April 12. All of the victims were reportedly ethnic Macedonians. Angry Macedonians blocked several streets in the area on April 13, and police were deployed to prevent clashes. Authorities have so far made no statement about a possible motive for the killings. Residents of the village of Smiljkovci, where the bodies were found, expressed fears the murders could be a sign a worsening relations between ethnic Macedonians and Albanians. "What happened last night was very tragic -- young people, I feel very sorry for their families," Violeta Mitreska, of Smiljkovic, said. "I don't know what to say. I hope that this will not endanger coexistence between Macedonians and Albanians in Macedonia." Read more ..
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