The Battle for Syria
|Aaron Y. Zelin||December 8th 2012|
President Barack Obama's administration is reportedly planning to designate the Syrian jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra ("the Support Front") as a terrorist organization. The group, which was first announced in late January 2012, has become a growing part of the armed opposition due to its fighting prowess -- perhaps no surprise, as many of its fighters honed their skills in battlefields in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen. As a result, Jabhat al-Nusra has carved out an important niche in the fight to oust the Syrian regime even as it remains outside of the mainstream opposition.
The U.S. administration, in designating Jabhat al-Nusra, is likely to argue that the group is an outgrowth of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). While there is not much open-source evidence of this, classified material may offer proof -- and there is certainly circumstantial evidence that Jabhat al-Nusra operates as a branch of the ISI. Read more ..
Nature on Edge
|Ivan Broadhead||December 7th 2012|
Authorities in the Philippines recently seized a consignment of rhino horn, which they believe was being shipped through Manila to China. Many environmentalists say the find highlights how adept crime syndicates are at exploiting new routes to smuggle endangered wildlife from Africa into Asia, and how resilient they are when it comes to writing off losses and evading arrest.
According to Oliver Valiente, chief of the Philippines Customs Intelligence Investigation Service (CIIS), the consignment of horn was impounded at the Port of Manila in early September. “This is the first time we have encountered rhinoceros horn,” he said. “Six pieces were hidden in sacks of cashew nut.”
Speaking by phone from Manila, where he and his team are investigating links to the illegal cargo, he says the seizure sets a disturbing new precedent. Read more ..
Egypt's Second Revolution
|Barry Rubin||December 7th 2012|
On November 30, a Constituent Assembly consisting almost 100 percent of Islamists voted to approve the draft of Egypt’s new Constitution. The next day, President Muhammad Mursi ordered that a referendum be held on December 15. In other words, Egypt’s population will be given two weeks to consider the main law, which has 230 articles, that will govern their lives for decades to come.
Most of the non-Islamists had walked out of the Assembly because they objected to the proposed Constitution and it seems as if the remaining opposition members did not even attend the vote. So great is the outrage that Egypt's judges--who supervise elections and were explicitly asked by Mursi to oversee the forthcoming referendum--have refused to do so. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s chief spiritual guide. raved about how great the Constitution is and then responded to the walk-out with a phrase that might serve as the slogan for the new democracy in Egypt and other Arabic-speaking countries: "You should not have withdrawn. It's your right to express your opinions freely." Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|John Zimmer||December 6th 2012|
The USS Eisenhower, an American aircraft carrier that holds eight fighter bomber squadrons and 8,000 men, arrived at the Syrian coast yesterday in the midst of a heavy storm, indicating US preparation for a potential ground intervention. While the Obama administration has not announced any sort of American-led military intervention in the war-torn country, the US is now ready to launch such action “within days” if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad decides to use chemical weapons against the opposition, the Times reports.
Some have suggested that the Assad regime may use chemical weapons against the opposition fighters in the coming days or weeks. The arrival of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, one of the 11 US Navy aircraft carriers that has the capacity to hold thousands of men, is now stationed at the coast of Syria. The aircraft carrier joined the USS Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group, which holds about 2,500 Marines. Read more ..
After the BP Spill
|Kristen Lombardi||December 5th 2012|
Center for Public Integrity
By now images of the April 2010 Gulf oil spill are indelible: The rig engulfed in smoke, oil gushing into the ocean, beaches stained on the coast. These images defined the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history — and sealed BP PLC’s reputation as a corporate polluter.
But two weeks before the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, killing 11 workers and spewing millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, BP was spewing a different kind of pollution — in a major case that has received far less attention.
This case involved dirtying the air around its refinery in Texas City. Throughout most of April and May of 2010, the Texas refinery belched massive amounts of pollutants — toxic chemicals including benzene, toluene and hydrogen sulfide — from a towering flare designed to burn only during emergencies. The single “emissions event,” as BP reported it to the state, triggered by an equipment breakdown, lasted 959 hours and 30 minutes — or 40 days .“The release went so long,” said Bruce Clawson, of Texas City’s emergency response division, which tracks such incidents. “We’ve never had a release go that long before.” Read more ..
Egypt's Second Revolution
|Sam Orez||December 5th 2012|
Egypt's capital was in chaos, as anti-Morsi demonstrators remained camped out at Cairo's Tahrir Square and in front of the presidential palace. The Islamist group called for the demonstration later Wednesday outside of the presidential palace. They said the rally was called because opposition protesters were trying to "impose their opinions through force." Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Wednesday for an open dialogue in Egypt. "The upheaval we are seeing now once again in the streets of Cairo and other cities indicates that dialogue is urgently needed," Clinton said in Brussels after a two-day NATO foreign ministers meeting. Some opposition protesters in Cairo have vowed not to leave until Morsi abolishes a decree he issued last month granting him sweeping powers that place him above review from the judiciary. Read more ..
Egypt's Second Revolution
|Bernard Banks||December 4th 2012|
from Fox News and agencies
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has fled the presidential palace as crowd violence ignited between police and more than 100,000 protesters jammed the streets of Cairo, according to breaking media reports.
Fox reports, "In a brief outburst, police fired tear gas to stop protesters approaching the palace in the capital's Heliopolis district. Morsi was in the palace conducting business as usual while the protesters gathered outside. But he left for home through a back door when the crowds "grew bigger," according to a presidential official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media." The outlet adds, "The official said Morsi left on the advice of security officials at the palace and to head off 'possible dangers' and to calm protesters." Morsi's spokesman claimed the president left routinely at the end of his work day through his usual door. Read more ..
Egypt's Second Revolution
|George Friedman||December 4th 2012|
Immediately following the declaration of a cease-fire in Gaza, Egypt was plunged into a massive domestic crisis. Mohammed Morsi, elected in the first presidential election after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, passed a decree that would essentially neuter the independent judiciary by placing his executive powers above the high court and proposed changes to the constitution that would institutionalize the Muslim Brotherhood's power. Following the decree, Morsi's political opponents launched massive demonstrations that threw Egypt into domestic instability and uncertainty.
In the case of most countries, this would not be a matter of international note. But Egypt is not just another country. It is the largest Arab country and one that has been the traditional center of the Arab world. Equally important, if Egypt's domestic changes translate into shifts in its foreign policy, it could affect the regional balance of power for decades to come. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Justin Sink||December 3rd 2012|
The White House issued a stern warning to Syria on Monday, telling its leaders that the use of chemical weapons would “cross a red line.”
“They will be held accountable by the United States and the international community if they use chemical weapons or fail to meet their obligation to secure them,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said, adding that use of the weapons “would cross a red line for the United States.”
The press secretary did not say whether the mere movement of the weapons could spur an American response, but expressed grave concern that the Syrian government could be weighing the use of the weapons.
“As the opposition makes strategic advances and grows in strength, the Assad regime has been unable to halt the opposition's progress through conventional means,” Carney said Monday. “And we are concerned that an increasingly beleaguered regime, having found its escalation of violence through conventional means inadequate, might be considering the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people.” Carney also did not explicitly discuss what an American response would consist of. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Jennifer Martinez||December 3rd 2012|
Google's chief Internet evangelist Vint Cerf underscored the importance of maintaining an open Internet in a company blog post published hours before countries convened to update a global telecommunications treaty. Cerf is typically referred to as "the godfather of the Internet" because he helped design its architecture and key Web protocols. In his latest blog post, Cerf said the openness of the Web has spurred innovation and enabled people to get their voices out — but he warned that some countries' proposals for the treaty conference in Dubai threaten to put those benefits in jeopardy. "Starting in 1973, when my colleagues and I proposed the technology behind the Internet, we advocated for an open standard to connect computer networks together. This wasn’t merely philosophical; it was also practical," Cerf wrote. "This openness is why the Internet creates so much value today." Read more ..
Kuwait on Edge
|Simon Henderson||December 2nd 2012|
On December 1, Kuwaiti voters went to the polls to decide who would represent them in the next national assembly, one of the Arab world’s most well-established parliaments. But instead of celebrating a democratic tradition, the election will likely emphasize divisions within Kuwaiti society and perpetuate a months-long political impasse. Other conservative Gulf Arab governments, which tend to emphasize a cautious consensus approach to any evolution of their essentially authoritarian systems, are watching with concern.
Kuwait’s parliament, which dates back almost fifty years, became an icon for the country’s independence and freedoms in 1991, when U.S.-led forces liberated the emirate following the Iraqi invasion. Since then, Kuwaiti politics have often been fractious. Although the government is dominated by the al-Sabah ruling family, activist members of parliament—namely, a loose coalition of Islamists, secular nationalists, and some tribal representatives—make frequent use of their limited powers to question ministers. In frustration, Kuwait’s eighty-three-year-old emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, has dissolved the parliament five times since 2006.
What’s different this time is trouble on the streets of Kuwait City. On November 15, protestors in the capital were beaten by police as they tried to march on the home of the prime minister, the emir’s relative Sheikh Nasser Muhammad al-Ahmed al-Sabah. Turned back, the angry crowd then stormed the locked gates of the parliamentary building, entered the chamber, and sang the national anthem. Previous clashes involved police using tear gas and rubber bullets against demonstrators. Read more ..
The Cyber Edge
|Lois Smith||December 2nd 2012|
Cyber attacks that have long caused major work disruption and theft of private information are becoming more sophisticated with prolonged attacks perpetrated by organized groups. In September 2012, Bank of America, Citibank, the New York Stock Exchange, and other financial institutions were targets of attacks for more than five weeks. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta warned that the United States was facing the possibility of a "cyber-Pearl Harbor" and was increasingly vulnerable to foreign computer hackers who could disrupt the government, utility, transportation, and financial networks.
Key to protecting online operations is a high degree of "cyber security awareness," according to human factors/ergonomics researchers Varun Dutt, Young-Suk Ahn, and Cleotilde Gonzalez. They developed a computer model that presented 500 simulated cyber attack scenarios to gauge simulated network security analysts' ability to detect attacks characterized as either "impatient" (the threat occurs early in the attack) or "patient" (the threat comes later in the attack and is not detected promptly). Their model was able to predict the detection rates of security analysts by varying the analysts' degree of experience and risk tolerance as well as an attacker's strategy (impatient or patient attack). Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Matthew Boyle||December 1st 2012|
A new congressional report from the House Homeland Security Committee Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Management ties Middle East terror organizations to Mexican drug cartels.
The report, released Thursday, is titled “A Line in the Sand: Countering Crime, Violence and Terror at the Southwest Border.” It found that the “Southwest border has now become the greatest threat of terrorist infiltration into the United States.” It specifically cites a “growing influence” from Iranian and Hezbollah terror forces in Latin America.
“The presence of Hezbollah in Latin America is partially explained by the large Lebanese diaspora in South America,” the report reads. “In general, Hezbollah enjoys support by many in the Lebanese world community in part because of the numerous social programs it provides in Lebanon that include schools, hospitals, utilities and welfare.” Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Jennifer Martinez||November 30th 2012|
Internet service and cellular networks were blacked out in Syria on Thursday, disrupting communications traveling into and outside of the country, according to the State Department.
Renesys, a U.S.-based firm that monitors Internet networks, reported on its blog that Syria's Internet connectivity was shut down early Thursday afternoon and all of the country's IP address blocks were unreachable. Google also reported on its Transparency Report tool that its Web services were inaccessible in Syria on Thursday. The search company tweeted: "Internet access completely cut off in Syria. This is why a #freeandopen Internet is so important."
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said during a Thursday press briefing that groups affiliated with the opposition within Syria have reported that the Syrian government "does appear to be resorting to cutting off all kinds of communication," which has affected Internet access, landline and cellular service across the country. Read more ..
The Edge of Climate Change
|Hannah Hickey||November 30th 2012|
University of Washington
The planet's two largest ice sheets have been losing ice faster during the past decade, causing widespread confusion and concern. A new international study provides a firmer read on the state of continental ice sheets and how much they are contributing to sea-level rise. Dozens of climate scientists have reconciled their measurements of ice sheet changes in Antarctica and Greenland over the past two decades. The results, roughly halve the uncertainty and discard some conflicting observations.
"We are just beginning an observational record for ice," said co-author Ian Joughin. "This creates a new long-term data set that will increase in importance as new measurements are made." The paper examined three methods that had been used by separate groups and established common places and times, allowing researchers to discard some outlying observations and showing that the results agree to within the uncertainties of the methods. Read more ..
Egypt's Second Revolution
|Samara Greenberg||November 29th 2012|
Cutting Edge contributor
Amidst ongoing clashes in response to Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's decree granting himself near-absolute power, Egypt's Constituent Assembly surprised the country and began voting Thursday on a draft constitution. The assembly will vote on each of the draft's 234 articles and, upon passing the document, will send it to Morsi for approval. Once approved by the president, the constitution will be put to a public referendum.
Today's vote comes after Morsi gave the assembly an additional two months -- until February -- to complete its work. But with protests mounting in the streets, Morsi's supporters in the assembly quickly wrapped up deliberations and prepared for the unscheduled Thursday vote. They seem to hope that rushing through the constitution will help stem the current crisis aimed at the president, as Morsi has said he would relinquish the powers he recently bestowed upon himself once the constitution is ratified in a referendum. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Jeremy Herb||November 29th 2012|
Military and federal prisons in the United States could house the 166 detainees currently held in Guantánamo Bay, but there are legal and logistical complications that would require the facilities to be modified, a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found.
The GAO report, which was requested by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), investigated prisons run by the military and Justice Department for their viability to house Guantánamo detainees, many of whom are accused of terrorism charges.
The report found there were 98 federal Bureau of Prisons facilities that have custody of inmates charged with or convicted of terrorism-related crimes, and six Defense Department facilities that can house service members charged with crimes for more than one year. But to equip those facilities to house Guantánamo detainees, modifications would be needed to ensure the safety of U.S. personnel and to deal with legal issues housing foreign nationals. Read more ..
Jewry on Edge
|Zach Pontz||November 28th 2012|
Hungary’s Jewish community has initiated a criminal procedure today against a Hungarian far-right politician in that country who recently urged the government to compile a list of Jews who pose a “national security risk.”
According to a video posted on Jobbik’s website, and reported by Reuters, Marton Gyongyosi, who leads Jobbik’s foreign policy cabinet, told Parliament: “I know how many people with Hungarian ancestry live in Israel, and how many Israeli Jews live in Hungary.”
“I think such a conflict [between Hamas and Israel] makes it timely to tally up people of Jewish ancestry who live here, especially in the Hungarian Parliament and the Hungarian government, who, indeed, pose a national security risk to Hungary.”
The Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregration released a statement today announcing their legal action that read in part:”The fact that a far right party can address Nazi principles in the Parliament is shocking and disappointing for the
Hungarian Jewish Community and for every Hungarian Democrat.” Read more ..
Egypt's Second Revolution
|Elizabeth Arrott||November 27th 2012|
Thousands of protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square are rallying against Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, hours after the president told the nation's top judges that elements of his new decree granting himself more powers and authority must stand. Morsi's promise to enforce the constitutional declaration only in certain cases has done little to lessen the anger of those who see him as a dictator in the making. Protesters chanted for his downfall Tuesday and that of the Muslim Brotherhood's Supreme Guide. Many here feel it is the Brotherhood that pushed Morsi to expand his powers, despite his formal break with the organization that helped him win the presidency. Opponents said that words aside, the president has not changed the decrees themselves, which put his decisions above judicial review on a temporary basis. Read more ..
The Edge of the Universe
|Sean Bettam||November 26th 2012|
University of Toronto
Astrophysicists at the University of Toronto and other institutions across the United States, Europe and Asia have discovered a 'super-Jupiter' around the massive star Kappa Andromedae. The object, which could represent the first new observed exoplanet system in almost four years, has a mass at least 13 times that of Jupiter and an orbit somewhat larger than Neptune's.
The host star around which the planet orbits has a mass 2.5 times that of the Sun, making it the highest mass star to ever host a directly observed planet. The star can be seen with the naked eye in the constellation Andromeda at a distance of about 170 light years.
"Our team identified a faint object located very close to Kappa Andromedae in January that looks much like other young, massive directly imaged planets but does not look like a star," said Thayne Currie. "It's likely a directly imaged planet." The researchers made the discovery based on an infrared imaging search carried out as part of the Strategic Explorations of Exoplanets and Disks with Subaru (SEEDS) program using the Subaru telescope located in Hawaii. Read more ..
Egypt's Second Revolution
|Elizabeth Arrott||November 26th 2012|
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi is due to meet with the country's Supreme Judicial Council, as judges try to persuade the president to limit the sweeping powers he granted himself last week. The decree has sparked protests by opposition activists, who continued to camp out in Cairo's Tahrir Square for a fourth day Monday demanding Morsi reverse his decision.
The president is defending a decree placing his decisions above judicial review, stressing in a statement that the move is temporary.
The argument has done little to quell the unrest, expected to peak again Tuesday because of what his opponents see as a power grab. Opponents and supporters of the president have called for rival mass rallies in the city on Tuesday. "The precedent that he is making, that he is unquestionable, even for a few months, is really annoying and worrying and is really not the thing you expected from an elected president,” said political activist Wael Khalil. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Justin Sink||November 25th 2012|
Government officials from around the world will descend on Dubai next month to revise a treaty that could have a major effect on the future of the Internet. The 193 member countries of the United Nation's International Telecommunications Union (ITU) will meet in Dubai to update the International Telecommunications Regulations treaty for the first time since 1988. The treaty governs how telephone calls and other communications traffic are exchanged internationally.
A lot is at stake in the upcoming negotiations: Observers say some of the proposals put forward by countries for the treaty conference could threaten Internet freedom, encourage online censorship and expand a United Nations agency's authority over the Internet. The treaty negotiations run by the ITU will take place in Dubai over a two-week period from Dec. 3 to Dec. 14. Read more ..
The Arab Winter of Rage in Cairo
|Martin Barillas||November 24th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
Demonstrators set alight the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood in cities across Egypt on November 23 following President Mohamed Morsi’s decree granting himself greater powers. Defying enraged protesters, Morsi said to supporters assembled outside the presidential palace in Cairo, “Political stability, social stability and economic stability are what I want and that is what I am working for," adding "I have always been, and still am, and will always be, God willing, with the pulse of the people, what the people want, with clear legitimacy."
In response, opposition protesters chanted “Morsi is ignorant; he will burn down the country.” Police beat Morsi’s opponents with batons on side streets leading from Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Young unemployed men and soccer hooligans joined the affray, pelting security forces with rocks and debris. Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel-laurate and former UN diplomat, was among Egyptian political leaders who joined the protests. Read more ..
The Way We Are
|Tim Parsons||November 24th 2012|
A new report from researchers with the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy finds the majority of the previously reported increase in suicide in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010 is attributable to an increase in hanging/suffocation, which increased from 19 percent of all suicides in 2000 to 26 percent of all suicides in 2010. The largest increase in hanging/suffocation occurred among those aged 45-59 years (104 percent increase). The results are published in the December issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
"Suicide recently exceeded motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of injury death in the U.S.; this report is the first to examine changes in the method of suicide, particularly by demographics such as age," said lead study author Susan P. Baker, MPH, a professor with and founding director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy, part of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "While suicide by firearm remains the predominant method in the U.S., the increase in hanging and suffocation particularly in middle-aged adults warrants immediate attention." Read more ..
The Edge of Mars
|Andreas Johnsson||November 24th 2012|
University of Gothenburg
Near surface water has shaped the landscape of Mars. Areas of the planet's northern and southern hemispheres have alternately thawed and frozen in recent geologic history and comprise striking similarities to the landscape of Svalbard. This suggests that water has played a more extensive role than previously envisioned, and that environments capable of sustaining life could exist, according to new research from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.
Mars is a changing planet, and in recent geological time repeated freeze and thaw cycles has played a greater role than expected in terms of shaping the landscape. In an attempt to be able to make more reliable interpretations of the landscapes on Mars, researchers have developed new models for analysing images from the planet. The process of analysing satellite images from Mars has been combined with similar studies of an arctic environment in Svalbard. Despite the fact that Svalbard is considerably warmer than Mars, the arctic landscape shows a number of striking similarities to certain parts of Mars. Read more ..
The Edge of Climate Change
|Carl Stiansen||November 23rd 2012|
Danish Council for Independent Research
The recent storms that have battered settlements on the east coast of America may have been much more frequent in the region 450 million years ago, according to scientists. New research pinpointing the positions of the Equator and the landmasses of the USA, Canada and Greenland, during the Ordovician Period 450 million years ago, indicates that the equator ran down the western side of North America with a hurricane belt to the east.
The hurricane belt would have affected an area covering modern day New York State, New Jersey and most of the eastern seaboard of the USA. An international research team led by Durham University, UK, used the distribution of fossils and sediments to map the line of the Ordovician Equator down to southern California. The study is the first to accurately locate and map the ancient Equator and adjacent tropical zones. Previous studies had fuelled controversy about the precise location of the ancient equator. The researchers say the new results show how fossils and sediments can accurately track equatorial change and continental shifts over time. Read more ..
Operation Pillar of Defense
|Llan Gattegno||November 22nd 2012|
Over the eight days of Operation Pillar of Defense, the Iron Dome system intercepted more than 420 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. The system is the result of tireless work over many years, and the results speak for themselves.
The core team that led the Iron Dome development was comprised entirely of graduates of the Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology, in Haifa. In an interview published on the Technion website, some of Iron Dome's developers spoke about their work.
"Credit for the system’s success is shared by the hundreds of engineers, technicians, and managers who took part in its development; but the people sitting here with me are definitely the key players,” said a team member identified only as H., a 1975 Technion graduate. “The development of Iron Dome transformed our lives, dictating a hectic work week and some weekends," H. said. "I never got home before 11 p.m., and of course I didn’t take a single day off for three whole years. But I don’t regret a single moment.” Read more ..
|Daniel Strauss||November 22nd 2012|
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) submitted a letter announcing his resignation from Congress to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday, according to a Boehner aide. "For seventeen years I have given 100 percent of my time, energy, and life to public service," Jackson wrote. "However, over the past several months, as my health has deteriorated, my ability to serve the constituents of my district has continued to diminish. Against the recommendations of my doctors, I had hoped and tried to return to Washington and continue working on the issues that matter most of the people of the Second District. I know now that will not be possible."
Jackson's resignation comes amid reports that he is being investigated by the Justice Department for allegedly misusing campaign donations to redecorate his home. Reports earlier this month said Jackson was negotiating a plea deal with federal investigators that would require him to resign from Congress, citing health reasons, and repay the campaign funds. Read more ..
Operation Pillar of Fire
|Dan Levin||November 21st 2012|
Israel and Hamas have just agreed through Egyptian and American intermediaries to a ceasefire brokered on the eighth day of intensive Israeli fire on the Gaza Strip and terror rocket attacks out of the enclave, Israeli. First word of the truce came from a Palestinian official who has knowledge of the negotiations in Cairo, where US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was also pursuing peace efforts. Clinton then announced the ceasefire in a press conference in Cairo. Israeli sources said the Jewish State had agreed to a truce, but would not lift its blockade of the Palestinian territory, which is run by the Islamist Hamas movement. But no other detailsa could be learned.
More than 140 Palestinians and five Israelis have been killed in the fighting that began last Wednesday. The ceasefire was sealed despite a bus bomb explosion that wounded 15 Israelis in Tel Aviv earlier in the day and despite more Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip. Read more ..
The Congo on Edge
|Bernard Banks||November 21st 2012|
from VOA and agencies
Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo have vowed to seize more territory and topple President Joseph Kabila. The M23 rebels held a rally Wednesday at a stadium in the eastern city of Goma, which they captured a day earlier. Rebel spokesman Vianny Kazarama said the rebels plan to keep on moving. "President Kabila brought war planes and big guns, but he was unable to defeat us," he said. "That is a clear sign that we are part of God's plan; we were sent by God and this will not end here," said Kazarama.
Hundreds of Congolese police and troops surrendered their weapons at the rally.
Kazarama said the rebels' next goal is Bukavu, 100 kilometers to the south. He said the group already controls the town of Sake, also south of Goma, and plans to eventually reach Kinshasa, the capital, more than 1,500 kilometers to the west. Read more ..
America and France
|Julian Pecquet||November 20th 2012|
The United States used U.S.-Israeli spy software to hack into the French presidential office earlier this year, the French cyberwarfare agency has concluded, according to the newsmagazine l'Express.
The magazine reported late Tuesday that the computers of several close advisers to then-president Nicolas Sarkozy – including Chief of Staff Xavier Musca – were compromised in May by a computer virus that bears the hallmarks of Flame, which was allegedly created by a U.S.-Israeli team to target Iran's nuclear program. Anonymous French officials pointed the finger at the United States.
“You can be on very good terms with a 'friendly' country and still want to guarantee their unwavering support – especially during a transition period,” an official told the magazine. The alleged spying attack took place a few days before the second round of the French presidential elections, which Sarkozy lost to Francois Hollande, a socialist. Read more ..
Operation Pillar of Defense
|Dan Robinson||November 20th 2012|
|Rocket fired from Gaza|
Diplomats are pushing for a peaceful resolution to the latest reigniting of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. President Barack Obama is sending Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Israel, Ramallah and Cairo to meet with regional leaders as the cross border conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza enters its seventh day.
Clinton, who had been with Obama on a visit to Cambodia, left Tuesday to go to Jerusalem, where she will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. She will also meet with Palestinian leaders and Egyptian officials on the trip, which the White House says will focus on U.S. interest in a peaceful outcome to the conflict.
"It's not a matter of leverage; it's a matter of what is in everybody's best interests," Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters when pressed about Clinton's trip. "It is not in the interests of the Palestinians and the people of Gaza for there to be an escalation of this conflict. That would bring with it a huge cost."
Rhodes said there are many ways to de-escalate the violence, adding that the bottom line for the U.S. is ending Hamas rocket fire.
UN, Egypt weigh in
Diplomacy has so-far failed to stop the cross-border attacks, with the latest U.N. Security Council meeting on the situation ending late Monday without reaching an agreement. Meanwhile, smoke rose from Gaza City Tuesday as Israel pushed ahead with its air campaign against Hamas militants, who have been firing rockets toward Israeli communities. Officials say the death toll has risen to more than 100 Palestinians and three Israelis. Tuesday's Israeli air strike hit the Islamic National Bank in Gaza City, destroying the inside of the bank and damaging the basement. Read more ..
The Toxic Edge
|Jim Morris||November 19th 2012|
Center for Public Integrity
For more than three decades, workers, most of them women, have complained of dreadful conditions in many of this city’s plastic automotive parts factories: Pungent fumes and dust that caused nosebleeds, headaches, nausea and dizziness. Blobs of smelly, smoldering plastic dumped directly onto the floor. “It was like hell,” says one woman who still works in the industry.
The women fretted, usually in private, about what seemed to be an excess of cancer and other diseases in the factories across the river from Detroit. “People were getting sick, but you never really thought about the plastic itself,” said Gina DeSantis, who has worked at a plant near Windsor for 25 years.
Now, workers like DeSantis are the focal point of a new study that appears to strengthen the tie between breast cancer and toxic exposures. The six-year study, conducted by a team of researchers from Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, examined the occupational histories of 1,006 women from Ontario’s Essex and Kent counties who had the disease and 1,146 who didn’t. Adjustments were made for smoking, weight, alcohol use and other lifestyle and reproductive factors. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Richard Hook||November 19th 2012|
Astronomers using ESO's Very Large Telescope and the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope have identified a body that is very probably a planet wandering through space without a parent star. This is the most exciting free-floating planet candidate so far and the closest such object to the Solar System at a distance of about 100 light-years. Its comparative proximity, and the absence of a bright star very close to it, has allowed the team to study its atmosphere in great detail. This object also gives astronomers a preview of the exoplanets that future instruments aim to image around stars other than the Sun.
Free-floating planets are planetary-mass objects that roam through space without any ties to a star. Possible examples of such objects have been found before, but without knowing their ages, it was not possible for astronomers to know whether they were really planets or brown dwarfs -- "failed" stars that lack the bulk to trigger the reactions that make stars shine. Read more ..
Operation Pillar of Defense
|Saul Roth||November 19th 2012|
Wolrd Jewish Daily
Following reports that truce talks in Cairo had already failed, the Arab media reported Monday on Israel's terms for a ceasefire between Hamas and the Jewish state. The reports come from Arab sources, and have not been confirmed by Israel. Nonetheless, they appear to constitute some of the likely conditions Israel would demand for any cessation in the fighting. More than 1,000 Gaza targets were hit since the operation began last Wednesday. At least 10 Palestinians were killed in Air Force airstrikes including women and children on Sunday. The army also killed the head of Hamas' rocket unit, Yahia Abia.
While the prime minister is waiting for the cessation of rocket fire in order to start negotiations for a ceasefire, state officials stressed that "If there will be a way to meet the operation's objectives without a ground offensive it would be preferable, otherwise – we are ready for a ground operation." Read more ..
Operation Pillar of Defense
|George Friedman||November 18th 2012|
Contradictory rumors regarding the outcome of cease-fire negotiations between Hamas and Israel have increased dramatically in recent hours. A Hamas spokesman told Al Jazeera that Israel and Hamas have agreed to 90 percent of the terms of a new cease-fire. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi is reportedly meeting the evening of Nov. 18 with a delegation led by Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and another delegation led by Palestinian Islamic Jihad Secretary-General Ramadan Abdullah Shallah.
While Israeli officials have told news outlets that the government is in talks with Cairo on a cease-fire, Israeli officials are now denying reports that an Israeli envoy actually traveled to Cairo Nov. 18 for cease-fire talks. Meanwhile, Turkey appears to be trying to integrate itself into the cease-fire talks with reported plans for Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to travel to Gaza on Nov. 20. Read more ..
|Peter Schroeder||November 18th 2012|
The financial industry is hoping to avoid its own “fiscal cliff” at the end of the year when a guarantee program for bank accounts is set to expire.
The Transaction Account Guarantee (TAG) program, which was created during the financial crisis, provides government guarantees to non-interest bearing bank accounts used by small businesses and municipalities. The program serves as a backstop for accounts worth more than $1.4 trillion.
Banking lobbies warn that the expiration of the program could destabilize financial markets and are beginning a last-minute push for an extension in the lame-duck session of Congress.
“It’s kind of the fiscal cliff of the financial sector,” said Paul Merski, executive vice president for congressional relations for the Independent Community Bankers of America. “$1.4 trillion is a serious amount of cash to become uninsured abruptly at the stroke of midnight.”
Lobbyists for banks say they already have significant support for another two-year extension of the program, which was first created in 2008, and are working to make sure it’s included in whatever legislation makes it to President Obama’s desk before the end of the year.
The TAG program applies to transaction accounts, which businesses and governments typically use to set aside large amounts of cash for brief periods of time. Although the program was originally created at the height of the financial crisis to prevent bank runs, financial lobbyists contend the economy is still too tenuous to do away with the lifeline that it provides. Read more ..
Operation Pillar of Defense
|George Friedman||November 17th 2012|
New intelligence indicates forces in Gaza may be manufacturing long-range rockets locally. If this is the case, a significant ground force offers the Israelis the best chance of finding and neutralizing the factories making these weapons. Meanwhile, Israel continues its airstrikes on Gaza, and Gaza continues its long-range rocket attacks on major Israeli population centers, though Israel claims its Iron Dome defense system has intercepted most of the rockets.
Israel appears to be positioning itself for a ground operation, perhaps as early as the night of Nov. 17. The Israeli Cabinet on Nov. 16 approved Defense Minister Ehud Barak's request to call up 75,000 reservists, significantly more than during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009. The Israeli army meanwhile has also sought to strengthen its presence on the borders with Gaza. Primary roads leading to Gaza and running parallel to Sinai have been declared closed military zones. Tanks, armored personnel carriers, self-propelled artillery and troops continue to stream to the border, and many units already appear to be in position. Read more ..
The Petraeus Scandal
|Jim Khouri||November 17th 2012|
Former CIA Director David Petraeus testified before lawmakers on on November 16 and claimed that classified intelligence strongly suggested the deadly raid on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was a terrorist attack, but that the Obama administration withheld the suspected role of specific al-Qaeda affiliates.
Petraeus, a decorated four-star Army general, resigned on Friday, November 9, as the nation's spy chief as a result of an adulterous relationship with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.
Gen. Petraeus told the lawmakers that reason why the Obama White House and his security team avoided references to terrorist groups suspected of carrying out the violence was to prevent the perpetrators from knowing that the U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials were seeking their capture. Read more ..
Operations Pillar of Defense
|Michael Singh||November 17th 2012|
The Washington Institute
The conflict unfolding in the Gaza Strip takes place against a starkly different regional backdrop than the last round of fighting in late 2008 and early 2009. The old regional order that existed then has been swept away, replaced with a new order which is uncertain and, until now, untested. This emerging crisis will be the first such test, and will reveal much about how the recent years' uprisings have affected key regional actors and the relations among them.
The old order in the Middle East was founded on mutual interests, and looked something like a hub-and-spoke alliance system with the United States at its center. U.S. allies in the region shared, above all, an interest in stability and economic prosperity, though each defined stability differently. For Washington, stability required political and economic reform; for our allies, it often meant the preservation of an increasingly shaky status quo. Read more ..
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