Islam's War on Christianity
|Anav Silverman||December 31st 2012|
Tazpit News Agency
A new study warns that Christianity is at the risk of being wiped out in the biblical heartlands of the Middle East. According to the London Daily Telegraph, which cites the study, 10 percent of Christians worldwide - approximately 200 million - are “socially disadvantaged, harassed or actively oppressed for their beliefs.” With over 2.3 billion Christians around the world, the study notes that Christians face the most persecution in the region of the world where Christianity first originated – the Middle East.
“The pace of this assault is now intensifying with the rise of militant Islam in countries such as Egypt, Iraq and now with the civil war, Syria,” states the report, entitled Christianophobia. Read more ..
India's Dark Edge
|Omar Rashid||December 31st 2012|
Every morning for the past two weeks, more than a thousand residents of a small village on the Uttar Pradesh-Bihar border had been gathering at the local Shiva temple, to pray for the well-being of the 23-year-old gang rape victim battling for her life in a New Delhi hospital.
On Saturday, the temple looked deserted.
By 7 a.m., as news of the death broke, men, women and children braved the biting fog and cold to assemble outside her ancestral home. While some wailed, others mourned in silence the death of “Ballia’s daughter.” Infuriated, young men cried for immediate justice and threatened violence. Elders, however, restrained them. For the most part, the grief was directed inwards: some villagers even refused to light their stoves. Read more ..
Edging Toward The Fiscal Cliff
|Alexander Bolton||December 31st 2012|
Senate leaders are racing against the clock to reach a "fiscal cliff" deal the House and Senate can approve on New Year's Eve.
Leaders in the upper chamber narrowed their differences Sunday as Republicans agreed to drop a demand to curb cost-of-living increases to entitlement benefits, while Democrats showed flexibility on taxes. Yet after months of talks on ways to avoid the fiscal cliff of tax hikes and spending cuts at the end of 2012, House and Senate lawmakers find themselves approaching the new year without a bill to present to their members.
Significant differences remain over two key parts of a deal — the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester and the estate tax. Instead of working through the night, the Senate recessed at 7:27 p.m. Sunday with plans to reconvene Monday at 11:00 a.m., and the House recessed around the same time. Read more ..
Edging Toward The Fiscal Cliff
|Jonathan Masters||December 30th 2012|
Council on Foreign Relations
The "fiscal cliff" is a term used describe a bundle of momentous U.S. federal tax increases and spending cuts that are due to take effect at the end of 2012 and early 2013. In total, the measures are set to automatically slash the federal budget deficit by $503 billion between FY 2012 and FY 2013, according to the most recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections (PDF). If these numbers are converted to calendar year 2013, however, this contraction would be substantially higher, close to 4 percent of GDP. The abrupt onset of such significant budget austerity in the midst of a still-fragile economic recovery has led most economists to warn of a double-dip recession and rising unemployment in 2013 if Washington fails to intervene in a timely fashion.
But many analysts question what action, if any, will be taken either in the lame duck session of the 112th Congress or in the early days of 2013. While legislative inaction could have deleterious economic effects in the short term, analysts say putting off or cancelling all of the measures without a longer-term deficit deal in place would be equally dangerous for the U.S. economy. Read more ..
India on Edge
|Raj Desai||December 29th 2012|
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2012 has been a rough year for India’s government. It began with a series of protests led by an anti-corruption activist, who went on hunger strikes to protest foot-dragging by the government in passing a new anti-corruption law. Then, as a reminder of one of the worst scandals in recent memory, the Indian Supreme Court revoked all broadband licenses granted through what turned out to be illegal spectrum auctions. On the economic front, India has maintained stubbornly high inflation and the Indian government lowered the economy's growth forecast for the current financial year to 5.7 percent, the lowest in a decade.
As if these events were not bad enough, just in time to ring out the old year, major protests have broken out across the major cities in India over the brutal rape of a 23-year-old medical student in New Delhi. In Delhi’s famous Raisina Hill area where the parliament, presidential palace and several ministries are located, thousands of demonstrators clashed with riot police for several days before the area was barricaded.
The Education Edge
|Susan Ferriss||December 29th 2012|
Center for Public Integrity
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Even as Los Angeles authorities continue efforts to reform school-discipline standards, fresh data show that police from the city’s biggest school district are continuing to ticket thousands of young students, especially minorities, at disproportionate rates that critics charge are putting them on a track for dropping out.
Citation rates for this year are little changed from 2011 data. Disclosure of the 2011 data this past spring led to federal civil-rights scrutiny and promises that policies at the Los Angeles Unified School District would be reviewed, and likely changed.
In 2011, children 14 or younger in the school district, the area’s biggest, were issued 43 percent of the nearly 10,200 tickets school police handed out to students for fighting, daytime-curfew violations and other minor infractions — indiscretions that community groups and judges have maintained might better be handled by school officials or referred directly to community-based counseling.
China on Edge
|Kate Woodsome||December 28th 2012|
China's official news agency says the government has tightened controls on Internet users by enacting rules requiring them to register their real names. The state Xinhua news agency said lawmakers approved the measures Friday at the closing meeting of a five-day session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. Beijing says the regulation is aimed at protecting the personal information of Web users and cracking down on abuses such as junk e-mail.
However real-name registration will also curtail people's ability to report, often anonymously, corruption and official abuses.
Many Internet users in China have turned to so-called virtual private networks (VPNs) to gain access to websites that are otherwise blocked by China's Internet censorship, but Duncan Clark, a Beijing-based consultant who is also a senior adviser to Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, says Chinese authorities are limiting access to those, too, and that could hurt business. Read more ..
|Scott Stewart||December 27th 2012|
On Dec. 18, the U.S. State Department's Accountability Review Board released an unclassified version of its investigation into the Sept. 12 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attack, so the report was widely anticipated by the public and by government officials alike.
Four senior State Department officials have been reassigned to other duties since the report's release. Among them were the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security; two of his deputy assistant secretaries, including the director of the Diplomatic Security Service, the department's most senior special agent; and the deputy assistant secretary responsible for Libya in the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. Read more ..
Operation Pillar of Defense
|Zach Pontz||December 27th 2012|
Human Rights Watch has acknowledged that terrorists killed civilians in Gaza during Operation Pillar of Defense when rockets being fired into Israel fell short.
“Rockets that fell short of their intended targets in Israel apparently killed at least two Palestinians in Gaza and wounded others,” Human Rights Watch said.
The specific case mentioned in the report involves the four year-old boy used as a political tool by Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil during his visit to Gaza.
Holding back tears, Kandil kissed the boy’s lifeless body as he was presented him by Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh. Kandil said,”What I saw today in the hospital, the wounded and the martyrs, the boy … whose blood is still on my hands and clothes, is something that we cannot keep silent about.” At the time Israel strongly denied being involved in the boy’s death. Read more ..
Palestine on Edge
|Nadav Shragai||December 26th 2012|
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A falafel costs five to ten shekels in Bethlehem (in Tel Aviv the average is around 15 shekels). Hotel rooms are also substantially cheaper than hotel rooms in neighboring Jerusalem: only $25 per night. Even the Christmas product industry has managed to maintain low prices thanks to imports from the Far East. Many of the prayer beads, shell ornaments and carved wood figurines, on sale here for 10 to 15 shekels, are manufactured in China. But the tourists don't care. They come in droves. In recent years, Bethlehem and its 32,000 residents have seen a financial renaissance, mainly thanks to a big tourism boom.
The city, which exported a string of deadly terror attacks into Jerusalem during the Second Intifada, is quiet now. In 2009, a million tourists visited Bethlehem, which marked the birth of Jesus this week. In 2011, the number of tourists rose to 1.5 million (about three quarters of the total number of tourists to visit the entire Palestinian Authority last year). This year, maybe a new record will be set.
The Future Edge
|Stewart M. Patrick ||December 25th 2012|
Mathew Burrows, counselor to the National Intelligence Council, may have the most fascinating job in Washington. Every four to five years he coordinates the U.S. intelligence community’s crystal-ball gazing exercise, which imagines what the future will bring fifteen to twenty years hence. The sixth and most recent installment, Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds, offers an eye-opening glimpse into the turbulent world we will inherit as middle classes grow, power shifts to developing countries, demographics change, and humanity confronts daunting ecological constraints.
The NIC report identifies four “megatrends”—or drivers—shaping the world of 2030. The first is a dramatic expansion of the global middle class. From antiquity poverty has been humanity’s dominant condition. That is poised to change. Not only will extreme poverty (defined as earning less than $1.25 per day) drop by up to fifty percent, but the proportion of individuals moving into the middle class will explode in the developing world, and particularly in Asia. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Shlomo Cesana and Daniel Syrioti||December 24th 2012|
Hayom and agencies
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Al-Jazeera reported on Monday morning that seven Syrian rebel fighters were killed and a number of others injured at their base in Homs by toxic gas inhalation. Officials at the base reported that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces sprayed the gas.
The injured people suffered from nausea, muscle and vision damage and had difficulty breathing. One activist said that "medical personnel on the scene said the gas appeared to have similar effects as sarin gas."
While rebels boast of conquests of military bases and cities around Syria, Assad continued to massacre hungry civilians, to the extent that they are attacked while waiting in line for bread. On Sunday, a report said that at least 100 people, mostly women and children, were killed by a bomb dropped on a bakery by the Syrian air force in Halfaya, a suburb of the central Syrian city Hama.
India on Edge
|Anjana Pasricha||December 24th 2012|
India's Prime Minister has appealed for calm following days of violent protests over the gang rape of a young woman in the Indian capital.
In a televised address Monday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he shared people’s genuine anger and anguish. However, he said violence will serve no purpose. Singh was referring to clashes that took place between protestors and police in the Indian capital Saturday and Sunday.
“I appeal to all concerned citizens to maintain peace and calm. I assure you that we will make all possible efforts to ensure safety and security of women in this country," he promised, "we will examine without delay not only responses to this terrible crime, but all aspects concerning safety of women and children and punishment to those who commit these monstrous crimes.” Read more ..
Afghanistan on Edge
|Frud Bezhan||December 23rd 2012|
A senior judge has been convicted of bribery and fired from his position after a perversion of justice exposed the invasiveness of corruption within Afghan society.
Zahoruddin, a 65-year-old judge in the country's eastern Nangarhar Province, who like many Afghans goes only by one name, was convicted on December 19 of bribery and corruption charges stemming from a young woman's divorce case. Zahoruddin and another judge apparently became aware that Dewa, a 22-year-old freelance journalist, had filed for divorce and conspired to extort bribes from her in exchange for ensuring her request was granted.
Zahoruddin contacted Dewa, offering to help. But upon meeting with the young woman, he demanded more than $2,000 in bribes. When his offer was refused, he offered an alternative -- entering a life of wealthy matrimony with none other than the judge himself. Unknown to the judge was that Dewa had come to the meeting armed with a hidden recording device. She recorded the entire 15-minute exchange. Dewa sent the recording of their conversation to the Supreme Court in Kabul and a criminal investigation ensued. Read more ..
|Chris Hamby||December 23rd 2012|
The Center for Public Integrity
The temperature outside barely reached double digits on the morning of Jan. 15, 2009, and, inside the Crucible Specialty Metals steel mill here, it was bitterly cold. Ice coated the equipment, forcing employees to use torches to free the machines so they could start their work.
Danger was everywhere, federal records show. Equipment was old and in disrepair. Molten steel snaked through the building, and, at any moment, could snag and twist out of control, burning anything in its path. Shafts driving the machines that compress the steel spun at high speeds with no guards to shield employees working nearby. Sometimes, workers said, the torches backfired and burned them.
This was Jack Grobsmith’s domain. He’d worked at Crucible for more than 35 years and had ascended to the position of head roller. He adjusted the equipment and made sure the steel bars came out just the right size. Around the factory, he was known as a jokester with a purpose — showing up at events in character as Crucibella, donning a dress, lipstick and ‘60s-era Easter hat to preach about safety. Read more ..
The Darkest Edge
|Jonathan Masters||December 22nd 2012|
Council on Foreign Relations
The debate over gun control in the United States has waxed and waned over the years, stirred by a series of incidents involving mass killings by gunmen in civilian settings. The killing of twenty schoolchildren in Newtown, Ct. in December 2012 prompted a national discussion over gun laws and initial calls by the Obama administration to limit the availability of military-style assault weapons. Gun ownership in the United States far surpasses other countries, and the recent mass shootings, in particular, have raised comparisons with policies abroad. Democracies that have experienced similar traumatic shooting incidents, for instance, have taken significant steps to regulate gun ownership and restrict assault weapons. They generally experience far fewer incidents of gun violence than the United States.
United States.The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states: "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Supreme Court rulings, citing this amendment, have upheld the right of states to regulate firearms. However, in a 2008 decision confirming an individual right to keep and bear arms, the court struck down Washington DC laws that banned handguns and required those in the home to be locked or disassembled. Read more ..
The Edge of Nature
|Clare Ryan||December 22nd 2012|
University College London
A coherent pathway which starts from no more than rocks, water and carbon dioxide and leads to the emergence of the strange bio-energetic properties of living cells, has been traced for the first time in a major hypothesis paper in Cell. At the origin of life the first protocells must have needed a vast amount of energy to drive their metabolism and replication, as enzymes that catalyse very specific reactions were yet to evolve. Most energy flux must have simply dissipated without use. So where did it all that energy come from on the early Earth, and how did it get focused into driving the organic chemistry required for life?
The answer lies in the chemistry of deep-sea hydrothermal vents. In their paper Nick Lane (UCL, Genetics, Evolution and Environment) and Bill Martin (University of Dusseldorf) address the question of where all this energy came from - and why all life as we know it conserves energy in the peculiar form of ion gradients across membranes. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Jonathan D. Halevi||December 21st 2012|
The moment of truth is approaching in Syria. In an interview with the Lebanese daily al-Akhbar, published on December 17, Syria’s vice president, Farouq al-Shara, admitted for the first time that the war against the Syrian rebels could not be won: “I do not believe that what the security forces and the army units are doing will achieve a decisive victory.”
The rebel forces, led by allied jihadist groups, have the upper hand on the battlefield, and scored significant achievements when they took over a large military base in Aleppo well stocked with weapons and ammunition, and later in fierce fighting in communities surrounding the capital city of Damascus including the Yarmouk Palstinian refugee camp. The Free Syrian Army is now claiming to have gained control of most of the air defense bases in the Damascus Governate.
Bashar Assad’s regime is fighting a rearguard battle and has already lost control over large parts of the country, which are still being subjected to aerial and artillery attacks by Syrian army forces still loyal to the regime. Assad continues to draw his strength from the Alawite community, which forms the backbone of the army, and from the political, military, and economic assistance he receives from Russia, Syria, Iran, and Hizbullah. The latter two have also sent forces to help with the fighting both in advisory and operational capacities. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Zach Pontz||December 20th 2012|
Two days after a mysterious explosion at a Hezbollah weapons depot in southern Lebanon, the Kuwaiti website Al Jarida is reporting that Israel bombed the site because Syria had transferred missiles there that were capable of being equipped with chemical warheads. The missiles had been moved into Lebanon from Syria in the last several months and were being held inside warehouses owned by farmers in the area.
The report also claimed that Hezbollah has many additional warehouses across Lebanon that are used for the same purpose. In October another weapons storage facility in the town of Baalbek was destroyed after an explosion. The AFP said that four Syrians were killed in the blast.
The prospect of Syria using chemical weapons has become a major issue in the country’s nearly two year-old civil war. Israel has held meetings with several European countries and is also reportedly operating within Syria to track weapons movement. Reports earlier this month had it that Syria had already moved weapons into Lebanon. U.S. President Barack Obama has also stated that use of chemical weapons by Assad would be a “red line.” Read more ..
|Charles Robb, Dennis Ross, and Michael Makovsky ||December 19th 2012|
After the looming fiscal cliff, the next major challenge facing the United States will be preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapons capability. Living with a nuclear Iran is strategically untenable. Like the fiscal cliff, this is a matter of both economic and national security. Preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons carries various risks, but inaction has its costs, too -- especially to the price of oil and, in turn, to the U.S. economy.
International sanctions against Iran have already restricted its oil exports, reducing global supply and putting upward pressure on oil prices. But a military strike against the Islamic Republic could disrupt the flow of oil in the region, as Iran might retaliate against the West by attempting to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which one-fifth of the world's oil supplies pass.
The disruption of oil flows would have significant economic repercussions. Yet failure to stop Iran's nuclear-weapons program also would have myriad direct and indirect consequences. We led a Bipartisan Policy Center task force -- including former elected officials, military leaders, diplomats, energy analysts and economists -- that examined the energy-related costs of inaction. Read more ..
America on Edge
|Mary Billingsley||December 18th 2012|
A study published in the December 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that adolescents who experienced food insecurity in the past year have a higher prevalence of mental disorders than adolescents whose families have reliable access to food.
Using data from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A), a group of researchers led by Dr. Katie McLaughlin, of Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, examined 6,483 adolescents aged 13-17 years to examine the relationship between food insecurity and past-year mental disorders. Food insecurity was defined as the inability to purchase adequate amounts of food to meet basic needs. The study examined whether food insecurity, as reported by adolescents and a parent or guardian, was associated with the presence of past-year mental disorders in adolescents over and above the effects of other indicators of socio-economic status including parental education, income, and poverty status.
The study found that a one standard deviation increase in food insecurity was associated with a 14% increased odds of past-year mental disorder among adolescents, even after controlling for poverty and numerous other indicators of socio-economic status. Food insecurity was associated with elevated odds of every class of common mental disorder examined in the study, including mood, anxiety, behavioral, and substance disorders. Food insecurity was associated with adolescent mental disorders more strongly than parental education and income. Read more ..
The Darkest Edge
|Rick Schwartz||December 17th 2012|
Center for Public Integrity
The horrific school shooting in Newtown, Conn. has rekindled the always volatile debate in Washington over gun control policy. It appears unlikely that any of the oft-discussed proposals for change would have altered the tragic outcome in Connecticut. But outrage over the shooting is nevertheless engendering fresh discussion of steps that might curb gun violence or limit access to firearms.
The New York Times reported Sunday that the Justice Department last year considered changes in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System that grew out of the landmark Brady Act. Specifically, federal officials considered steps to increase the system's access to information on persons who should be prohibited from buying guns. Read more ..
China On Edge
|Benn Steil and Dinah Walker||December 16th 2012|
Council on Foreign Relations
As our figure above shows, the share of the Chinese labor force working in manufacturing and construction, at 38%, is roughly twice the global average – towering well above manufacturing powerhouses like Germany (25%) and South Korea (23%). Manufacturing’s share of the Chinese work force, at 29%, is also 6 percentage points higher than the level at which other fast growing economies have typically begun slowing. Once that share exceeds 23%, according to analysis by Barry Eichengreen, it “becomes necessary to shift workers into services, where productivity growth is slower.” Read more ..
The Drug Wars
|Elizabeth Briggs||December 16th 2012|
Each year, thousands of Colombian peasants, primarily women and children, trek through the Amazon with their meager possessions, seeking asylum from the violence encompassing their traditional rural villages. Ecuador is home to the highest number of refugees to be found in Latin America, 98 percent of whom are Colombian. Most of these have fled the violence associated with coca cultivation and processing, as well as the violent after effects resulting from the U.S.-sponsored War on Drugs between narco-traffickers and security forces. This conflict has internally displaced an estimated 5 million Colombians, more than 300,000 of them fleeing over the particularly porous southern border with Ecuador. Despite political tensions between Ecuador and Colombia, the Ecuadorian government has welcomed Colombian refugees. However, these refugees often face severe discrimination and poor living conditions once they arrive in Ecuador, despite the efforts of hardworking NGOs such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Read more ..
The Edge of Climate Change
|Allan Chen||December 15th 2012|
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
The insurance industry, the world's largest business with $4.6 trillion in revenues, is making larger efforts to manage climate change-related risks, according to a new study published today in the journal Science.
"Weather- and climate-related insurance losses today average $50 billion a year. These losses have more than doubled each decade since the 1980s, adjusted for inflation," says the study's author Evan Mills, a scientist in Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab)'s Environmental Energy Technologies Division. "Insurers have become quite adept at quantifying and managing the risks of climate change, and using their market presence to drive broader societal efforts at mitigation and adaptation." Hurricane Sandy is only the most recent U.S. example of the kinds of increasing liabilities posed by severe weather events in a changing climate.
Managing a portfolio of $25 trillion in assets, similar in size to mutual funds or pensions globally, the insurance industry has become a significant voice in world policy forums addressing the issue, as well as a market force, investing at least $23 billion in emissions-reduction technologies, securities, and financing, plus $5 billion in funds with environmental screens, seeing risks to investments in polluting industries and opportunities in being part of the clean-tech revolution. Read more ..
The Darkest Edge
|Kent Klein||December 14th 2012|
U.S. President Barack Obama says he and parents across the country are feeling overwhelming grief over the mass school shooting Friday that killed children and school staff in the northeastern state of Connecticut. Obama, visibly upset and wiping tears from his eye as he spoke at the White House, said most of the victims were children who had their whole lives in front of them.
“They had their entire lives ahead of them -- birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own. Among the fallen were also teachers, men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams. So our hearts are broken today - for the parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers of these little children and for the families of the adults who were lost.” A state police lieutenant, Paul Vance, told reporters that 20 children and six adults were killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. He said the gunman was also dead. The president called the shooting a "heinous crime." He said the country has endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years and will have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent another such incident. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Jennifer Martinez||December 14th 2012|
The United States said Thursday that it will not sign a United Nations telecommunications treaty that U.S. technology companies warn would disrupt governance of the Internet and open the door to online censorship. The U.K. and Canada also said they would not ratify the treaty after negotiations ended at a conference hosted by the U.N. International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in Dubai.
U.S. Ambassador Terry Kramer, who led the U.S. delegation during the conference, told reporters on a conference call that the U.S. could not sign the treaty because there were “too many issues here that were problematic for us.”
The treaty is intended to govern how telephone calls and other communications traffic are exchanged internationally. While it is not a legally binding document, Kramer said the U.S. opposed extending the scope of the treaty to include Internet governance and online content matters. Read more ..
The Edge of the Universe
|Suzanne Presto||December 14th 2012|
Astronomers have used NASA's Earth orbiting Hubble Space Telescope to reveal primitive galaxies -- vast clusters of stars -- that are more than 13 billion years old. One of them might be the oldest ever observed.
Here on Earth, when researchers study the dawn of civilization, they often rely on findings from archeological digs. Astronomers describe a different kind of dig when they study the dawn of the cosmos. A team of scientists used NASA's Hubble Space Telescope for a cosmic "dig" of sorts, peering even deeper into the universe, looking, in effect, even further back in time. They discovered seven previously unseen galaxies that formed more than 13 billion years ago, not that long in cosmic time, after the birth of the universe.
Hubble's new images show a dense scattering of bright specks, slashes and swirls of reds, yellows and violets against the backdrop of black space. "These are baby pictures of the universe," John Grunsfeld of NASA's Science Mission Directorate told reporters during a NASA teleconference Wednesday. "It's back to the fundamental origin story. We're always wondering, 'Where did we come from and where are we going?' And Hubble is providing answers to both those questions." Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Terrence Sterling||December 13th 2012|
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Syria's chemical weapons could be used at "a moment's notice" and the international community should not accept any assurances from Syrian officials that they will not be used, U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said on Wednesday.
U.S. and other Western officials recently issued sharp warnings to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad not to deploy chemical weapons. Syria called those warnings a "pretext for intervention" in the civil war.
Rogers, a Republican, told Reuters in an interview that the Syrian government's activities related to chemical weapons were a shift in posture and a major concern. "I believe that they have put elements of their chemical weapons program in a condition of which they could be used at a moment's notice, which is very different from before," Rogers said.
The Edge of Terrorism
|R. Jeffrey Smith||December 13th 2012|
The Center for Public Integrity
Officials in central Indianapolis thought deeply a few years back about what equipment they needed to defend against a local attack involving weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical arms or a nuclear bomb, and their answer was (ba dum, ba dum) a hovercraft!
Luckily, the city didn’t even have to foot the$69,000 bill. The funds instead came from a Federal Emergency Management Agency program known as the Urban Area Security Initiative, which has so far spent more than $7 billion trying to make about five dozen of America’s cities safe from the threat of terrorism.
When officials in Louisiana calculated how they could best deal with the terrorism threat in their own backyard, their answer in part was – yes, really – a teleprompter and a lapel microphone, again purchased with funds from the FEMA initiative. Similarly, Oxnard-Thousand Oaks officials in California deliberated and decided to buy new fins and snorkels for their dive team.
But the City of Clovis in that state was even more creative: They used a $250,000 FEMA grant to buy an armored vehicle known as the BearCat, which wound up being used to patrol at an Easter egg hunt and other public events. Read more ..
The North Korean Threat
|Steve Herman||December 12th 2012|
North Korea has carried out what it characterizes as a “groundbreaking” peaceful launch to place a weather satellite into orbit, despite warnings from the United Nations and the United States. The event is being viewed by most of the world as a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Seoul, Tokyo, Washington and the United Nations quickly condemned the Wednesday morning launch.
Leaders in Japan and South Korea convened emergency national security meetings
South Korea's foreign minister, Kim Sung-hwan, criticized Pyongyang for ignoring repeated warnings and requests to cancel the launch. The foreign minister says this action will further isolate North Korea from the international community and the country should instead use the immense financial resources spent on nuclear and missile development “to solve the desperate lives of its people.” Read more ..
|Dan Levin||December 11th 2012|
British banking giant HSBC has agreed to pay more than $1.9 billion to U.S. authorities -- the largest penalty ever paid by a bank -- after failing to abide by anti-money laundering and sanctions laws, it said on Tuesday. The agreement helps HSBC avoid a legal battle that could tarnish its reputation further and undermine confidence in the global banking system. It was the latest in a string of scandals by major banks since the financial crisis began in 2008.
The global banking giant admitted that lax vigilance made it vulnerable to money laundering by Mexican drug cartels, as well as transactions involving Iran that are banned under U.S. law. HSBC managers pledged to do better in testimony before a Senate investigative committee. U.S. law seeks to disrupt the cash flow of criminal organizations, from drug traffickers to terrorist groups. But for years, London-based HSBC seemingly turned a blind eye to illegal transactions originating in Mexico and elsewhere that used the bank’s U.S. affiliates as a gateway to America’s financial system. Senator Carl Levin of Michigan said HSBC is a prime example of a widespread problem in international banking. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Peter Thorley||December 11th 2012|
University of Leicester
|Tycho Type 1a Supernova Remnant (credit: NASA et al)|
A team of astronomers led by the University of Leicester has uncovered new evidence that suggests that X-ray detectors in space could be the first to witness new supernovae that signal the death of massive stars. Astronomers have measured an excess of X-ray radiation in the first few minutes of collapsing massive stars, which may be the signature of the supernova shock wave first escaping from the star.
The findings have come as a surprise to Dr Rhaana Starling, of the University of Leicester Department of Physics and Astronomy whose research is published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, published by Oxford University Press.
Dr Starling said: “The most massive stars can be tens to a hundred times larger than the Sun. When one of these giants runs out of hydrogen gas it collapses catastrophically and explodes as a supernova, blowing off its outer layers which enrich the Universe. But this is no ordinary supernova; in the explosion narrowly confined streams of material are forced out of the poles of the star at almost the speed of light. These so-called relativistic jets give rise to brief flashes of energetic gamma-radiation called gamma-ray bursts, which are picked up by monitoring instruments in Space, that in turn alert astronomers.” Read more ..
The North Korean Threat
|Bernard Banks||December 11th 2012|
VOA and Agencies
North Korea appears to have taken apart and moved its long-range rocket, a day after announcing that technical difficulties had caused a one-week delay of its launch. South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted a military source as saying satellite photos suggest technicians have disassembled the three-stage rocket and moved it to a nearby assembly facility. The unidentified source said North Korea pulled the rocket from the launch pad to fix technical problems.
Pyongyang has vowed to proceed with the launch, despite widespread international condemnation, a long period of cold weather and technical difficulties. On Monday, North Korea extended the deadline of the rocket launch by a week, until December 29, citing a "technical deficiency in the first stage control engine module of the rocket."The launch had been scheduled for December 10-22 to coincide with the first anniversary of the death of former North Korean ruler Kim Jong Il. Read more ..
The Obama Edge
|Amie Parnes||December 10th 2012|
President Obama on Monday waded into the fight over changing Michigan into a right-to-work state, saying the move was all about politics and about your “rights to bargain for better wages.”
During a visit to a Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Michigan, Obama signaled the White House will be more active in this labor fight than it was during a similar fight in Wisconsin in 2011. He described the proposed changes in Michigan as being part of a “race to the bottom” that won’t help the economy.
“What we shouldn’t be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages,” Obama told a small crowd at the plant. “We don’t want a race to the bottom. We want a race to the top.” Obama said the laws “don’t have to do with economics. They have everything to do with politics."
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who greeted Obama in Detroit on Monday, is expected to sign legislation on Tuesday to make Michigan the 24th right-to-work state. The move has angered union workers who protested the legislation in Lansing. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Zach Pontz||December 10th 2012|
London’s Sunday Times is reporting that Israeli special forces are operating within Syria in an effort to track the Syrian regime’s stocks of chemical and biological weapons. The operation is part of a secret war to track Syria’s non-conventional armaments and sabotage their development according to the Times. “For years we’ve known the exact location of Syria’s chemical and biological munitions,” an Israeli source said, according to The Sunday Times. “But in the past week we’ve got signs that munitions have been moved to new locations.”
Several world leaders have warned Syria in recent days that the use of biological and chemical weapons would be a red line and would prompt a military response from the international community. Syria has designated biological weapons as part of its conventional arsenal, suggesting it wouldn’t hesitate to use them against its citizens or any other entity it deems a threat. According to the Sunday Times article, Jill Bellamy-van Aalst, a former bio-defence consultant to NATO, said: “It’s just another type of weapon for the regime and they may not make the moral distinctions we do.” Read more ..
Egypt's Second Revolution
|Bernard Banks||December 9th 2012|
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has annulled a decree he issued last month granting him sweeping emergency powers, in a push to defuse political tensions and deadly violence gripping the country.
But a spokesman, speaking late Saturday in Cairo, said a referendum on a controversial draft constitution will still go forward as planned December 15. There has been no formal opposition response to the decree annulment, and it was not immediately clear what impact it will have on opposition protesters who have camped out near the presidential palace since Tuesday.
The two issues -- the decree and the referendum -- are at the heart of anti-Morsi demonstrations that have rocked the country for much of the past two weeks.
An opposition umbrella of liberals, secularists and supporters of the former regime claim the draft constitution was pushed through by President Morsi's Islamist backers, without opposition participation. They have demanded the referendum be canceled and a new draft formulated with opposition input. Read more ..
Edging Toward the Fiscal Cliff
|Vicki Needham and Bernie Becker||December 9th 2012|
Housing industry leaders are maintaining close ties with other groups seeking to protect their tax deductions targeted in deficit-reduction talks. The National Association of Home Builders is keeping in close contact with nonprofits and other groups that want to save tax breaks for itemized deductions, including charitable giving and mortgage interest. The groups similarly argue that changes, such as caps, on the deductions would severely affect economic growth by dampening interest in home purchases and reducing donations that would most profoundly affect those who benefit from services.
Jerry Howard, head of the National Association of Home Builders, said making any changes to the mortgage interest deduction in a year-end deal would have unintended consequences on a housing market that is sparking back to life. "It's a ludicrous concept," Howard stated. "This is the last thing Congress should be considering when what we're trying to do is stabilize the economy," he said. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|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 ..
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