North Korea's Nukes
|Steve Herman||April 9th 2012|
North Korea has placed a three-stage rocket on the launch pad at a new, more sophisticated facility facing the Yellow Sea. It plans to launch what it calls an earth observation satellite as early as Thursday. There are also indications the reclusive and impoverished country is preparing for a third nuclear weapons test, as well. Satellite imagery, taken last week, shows piles of dirt near a newly excavated tunnel entrance at North Korea's nuclear test site. A summary of a South Korean intelligence report accompanying the photos says the excavation at the Punggye-ri test site is in its final stages. Analysts say Pyongyang wants to demonstrate to the world that it is capable of carrying out a nuclear test at any time.
Meanwhile, North Korea, at a separate site, has placed on the launch pad what it is calling the Unha-3 rocket. It appears virtually identical to the three-stage liquid-fueled ballistic missile it fired over Japan three years ago. The United States, South Korea, the European Union and Japan are condemning the planned launch, saying it will clearly violate United Nations sanctions forbidding Pyongyang from utilizing ballistic missile technology. Jang Myong Jin, the general manager of the launch site, says North Korea has a sovereign right to carry out a space launch. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|Michael Lipin||April 8th 2012|
The European Union's expulsion of 30 sanctioned Iranian banks from a global financial messaging service last month has made it significantly harder for Iranians using those banks to do business with foreign partners.
The head of the German-Iranian Chamber of Commerce in Hamburg, Michael Tockuss, said that hundreds of German exporters are owed $4.7 billion by Iranians who received goods before the EU move, but now cannot use their banks to pay for them.
His comments reflect Western contentions that a variety of mostly U.S. and European sanctions relating to Iran's controversial nuclear program are having crippling effects on the Iranian economy. The Belgium-based organization SWIFT disconnected 30 Iranian banks from its network on March 17, on the orders of EU nations who sanctioned those banks for having links to Iran's nuclear program. The United States also has sanctions against 23 Iranian banks. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|R. Jeffrey Smith||April 7th 2012|
|credit: US State Department Human Rights Bureau|
In 1995, U.S. spy satellites photographed telling moments in the massacre over four days of an estimated 7,800 Bosnians by Bosnian Serb forces near the town of Srebrenica. But these photographs were not publicized by U.S. officials until nearly four weeks after the massacre had ended. Intelligence analysts did not circulate the evidence to senior officials for 22 days, even though two U.S. diplomats had picked up and circulated warnings about the killings on the first day and again 12 days later (“New Proof Offered of Serb Atrocities,” The Washington Post, Oct. 29. 1995).
It was an embarrassing disconnect between top policymakers and officials in the U.S. intelligence community, which jointly missed the chance to sound an alarm about a horrific, genocidal crime—the largest mass killing in Europe since World War II—while it was still under way.
In 2012, the public picture of what’s happening in Syria—where more than 9,000 people have been killed so far, according to the UN—literally looks different, due to an unusual agreement brokered by White House aides between the intelligence community and the State Department. For more than a month, U.S. intelligence analysts have been declassifying satellite photos depicting the movement of Syrian armor and the destruction of Syrian villages so the department’s Human Rights Bureau can plaster them on its website. Read more ..
The Obama Edge
|Chris Hamby||April 5th 2012|
The Energy Department kept Treasury Department officials in the dark until late in the government's review of the $535 million loan to now-bankrupt solar panel maker Solyndra, triggering a rushed consultation that may have left concerns unresolved, a new audit released April 4 found.
The audit by the Treasury Department’s inspector general found that Treasury officials had raised serious concerns about the terms of the loan, but there was no documentation of whether they were addressed. The report’s findings of hurried reviews and ignored warning signs echo previous reporting on Solyndra.
The loan, originally touted as a model of President Obama’s green energy program, has become a political weapon. “The Treasury report echoes what our investigation has shown over and over; Solyndra was a bad bet from the beginning that was rushed out the door while every red flag was ignored,” Republican Reps. Fred Upton and Cliff Stearns said in a statement Wednesday. Read more ..
The Arab Winter in Egypt
|Eric Trager||April 4th 2012|
On Saturday, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) announced the nomination of Deputy Supreme Guide Khairat al-Shater for president, cementing a critical shift in its political strategy. Although the group initially tried to manage Egypt's post-Mubarak transition by cooperating with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and secularist parties, it is now pursuing outright political dominance. The MB's reversal of its oft-repeated pledge not to run a presidential candidate also suggests that it cannot be trusted if it decides there is an advantage to be won. More broadly, the Brotherhood's pursuit of a political monopoly undermines prospects for democracy in Egypt and threatens to intensify political instability -- a scenario that should deeply alarm U.S. policymakers.
Following President Hosni Mubarak's February 2011 ouster, the MB sought to allay secularist fears of an Islamist takeover by adopting a cooperative political approach and tempering its pursuit of power. Specifically, the Brotherhood made two promises: that it would contest fewer than half of the seats in eventual parliamentary elections, and that it would not run for the presidency. In June 2011, it emphasized its commitment to cooperation by joining the secularist Wafd Party in creating the National Democratic Alliance for Egypt, an electoral coalition that, at its height, included forty-three parties. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Lionel Pousaz||April 3rd 2012|
he first prototype of a new, ultra-compact motor that will allow small satellites to journey beyond Earth's orbit is just making its way out of the EPFL laboratories where it was built. The goal of the micro motor: to drastically reduce the cost of space exploration.
Imagine reaching the Moon using just a tenth of a liter of fuel. With their ionic motor, MicroThrust, EPFL scientists and their European partners are making this a reality and ushering in a new era of low-cost space exploration. The complete thruster weighs just a few hundred grams and is specifically designed to propel small (1-100 kg) satellites, which it enables to change orbit around the Earth and even voyage to more distant destinations – functions typically possible only for large, expensive spacecraft. The just-released prototype is expected to employed on CleanSpace One, a satellite under development at EPFL that is designed to clean up space debris, and on OLFAR, a swarm of Dutch nanosatellites that will record ultra-low radio-frequency signals on the far side of the Moon.
The motor, designed to be mounted on satellites as small as 10x10x10 cm3, is extremely compact but highly efficient. The prototype weighs only about 200 grams, including the fuel and control electronics. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
World Jewish Daily
The Iranians have dispatched a network of covert assassins to hit Jewish, Israeli and Western targets in Turkey, Sky News reports. And now the surreptitious hit-squad has finally been given a name: Unit 400.
A 53-page secret study from a foreign intelligence agency obtained exclusively by Sky News reports as follows:
"Unit 400 is a top-secret "special ops" unit within the elite overseas wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force (IRGC-QF). It plans and carries out terror attacks on external targets, and provides material support to foreign militia groups, at the direct behest of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. This is in accordance with the regime's core strategic considerations about how best to challenge perceived enemies in Israel and the west - through asymmetric warfare - and to cope with mounting international pressure over its nuclear programme."
The commanders of the group has been identified as Hamed Abdellahi and Majid Alavi, the former deputy minister in Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Joseph Blumberg||April 1st 2012|
Idan Ginsburg, a graduate student in Dartmouth's Department of Physics and Astronomy, studies some of the fastest moving objects in the cosmos. When stars and their orbiting plants wander too close to the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, their encounter with the black hole's gravitational force can either capture them or eject them from the galaxy, like a slingshot, at millions of miles per hour.
Although their origin remains a mystery and although they are invisible, black holes found at galaxy centers make their presence known through the effects they have on their celestial surroundings. The Milky Way's black hole, a monster with a mass four million times that of the Sun, feeds on some of its neighbors and thrusts others out into the intergalactic void. It's the expelled objects that "become hypervelocity planets and stars," say Ginsburg. "What we learn from these high-speed travelers has significance for our understanding of planetary formation and evolution near the central black hole."
Ginsburg, along with his doctoral adviser Professor Gary Wegner, and Harvard Professor Abraham Loeb are publishing a paper in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. It describes how the team constructed computer simulations of these hypervelocity bodies as a means to understanding the dynamics involved. "The paper is a 'call to arms' for other astronomers to join the search," Ginsburg announces. Read more ..
The Defense Edge
|Baker Spring||March 31st 2012|
On March 30, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released a report that is already starting to be described as having resolved all of the technical issues surrounding the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
Descriptions of the NAS study by CTBT advocates are certain to be overstatements. There are disagreements among technically knowledgeable people regarding these issues. It was just these kinds of disagreements that caused the Strategic Posture Commission to report in 2009 that it could not reach a consensus position regarding U.S. ratification of the CTBT. For example, the opponents of CTBT ratification on the commission stated that “maintaining a safe, reliable nuclear stockpile in the absence of testing entails real technical risks that cannot be eliminated by even the most sophisticated science-based program because full validation of these programs is likely to require testing over time.” Further, there is an array of narrower technical questions that surround the debate over the value of the CTBT. It is worth examining some of these questions, most of which are raised in the NAS study. Read more ..
The Toxic Edge
|Ronnie Greene||March 31st 2012|
|Coast Guard Inspection|
Read more ..
When a U.S. Coast Guard inspector boarded the M/T Chem Faros, a 21,145-gross-ton cargo ship that pulled into port in Morehead City, N.C., an oiler with the engine crew quietly handed him a note.
"GOOD MORNING SIR, I WOULD LIKE TO LET YOU KNOW THIS SHIP DISCHARGING BILGE ILEGALLY USING BY MAGIC PIPE,” the note said. “IF YOU WANT TO KNOW ILLEGAL PIPE THERE IN WORKSHOP FIVE METERS LONG WITH RUBBER.”
The crewman’s hand-scrawled note, passed that March day two years ago, triggered an inquiry that unmasked a wave of high-seas pollution and phony recordkeeping as the ship ferried cargo in Asia and the U.S. The crew had used the so-called magic pipe to divert oily waste overboard at least 10 times in six months. Eleven days before the inspection, the chief engineer ordered 13,200 gallons of oil-contaminated waste dumped into the ocean.
The ship’s owner, Cooperative Success Maritime S.A., was fined $850,000 and sentenced to five years’ probation after its guilty plea. And the chief engineer — after cooperating with authorities — was sentenced to one year of probation. “The oceans must be protected from being used as dump sites for waste oil or other hazardous substances,” said Maureen O’Mara, special agent-in-charge of the Environmental Protection Agency’s criminal enforcement program in Atlanta, in June 2010. A company attorney declined comment.
The Cost of War
|Charles Dameron and Haseeba Shaheed||March 30th 2012|
|Ama Gullah (credit: Shah Saqeem/RFE/RL)|
There isn’t too much that binds together Ama Gullah, a 45-year-old grandmother from the city of Kandahar, and Dr. Becky Whetstone, a marriage counselor and therapist in Little Rock, Arkansas. But they are two of the tens of thousands of mothers strewn across four continents whose sons and daughters have become casualties of the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan—a war that, according to some estimates, has claimed the lives of some 50,000 combatants, along with thousands of civilians.
The emotional trauma of the death of a child does not vary much across battle lines.
In recent interviews with four mothers of the dead from different sides of the war, RFE/RL found little talk of politics or ideology.These women’s thoughts linger on difficult, unanswered questions, and on the new burdens of family: taking care of widowed daughters-in-law and raising newly fatherless grandchildren. Most of them just want the conflict to stop. Read more ..
World Jewish Daily
Despite pledges of support to Israel and United States Jewry, the Obama White House has undertaken a concerted campaign to undermine any possible Israeli strike on Iran.
Evidence for the campaign includes leaked information containing sensitive details, such as an article appearing Wednesday in Foreign Policy magazine that names Azerbaijan as a country from which Israel might launch an Iran attack.
While pledging repeatedly that "all options are on the table" the Obama administration is nonetheless seeking to close off operational options for Israel's military.
Ron Ben-Yishai, writing for Ynet, puts it this way: "In recent weeks the Administration shifted from persuasion efforts vis-à-vis decision-makers and Israel’s public opinion to a practical, targeted assassination of potential Israeli operations in Iran. This “surgical strike” is undertaken via reports in the American and British media, but the campaign’s aims are fully operational: To make it more difficult for Israeli decision-makers to order the IDF to carry out a strike, and what’s even graver, to erode the IDF’s capacity to launch such strike with minimal casualties. The first and most important American objective is to eliminate potential operational options available to the IDF and the State of Israel ... it is blatantly clear that reports in the past week alone have caused Israel substantive diplomatic damage, and possibly even military and operational damage." Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Peter H. Stone||March 28th 2012|
Multibillionaire Sheldon Adelson and his family, who have kept the flagging presidential candidacy of Newt Gingrich alive, seem poised to send millions to Republican-allied groups and possibly a super PAC backing frontrunner Mitt Romney, according to fundraisers with ties to the casino owner.
Adelson along with wife Miriam and other family members has garnered notice by donating a whopping $16.5 million to a super PAC backing Gingrich for president.
A private dinner Adelson hosted on March 22 at his home in Las Vegas drew Republican bigwigs from Washington, D.C., plus some of the GOP’s best-known fundraisers and donors. The diners were in Las Vegas early for a weekend summit of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), a nonprofit advocacy group that Adelson has backed heavily.
At the dinner, the Adelson family privately sent strong signals to some Romney allies that millions would flow from them to a super PAC backing the former Massachusetts governor—perhaps on a par with what they’ve given to Gingrich, assuming the ex-House Speaker, who is trailing badly, eventually drops out of the race. Read more ..
|Edwin Black||March 27th 2012|
At about 8 p.m. on Feburary 27, constitutional attorney Nathan Lewin was sitting half-asleep in the aisle seat of an Amtrak train speeding south from New York to Washington, D.C. Seated next to him was his daughter and law partner Alyza Lewin. Shortly after crossing the bridge into New Jersey, as red and green track lights blurred past, his cell phone rang. Struggling against the din of a train car filled with passengers, and the exhaustion of a tiring day in Manhattan, Lewin tried to make out what was being said on the cell phone. “You are located where?” he asked. “Did you say Texas?”
From that Monday night moment and for the next four days, a tornadic frenzy of phone calls, text messages, e-mails, conference calls and voice mails was unleashed between parents and attorneys in Texas and Washington. It would all change a number of lives forever and make headlines worldwide as an international sports drama.
Beren Jewish Academy of Houston, an Orthodox Jewish high school, fielding a superb basketball team, had battled its way to the semi-finals of the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS). Ironically, although TAPPS was a sports league of private and religious schools, the association was determined not to honor any Sabbath except Christian Sunday. Moreover, the semi-final playoffs were deliberately scheduled for March 2, a Friday night, which meant that Orthodox Jewish students could not participate. TAPPS angrily and steadfastly denied all requests for accommodation for Beren’s Jewish kids, refusing to move the game up just a few hours even though Covenant, the team Beren was scheduled to play, agreed to the proposed revised game time. That triggered a legal challenge in federal court which quickly led to TAPPS reversing its decision and rescheduling the Friday night game to early Friday afternoon in time for the Beren team to play. The pumped Beren team handily won the game. Headlines raced across the planet trumpeting a victory for the Beren team, for religious accommodation, for sports and for great storylines. Read more ..
The Weapon’s Edge
|B-2 Bomber (credit: Gary Ell/USAF)|
When the Obama administration dispatched three B-2 bombers from a Missouri air base on March 19 last year to cross the ocean and reach Libya, it put roughly $9 billion worth of America’s most prized military assets into the air. The bat-shaped black bombers, finely machined to elude radar and equipped with bombs weighing a ton apiece, easily demolished dozens of concrete aircraft shelters near Libya’s northern coast.
The Air Force points to that successful mission, and thousands of others against insurgents in Afghanistan conducted by older B-1 bombers, while arguing that long-distance, pinpoint expressions of U.S. military power are best carried out by strategic bombers. As a result, the Air Force says, the country needs more and newer versions of them, at the cost of tens of billions of dollars.
Its claims over the last year have impressed Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who called the idea “critical” to national security in February budget testimony. They also charmed Congress, which in December slipped an extra hundred million dollars into the defense budget to speed the creation of a top-secret new “Long-Range Strike Bomber.” Only that bomber—among the dozens of major new weapons systems now in development—was honored with a specific endorsement in the Pentagon’s new strategic review, released on January 5. Read more ..
The Future's Edge
|Michael Bernstein||March 26th 2012|
Just as aspiring authors often read hundreds of books before starting their own, scientists are using decades of knowledge garnered from sequencing or "reading" the genetic codes of thousands of living things to now start writing new volumes in the library of life. J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., one of the most renowned of those scientists, described the construction of the first synthetic cell and many new applications of this work today at the 243rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world's largest scientific society, which is underway this week.
In a plenary talk titled, "From Reading to Writing the Genetic Code," Venter described a fundamental shift in his field of genomics, and its promise for producing synthetic life that could help provide 21st century society with new fuels, medicines, food and nutritional products, supplies of clean water and other resources. Venter, a pioneer in the field, led the team at Celera Genomics that went head-to-head with the government-and-foundation-funded Human Genome Project in the race to decode the human genome. This quest, in which the 23,000 human genes were deciphered, ended with the teams declaring a tie and publishing simultaneous publications in 2001.
"Genomics is a rapidly evolving field and my teams have been leading the way from reading the genetic code — deciphering the sequences of genes in microbes, humans, plants and other organisms — to writing code and constructing synthetic cells for a variety of uses. We can now construct fully synthetic bacterial cells that have the potential to more efficiently and economically produce vaccines, pharmaceuticals, biofuels, food and other products."
The work Venter described at the ACS session falls within an ambitious new field known as synthetic biology, which draws heavily on chemistry, metabolic engineering, genomics and other traditional scientific disciplines. Synthetic biology emerged from genetic engineering, the now-routine practice of inserting one or two new genes into a crop plant or bacterium. Read more ..
The Future's Edge
|Rick Pantaleo||March 24th 2012|
|NASA/GM's Robonaut2 (credit: NASA)|
When we talk with someone, words aren’t the only thing that impact our listener. Other subtle factors—such as tone of voice, body language and eye contact—also have powerful communicative potential.
Bilge Mutlu, a computer scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, understands and appreciates the power of nonverbal communication.
The professor calls himself a human-computer interaction specialist. His work involves taking characteristics of human behavior and replicating them in robots or animatronic characters.
Mutlu is leading a team that’s developing and creating various computer algorithms based on how people communicate without words. These algorithms are then used to program devices, like robots, to look and act more human-like, helping to bridge the gap between man and machine.
A person’s gaze is one of the facets of nonverbal communication Mutlu has found to be especially interesting. “It turns out that gaze tells us all sorts of things about attention, about mental states, about roles in conversations,” he says.
For example, if you focus your gaze on a specific individual while talking to a group of people, it communicates that what’s being said is especially relevant to that individual. Research also shows when you finish saying something in a conversation and your gaze is directed to one particular person, that person is likely to take the next turn speaking in the discussion. These nonverbal cues tell people where our attention is focused and what we mean when we direct a question or comment in a conversation. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Michael Braun, David Asher, and Matthew Levitt||March 23rd 2012|
Given the growing confluence of drugs and terror, Washington needs to be more focused on Hizballah’s illicit activities, particularly in the Western Hemisphere. A long-established relationship with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Qods Force provides Hizballah, Iran’s trusted proxy group, opportunities to build operational capacity in the global illicit drug trade.
Hizballah entered the global narcotics trade approximately seven years ago by acquiring relatively small amounts of cocaine in 15kg–20kg quantities. Trafficking the drugs from the Tri-Border Area (Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina), across the Atlantic, and into locations like Europe, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, this initial investment produced hefty profits almost overnight. Today, Hizballah is moving tons of cocaine into West Africa, onward to North Africa, and eventually into European markets.
For decades, Hizballah has been a master at identifying and exploiting existing smuggling and organized crime infrastructure. Conservatively, the DEA has linked at least half of the U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations to the global drug trade. Hizballah’s illicit activity is directly linked to the group’s ability to build contacts and relationships globally. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Brian Nitz||March 23rd 2012|
A fleet of oil tankers is heading from Saudi Arabia to the US in order to drive down “unjustified” oil prices of $127 per barrel.
Saudi Arabia’s current capacity of 9.9 million barrels per day already exceeds self-imposed OPEC quotas. Saudi Petroleum minister Ali Naimi said production could go up another 25 percent to 12.5 million barrels per day, if necessary.
To put this into perspective, despite the fact that Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) oil reserve has been a cornerstone of U.S. political wrangling for decades, pumping at this rate would deplete ANWR in 21 months. Dumping oil, what does it mean? The phrase “oil dumping” can be used to describe illegal oil disposal or accidents such as BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster. But in the context of world trade, dumping has a special meaning. A commodity is dumped into a market, often below production cost, in order to suppress or squeeze out competition.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) generally frowns on dumping, but enforcement is inconsistent. U.S. officials are hypersensitive to the dumping of steel and aluminum but the U.S., E.U. and Japan protested when China stopped dumping rare earth metals. In an overlooked bit of ironic timing, the United States Department of Commerce imposed a 2.9% to 4.73% anti-dumping tariff on Chinese photovoltaic solar panels on March 20th, the same day Ali Naimi announced his plan to force oil prices lower. Read more ..
South Carolina on Edge
|Caitlin Ginley||March 23rd 2012|
|South Carolina State Capitol|
In response to South Carolina’s failing grade from the State Integrity Investigation, House Democrats there have proposed historic ethics reforms. South Carolina was ranked 45th out of 50 states, with a score of 57 percent. “It is time for South Carolina to get serious about ethics reform,” said Rep. Boyd Brown, (D-Winnsboro), in a press release that cited the investigation’s “scathing” assessment of South Carolina. “Corruption is plaguing our great state and it’s high time we do something about it. South Carolina is ripe for another ‘Operation Lost Trust’ and I refuse to stand idly by while that happens again.” Operation Lost Trust, a vote buying scandal that involved more than two dozen lobbyists and lawmakers, sparked a major ethics overall in South Carolina in the early 1990s, severely restricting gifts and campaign contributions from lobbyists.The new proposal includes term limits, a revamping of the State Ethics Commissions and a two-year ban on the revolving door between legislating and lobbying. Read more ..
|Robert D. Kaplan||March 21st 2012|
Myanmar's ongoing liberalization and its normalization of relations with the outside world have the possibility of profoundly affecting geopolitics in Asia – and all for the better.
Geographically, Myanmar dominates the Bay of Bengal. It is where the spheres of influence of China and India overlap. Myanmar is also abundant in oil, natural gas, coal, zinc, copper, precious stones, timber and hydropower, with some uranium deposits as well. The prize of the Indo-Pacific region, Myanmar has been locked up by dictatorship for decades, even as the Chinese have been slowly stripping it of natural resources. Think of Myanmar as another Afghanistan in terms of its potential to change a region: a key, geo-strategic puzzle piece ravaged by war and ineffective government that, if only normalized, would unroll trade routes in all directions.
Ever since China's Yuan (ethnic Mongol) dynasty invaded Myanmar in the 13th century, Myanmar has been under the shadow of a Greater China, with no insurmountable geographic barriers or architectural obstacles like the Great Wall to separate the two lands -- though the Hengduan Shan range borders the two countries. At the same time, Myanmar has historically been the home of an Indian business community -- a middleman minority in sociological terms -- that facilitated the British hold on Myanmar as part of a Greater British India. Read more ..
The Defense Edge
|Edwin Black||March 20th 2012|
Last Friday, March 16, President Barack Obama may have quietly placed the United States on a war preparedness footing, perhaps in anticipation of an outbreak of war between Israel, the West, and Iran. A newly-propounded Executive Order, titled "National Defense Resources Preparedness," renews and updates the president's power to take control of all civil energy supplies, including oil and natural gas, control and restrict all civil transportation, which is almost 97 percent dependent upon oil; and even provides the option to re-enable a draft in order to achieve both the military and non-military demands of the country, according to a simple reading of the text. The Executive Order was published on the White House website.
The timing of the Order -- with little fanfare -- could not be explained. Opinions among the very first bloggers on the purpose of the unexpected Executive Order run the gamut from the confused to the absurd. None focus on the obvious sudden need for such a pronouncement: oil and its potential for imminent interruption. If Iran was struck by Israel or the West, or if Iran thought it might be struck, the Tehran regime has promised it would block the Strait of Hormuz, which would obstruct some 40 percent of the world's seaborne oil, some twenty percent of the global supply, and about 20 percent of America's daily needs. Moreover, Tehran has promised military retaliation against any nation it feels has harmed it. The United States is at the top of the list. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Rick Pantaleo||March 20th 2012|
A new atlas and catalog of the entire infrared sky were unveiled recently by NASA. The atlas and catalog – which show more than a half-billion stars, galaxies and other objects – were composed from data captured by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission. With the entire release of the sky catalog, the WISE mission has now met its fundamental objective, according to NASA The new atlas is made up with more than 18,000 images taken by the WISE mission. An accompanying catalog lists the infrared properties of more than 560 individual objects, which can be found in the images. Most of the objects listed are stars and galaxies, many of which have never been seen before. "Today, WISE delivers the fruit of 14 years of effort to the astronomical community,” said Edward Wright, WISE principal investigator at UCLA.
The WISE spacecraft launched Dec. 14, 2009. In 2010, it mapped the entire sky using equipment that was much more sensitive than that used on previous missions. Over the course of its mission, WISE collected more than 2.7 million images of everything from asteroids to distant galaxies. The mission team has also been processing more than 15 terabytes of data transmitted back to Earth by the WISE spacecraft. About a year ago, in a preliminary release, NASA offered its first bundle of WISE data to astronomers. Read more ..
Labor on Edge
|Jim Morris||March 18th 2012|
In the space of a minute, federal prison worker Jason Unwin was twice attacked by a furious, muscle-bound inmate on Dec. 21, 2010.
Agitated after a disciplinary hearing, the inmate first punched one of Unwin’s colleagues in the face, knocking him unconscious. He then turned to Unwin, a correctional counselor at the United States Penitentiary in Florence, Colo. “I was hit square in the face,” said Unwin, 51.
With a bloodied Unwin in pursuit, the inmate walked off. Seconds later, with Unwin briefly distracted, the inmate “blindsided me. He hit me with a closed fist, very hard, on the left side of the head. I was knocked unconscious.”
Unwin, a Federal Bureau of Prisons employee for 16 years, hasn’t worked since. He doesn’t have a full range of motion in his right shoulder, he said, and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He has short-term memory problems, sleeps irregularly and faces seizure risks.
The saving grace: He is covered by a 96-year-old compensation program for injured federal workers. Under the Federal Employees Compensation Act of 1916 (FECA), he receives 75 percent of his former salary, tax-free; his monthly income is within a few hundred dollars of his previous salary.
Legislation pending in the U.S. Senate, however, ultimately would cut Unwin’s benefits and could affect many other government workers—especially those with modest incomes—in the future. The measure, championed by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is included in a postal reform bill that may come up for a vote this month. Collins said it would stamp out abuses while saving money. Yet officials with federal employees’ unions say the legislation would unfairly punish victims of workplace violence and other traumatic injuries—and their families.
“It’s a terrible message we’re sending to a federal law enforcement officer,” said Joe Mansour, national workers compensation representative for the Council of Prison Locals, an affiliate of the American Federation of Government Employees. “People are going to lose their homes. People are going to lose their cars.” Under the proposal, compensation would be capped at 50 percent of pre-injury pay for FECA recipients at age 65. Now, benefits range from 75 percent for those with dependents to 66 2/3 percent for those without Read more ..
The Metal's Edge
|Corbin Hiar||March 16th 2012|
Read more ..
Colombia is moving to curb illegal mining of the highly sought after mineral, colten. Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Colombia, travelled to the lawless southeastern corner of the country last weekend and declared his intention to designate the coltan-rich region a “strategic reserve, for national security reasons.” The mining industry there is currently controlled by what Mines and Energy Minister Mauricio Cárdenas called “shady interests” in a tweet on March 11. A ministry official said Monday that the government eventually hopes to auction off mining permits to legitimate companies, according to the Wall Street Journal. The groups Cárdenas was alluding to are right-wing paramilitaries and rebels-turned-drug dealers in the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia, the FARC. As reported earlier this month, those armed groups have coerced the native Indians who live in the region to work the mines or bought their labor with free beer, food, and brand-name athletic shoes. He said that these groups are “a national security concern for us.”
The heavy, black, conductive mineral is used in everything from sophisticated personal electronics to precision weapons. It is used to improve the ability of microchip processors to function in extremely hot or cold temperatures. Unlike diamonds, the origins of which can be determined via geo-fingerprinting, there is no accurate test to trace coltan. This has made it an attractive new source of revenue for narco-terrorist groups like the FARC. Their illicit role in the trade may also become an economic concern for the Colombian government, which claims to control 5 percent of the world’s coltan reserves.
|David Albright and Paul Brannan||March 14th 2012|
ISIS has identified in commercial satellite imagery a building on the Parchin site in Iran that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) wants to visit because it contains, or used to contain, a high-explosive test chamber. The building is located on a relatively small and isolated compound within the Parchin military site and has its own perimeter security wall or fencing.
A berm can be seen between this building and a neighboring one, which is consistent with a description of the compound in the November 8, 2011 IAEA Safeguards Report. The compound is located more than four kilometers away from high-explosive related facilities also at the Parchin site which the IAEA visited in 2005.
The IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano recently noted that the IAEA has “information that that some activity is ongoing” at the Parchin site. When asked if he was concerned that Iran was cleansing the site, Amano said that the “possibility is not excluded…” and that “we have to go there.” If Iran is engaging in clean up work to hide evidence at the Parchin site then it could be occurring inside this building as well. Thus, the IAEA deserves international support to visit this site without delay to inspect the inside of this building and other locations in Parchin as well. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Julien Happich||March 13th 2012|
The reign of the personal computer as the sole corporate access device is coming to a close, and by 2014, the personal cloud will replace the personal computer at the center of users' digital lives, according to research from Gartner.
Gartner analysts said the personal cloud will begin a new era that will provide users with a new level of flexibility with the devices they use for daily activities, while leveraging the strengths of each device, ultimately enabling new levels of user satisfaction and productivity. However, it will require enterprises to fundamentally rethink how they deliver applications and services to users.
"Major trends in client computing have shifted the market away from a focus on personal computers to a broader device perspective that includes smartphones, tablets and other consumer devices," said Steve Kleynhans, research vice president at Gartner. "Emerging cloud services will become the glue that connects the web of devices that users choose to access during the different aspects of their daily life." Read more ..
Catholic Church on Edge
|David Jackson, Gary Marx, and Ritu Sarin||March 11th 2012|
Accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old Chicago girl, the Rev. Sleeva Raju Policetti fled Illinois nearly a decade ago to his native India, where the Roman Catholic archbishop of Hyderabad soon issued an order barring him from ministry.
In 2008, after a canonical trial, the Vatican took the rare and severe step of defrocking Policetti over the allegations, meaning he is no longer a priest.
But civil justice never caught up to the fugitive ex-priest, whose lawyers in India have fought efforts to extradite him to Chicago to face 20 felony counts of criminal sexual assault and aggravated criminal sexual abuse.
And now it's apparently too late.
In recent days, Policetti's case took a dramatic turn when an attorney for Policetti's alleged victim indicated to Cook County prosecutors that she was no longer willing to pursue charges — a decision that would effectively force prosecutors to dismiss the case and abandon the years-long extradition effort. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Carlo Munoz and Jeremy Herb||March 10th 2012|
Talk of intervening in the conflict in Syria is escalating on Capitol Hill, though there’s little consensus on what the path forward should be.
The Obama administration is reportedly moving toward providing assistance to the Syrian opposition forces, which would open a new phase of U.S. involvement. Amid the behind-the-scenes deliberations, President Obama on Tuesday warned against involving the U.S. military in the fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “For us to take military action unilaterally, as some have suggested, or to think that somehow there is some simple solution, I think is a mistake,” Obama said at his press conference. “The notion that the way to solve every one of these problems is to deploy our military — you know, that hasn’t been true in the past, and it won’t be true now.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Monday urged the United States to lead an airstrike against Assad’s forces, saying the conflict has reached a “decisive moment.” Following McCain’s call for military intervention, a few hawkish members of Congress expressed a willingness to consider military action. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he would need to see a “target list” for proposed airstrikes against Assad before supporting them. Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.), chairman of the Appropriations Defense subcommittee, said McCain’s call for airstrikes was “right on track,” but emphasized the United States should not take the lead on any military mission. Read more ..
|George Friedman||March 7th 2012|
A senior Hamas leader said March 6 that the Palestinian Islamist movement would not fight against Israel on behalf of Iran, the Guardian reported. The British daily quoted Gaza-based Hamas politburo member Salah al-Bardawil as saying, "If there is a war between two powers, Hamas will not be part of such a war." Al-Bardawil went on to say that Hamas has never given its "complete loyalty" to Iran, and that their relationship "had been based on common interests."
Stratfor has never put much stock in the speculation that Hamas would automatically jump into the fray if Israel were to conduct a military strike against Iran's nuclear program. However, Hamas publicly stating that it will not fight against Israel on behalf of Iran is extremely significant.
First and most obviously, it means that Israel may not have to worry as much about attacks against its southern flank in the event that Israel takes military action against Iran. But even more significant, the statement underscores Hamas' efforts to join the mainstream of Sunni Arab politics in the wake of the Middle East unrest and the electoral gains of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere. Not only is Hamas being courted by different Arab states, particularly Egypt and Jordan, it is trying to take advantage of the emerging climate within the region to gain recognition as a legitimate political entity. Read more ..
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to publicly set the table for a military strike on Iran Monday evening when he told a crowd of pro-Israel supporters that diplomacy and economic sanctions have categorically failed to prevent Iran’s march towards nuclear weapons.
“We’ve waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer,” Netanyahu said in a speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference. “As Prime Minister of Israel I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation.”
For more than a decade, “I’ve been warning that nuclear armed Iran is a grave danger to my country and the peace and security of the entire world,” Netanyahu added. “For the last decade the international community has tried diplomacy, it hasn’t worked.” Read more ..
The Edge of Mobility
|Arwa Aburawa||March 5th 2012|
Plans to build a Red Sea bridge connecting Saudi Arabia and Egypt have been revived but there are some serious environmental concerns.
More than two decades after it was first planned, Egypt and Saudi Arabia may be about to start work on a land and sea bridge connecting the two countries. The proposed bridge would run 50 kilometres from the Tabuk region in Saudi, across the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba in Egypt. Conservationists in Egypt have however raised concerns about the possible destruction of coastal and marine environments in the process of building the bridge. Some explain that the bridge could negatively impact protected areas including coral reefs, the nesting grounds of turtles and the Tiran Island sea birds.
According to local news sources, Egypt and Saudi Arabia will be meeting in the next few week to discuss the technical details of project. Costing an estimated US$3 billion, the project is by no means a small undertaking. In fact, the size and scale of the project is what concerns conservationist as there appears to be very little in the way of environmental assessment.
Smaller proposals to build artificial islands and bridges in the region have been criticized in the past for their potential environmental damage to the coastline and marine life. In Egypt, there is a constant threat to pristine ecosystems due to tourism industry and efforts to grow the sector following the Arab Spring. However, there should to be clear balance between the environment costs and the economic benefits and at the moment that balance is missing. Read more ..
The Toxic Edge
A much-anticipated government study of more than 12,000 miners — whose publication was delayed by litigation from a group of mining companies — has found that exposure to diesel engine exhaust significantly increases the risk of lung cancer.
For the most heavily exposed miners, the risk of dying from lung cancer was three times higher than it was for those exposed to low doses. For non-smokers, the risk was seven times higher.
“[T]he findings suggest that the risks may extend to other workers exposed to diesel exhaust in the United States and abroad, and to people living in urban areas where diesel exhaust levels are elevated,” Joseph Fraumeni Jr., director of the National Cancer Institute’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, said in a press release Friday morning. Read more ..
After the Holocaust
|Edwin Black||February 28th 2012|
Newly-released documents expose more explicitly the details of IBM’s pivotal role in the Holocaust—all six phases: identification, expulsion from society, confiscation, ghettoization, deportation, and even extermination. Moreover, the documents portray with crystal clarity the personal involvement and micro-management of IBM president Thomas J. Watson in the company’s co-planning and co-organizing of Hitler’s campaign to destroy the Jews.
Buy IBM here.
IBM’s twelve-year alliance with the Third Reich was first revealed in my book IBM and the Holocaust, published simultaneously in 40 countries in February 2001. It was based on some 20,000 documents drawn from archives in seven countries. IBM never denied any of the information in the book; and despite thousands of media and communal requests, as well as published articles, the company has remained silent.
The new “expanded edition” contains 32 pages of never-before-published internal IBM correspondence, State Department and Justice Department memos, and concentration camp documents that graphically chronicle IBM’s actions and what they knew during the twelve-year Hitler regime. On the anniversary of the release of the original book, the new edition was released on February 26, 2012 at a special live global streaming event at Yeshiva University’s Furst Hall, sponsored by the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists together with a coalition of other groups.
Among the newly-released documents and archival materials are secret 1941 correspondence setting up the Dutch subsidiary of IBM to work in tandem with the Nazis, company President Thomas Watson's personal approval for the 1939 release of special IBM alphabetizing machines to help organize the rape of Poland and the deportation of Polish Jews, as well as the IBM Concentration Camp Codes including IBM’s code for death by Gas Chamber. Among the newly published photos of the punch cards is the one developed for the statistician who reported directly to Himmler and Eichmann.
The significance of the incriminating documents requires context. Read more ..
The Animal Edge
|Tafline Laylin||February 28th 2012|
Every year in Namibia, 86,000 Cape Fur Seal pups are butchered to death and only one man has the contract to turn their fur into so-called fashionable apparel. The Turkish and Australia based company Hatem Yavuz named after the owner Hatem Yavuz controls roughly 60 percent of the world’s seal market and processes 130,000 seal pelts every year in his Istanbul factory. Yavuz also has a hand in the Canadian seal market and claims to be proud of what he does. In an interview that spurred a flurry of hate mail, Yavuz told 7 News in Australia that “it’s a job. If I don’t do it, someone else is going to do it.” He is called the King of Seal Killers.
Pat Dickens, founder of the Seals of Nam, a non-profit organization that has been campaigning to end Namibia’s annual seal cull on the Cape Cross Seal Reserve. A popular tourist attraction, every year between July and November the sands of the reserve are stained pink from the blood of seal pups as young as seven months old. Men with clubs and picks enter the seal colony early in the morning. The traumatized animals squeal and run away, often regurgitating their mother’s milk in terror. Their skulls are crushed and their throats slit. Several reports show that blows to their head often only render the animals unconscious. These remains are cleaned up before tourists show up in what is a heavily regulated area. Dickens has gone through all of the appropriate channels to appeal to the Namibian government to cancel its contract with Yavuz, which is valid until 2019, as it stands in direct contravention to the Animal Protection Act of 1962 that makes it unlawful to “overload, overdrive, override, ill-treat, neglect, infuriate, torture or maim or cruelly beat, kick, goad or terrify any animal.”
He appealed to the Namibian ombudsman Adv. John Walters, which speech has since been followed up with a series of delay tactics. Several animal rights organizations have become involved and Jane Goodall and other celebrities have made public statements against this terrible practice. Meanwhile, the Humane Society released a report which shows that the so-called seal-culling industry, which only employs 81 people in Namibia, benefits the Namibian economy 300 times less than live seals and eco-tourism would. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Michael Beckel||February 28th 2012|
The drug lobby's trade association was a multimillion-dollar donor to nonprofit groups that were actively working to elect federal candidates during the 2010 election, an iWatch News analysis of documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service reveals.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, better known as PhRMA, doled out $9.4 million to 501(c)(4) “social welfare” nonprofit groups, some of which paid for ads that influenced races in the 2010 midterm election, records show.
In 2010, PhRMA gave about $20 million in “grants and other assistance” to more than 200 nonprofit organizations, including five politically active 501(c)(4) nonprofits, both liberal and conservative, which together received nearly half of the funds.
The groups were: the American Action Network, the American Future Fund, Americans for Tax Reform, America’s Families First, Inc. and the Citizens for Strength and Security Action Fund. PhRMA's largest gift in 2010 was a $4.5 million contribution to the American Action Network, a conservative 501(c)(4) that spent big money on a half-dozen high-profile U.S. Senate races and more than two dozen U.S. House races.
In 2010, American Action reported spending more than $26 million on ads to the Federal Election Commission. That was more than any other politically active nonprofit group, with the exception of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Overall, the American Action Network reportedly raised more than $30 million in 2010, meaning PhRMA alone was responsible for close to 15 percent of the group's funds. Read more ..
After the Holocaust
|Martin Barillas||February 25th 2012|
Cutting Edge senior correspondent
Award-winning author Edwin Black is slated to unveil the re-release of his blockbuster book IBM and the Holocaust in a new "Expanded Edition." Previous standard editions of the bestseller, orginally published in February 2001, went out of print following worldwide sales of 1.2 million copies. The new Expanded Edition will include some 32 pages of never-before-published internal IBM correspondence, State Department and Justice Department memos as well as concentration camp documents that will graphically chronicle exactly what IBM did and what they knew during the twelve-year Hitler regime. IBM has never denied any of the information in the book, and for years has claimed that it has no information about its Hitler-era activities involving the Third Reich.
Buy IBM and the Holocaust here.
The live, globally-streamed event can be seen at various websites, including Spero Forum, The Auto Channel, Energy Publisher, History Network News, the book website at IBMandtheHolocaust.com, and here at The Cutting Edge News
The release will be on February 26, 2012, 3 PM during a special Live Global Streaming Event to be held at Yeshiva University’s Furst Hall in New York City. The lecture, with questions taken in real time from a live worldwide audience, is sponsored by the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, co-sponsored by Yeshiva University’s Office of Pre-Law Advisement, Jacob Hecht Pre-Law Society, Beren and Wilf campuses, in partnership with StandWithUs, and in association with NAHOS--National Association of Jewish Child Holocaust Survivors, Generations of the Shoah International, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, the State of California Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights and Tolerance, The Auto Channel, History Network News, Spero Forum, the Jewish Virtual Library, together with other groups. Read more ..
Obama and Israel
|David Makovsky||February 25th 2012|
Next month, U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hold a key meeting over the Iranian nuclear challenge that will test their sometimes rocky relationship. After a weekend visit by National Security Advisor Tom Donilon to Israel, the White House announced this week that Obama will host Netanyahu in Washington on March 5. This will be an opportunity for the two leaders to synchronize their positions on Iran. Whether they can reach some common ground -- now or in the near future -- could be a decisive factor in Israel's decision-making on whether to strike Iran sometime this year.
International pressure on the Islamic Republic has never been higher. In addition to the new, crippling U.S. sanctions enacted on Dec. 31 and Feb. 6, the European Union recently pledged to halt the importation of Iranian oil by July 1. Iran's economy is reeling. Read more ..
After the Holocaust
|Martin Barillas||February 21st 2012|
Cutting Edge News Senior Correspondent
Bestselling author Edwin Black has announced that a provocative, new edition of IBM and the Holocaust will be released in the coming days, on the anniversary of the book's original publication in 2001. Buy it here.
The new “Expanded Edition” will include some 32 pages of never-before-published internal IBM correspondence, State and Justice Department memos as well as concentration camp documents that will graphically chronicle exactly what IBM did and what they knew during the twelve-year Hitler regime. IBM has never denied any of the information in the book, and for years has claimed that it has no information about its Hitler-era activities involving the Third Reich.
The new Expanded Edition was necessitated after 1.2 million copies of IBM and the Holocaust sold worldwide and the book became completely out of print at the end of 2011.
The new edition is scheduled to be released on February 26, 2012, 3 PM during a special Live Global Streaming Event to be held at Yeshiva University’s Furst Hall in New York City. The event is sponsored by the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, co-sponsored by Yeshiva University’s Office of Pre-Law Advisement, Jacob Hecht Pre-Law Society, Beren and Wilf campuses, in partnership with StandWithUs, and in association with NAHOS--National Association of Jewish Child Holocaust Survivors, Generations of the Shoah International, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, the State of California Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights and Tolerance, The Auto Channel, History Network News, Spero Forum, the Jewish Virtual Library, together with other groups. Read more ..
Syria on Edge
|Jeffrey White||February 19th 2012|
What began in March 2011 as an attempt to suppress peaceful antigovernment demonstrations has evolved into a war -- one that Bashar al-Assad is now waging against armed groups and the Syrian people with utter determination and extreme violence. Viewing the conflict as a life-or-death struggle, the regime is escalating its use of military force with near total disregard for the opinions of the outside world. Since late last month, it has used a combination of strategic, operational, and tactical measures to conduct a major offensive against the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the popular opposition, and the areas they control. In doing so, it has revealed its strengths and weaknesses, suggesting areas of focus for any potential international military intervention. Ultimately, without armed intervention, substantial military assistance to the FSA, or both, the best that can be hoped for is a bloody and protracted war of attrition with an uncertain outcome.
Several factors sparked the regime offensive in late January. Popular opposition, as manifested by ongoing demonstrations, continued throughout the country, with growing unrest in Aleppo and the outskirts of Damascus. Armed resistance was also expanding. The numbers and capabilities of FSA personnel, combat elements, and associated armed groups had increased, as had the frequency and intensity of armed clashes in the Damascus area, Idlib governorate, and Deraa governorate. These factors, along with loss of territory to the opposition, gave the impression of declining regime control of the situation. Assad's forces also faced mounting internal problems: Read more ..
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