Obama's Second Term
|Dan Robinson||January 7th 2013|
President Barack Obama on Monday nominated former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to be his new secretary of defense. Obama also chose counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to head the CIA. Obama made his choices official in the White House East Room with Hagel and Brennan standing by his side. The president noted that Hagel, a Vietnam War veteran, would be the first person of enlisted military rank to serve as secretary of defense.
"He understands that sending young Americans to fight, bleed in the dirt and mud, that is something that we only do when it is absolutely necessary. My frame of reference, he has said, is geared toward the guy at the bottom who is doing the fighting and the dying," he said.
Hagel served two terms as a senator from the Midwestern state of Nebraska. He gained a reputation as someone who is willing to break with his own party on key issues. Read more ..
Obama's Second Term
|Alexander Bolton||January 7th 2013|
Democrats say they want to raise as much as $1 trillion in new revenues through tax reform later this year to balance Republican demands to slash mandatory spending. Democratic leaders have had little time to craft a new position for their party since passing a tax deal Tuesday that will raise $620 billion in revenue over the next ten years. The emerging consensus, however, is that the next installment of deficit reduction should reach $2 trillion and about half of it should come from higher taxes. This sets up tax reform as one of the biggest fights of the 113th Congress, which began on Thursday.
Republicans say tax reform should be revenue neutral. Additional revenues collected by eliminating or curbing tax breaks and deductions should be used to lower rates. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has dismissed the possibility of negotiating additional tax increases. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Matthew Hilburn ||January 6th 2013|
It seems like hardly a week goes by without another planet being discovered in some far off stellar system, but a new study, released by the California Institute of Technology, indicates there will likely be many, many more such discoveries.
The Caltech team made this conclusion based on analyzing the planets orbiting the Kepler-32 star, which contains five planets and which the scientists say is representative of the vast majority of stars in our galaxy. Kepler-32 is classified as an M dwarf, and scientists say three out of every four stars in the galaxy are M dwarfs, also known as red dwarfs. "There's at least 100 billion planets in the galaxy—just our galaxy," says John Johnson, assistant professor of planetary astronomy at Caltech and coauthor of the study, which was recently accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. "That's mind-boggling." Read more ..
Asia on Edge
|Michael Auslin||January 6th 2013|
The West's attention may be focused on the American "fiscal cliff" and possible breakup of the euro zone, but Asia, especially the northeast, offers its own challenges in 2013 that could affect global stability. Given regional rivalries and lack of trust, there is little reason to believe that Asia's problems will be solved in the coming 12 months. Instead, they may only fester, leading to greater complications down the road.
As odd as it may seem, Kim Jong Eun is now the senior leader in northeast Asia. The last two months of 2012 saw the elevation of Xi Jinping to head of the Chinese Communist Party, Shinzo Abe returning to power in Japan after five years, and Park Geun-hye elected as South Korea's first female president. This quartet of leaders will have to learn to live together.
For now, each will be focused on his or her domestic economy. Kim continues to flirt with ideas of reform, though to what extent remains murky—and unreliable. Mr. Xi must deal with a worrying slowdown in China that raises questions about social stability and the Communist Party's legitimacy. Read more ..
Sports on Edge
|Kathleen Ingley||January 5th 2013|
Center for Public Integrity
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The Fiesta Bowl game and its many related events have become a football extravaganza that kicks off the new year for the Phoenix area with national publicity and a hefty economic boost. But over the past three years, the Fiesta Bowl has also become the source of continuous embarrassment in the Valley of the Sun, for bowl officials, civic boosters and state legislators, as well. And it isn’t over.
The parade of bad news began in December 2009, when the Arizona Republic exposed the Fiesta Bowl’s scheme of urging employees to make campaign contributions and then illegally reimbursing them. In March 2011, a special investigative committee revealed that the bowl had showered elected officials, mostly legislators, with lavish gifts.
That May, the Fiesta Bowl was fined $1 million by the organization that runs the biggest bowls, and put on one-year probation by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker, who was fired, and five other bowl employees have pleaded guilty to involvement in the illegal reimbursements. A lobbyist pleaded guilty to disclosure violations over a trip by legislators.
The New Egypt
|Zach Pontz||January 4th 2013|
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In two separate 2010 interviews with Al-Quds TV in Lebanon, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi makes disparaging remarks about Jews and dismisses peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. In one interview, dated September 23, Morsi refers to Jews as “the descendants of apes and pigs.” During the interview, which was released by The Middle East Research Institute’s (MEMRI) today, Morsi also declares that peace negotiations are futile and promotes the use of force. “There should be military resistance within the land of Palestine against those criminal Zionists, who attack Palestine and the Palestinians,” he says.
In another interview, dated March 20th, Morsi continues to promote the use of force against Israel. “We must all realize that resistance is the only way to liberate the land of Palestine,” he says. Then he dismisses Israel’s right to exist. “The Zionists have no right to the land of Palestine. There is no place for them on the land of Palestine.”
|Pat Madjal||January 3rd 2013|
Troubled Barnes & Noble today reported holiday sales for the nine-week holiday period ending December 29, 2012. The numbers for the faltering bookseller were down, once again, even as Amazon sales zoomed.
According to MarketWatch, the embattled retrailer suffered "revenues of $1.2 billion, decreasing 10.9% over the prior year. This decrease was attributable to an 8.2% decline in comparable store sales, store closures and lower online sales. Core comparable store sales, which exclude sales of Nook products, decreased 3.1% as compared to the prior year due to lower bookstore traffic. Sales of Nook products in the Retail segment declined during the holiday period due to lower unit volume and average selling prices."
Barnes & Noble was compelled to sell off even more of Nook's ownership to raise needed cash. The firm parlayed a lifeline deal to London-based education and media company Pearson PLC, which owns Penguin Books and the Financial Times. Pearson agreed to make a strategic investment of $89.5 million in exchange for a 5% equity stake in Barnes & Noble’s Nook Media unit, which also includes its college textbook business. Read more ..
The Edge of Health
|Helen Dodson||January 2nd 2013|
In a study examining possible factors regarding the associations between fructose consumption and weight gain, brain magnetic resonance imaging of study participants indicated that ingestion of glucose but not fructose reduced cerebral blood flow and activity in brain regions that regulate appetite, and ingestion of glucose but not fructose produced increased ratings of satiety and fullness, according to a preliminary study published in the January 2 issue of JAMA.
"Increases in fructose consumption have paralleled the increasing prevalence of obesity, and high-fructose diets are thought to promote weight gain and insulin resistance. Fructose ingestion produces smaller increases in circulating satiety hormones compared with glucose ingestion, and central administration of fructose provokes feeding in rodents, whereas centrally administered glucose promotes satiety," according to background information in the article. "Thus, fructose possibly increases food-seeking behavior and increases food intake." How brain regions associated with fructose- and glucose-mediated changes in animal feeding behaviors translates to humans is not completely understood. Read more ..
The Darkest Edge
|John Christie, Naomi Schalitm Nathaniel Herz, and Theresa Sullivan Barger||January 2nd 2013|
Center for Public Integrity
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Taxpayers across the country are subsidizing the manufacturers of assault rifles used in multiple mass killings, including the massacre of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. last month.
An examination of tax records shows that five companies that make semi-automatic rifles have received more than $19 million in tax breaks, most within with the past five years.
“I feel horrified at the power of the gun industry over our political system, that it could exert such influence,” said Newtown resident Barbara Richardson, who lives between the homes of one of the 6-year-old victims and the shooter. Saying she respects hunters who are ethical and good neighbors, she “absolutely [does] not” support taxpayer subsidies to help manufacture assault rifles: “They’re weapons of mass destruction.”
America on Edge
|Martin Barillas||January 1st 2013|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in a New York hospital, after doctors discovered a blood clot while performing a follow-up exam for a concussion she suffered at home in December 2012 following a bout with a stomach virus apparently contracted while she was traveling on official business in Europe. Her physicians at New York Presbyterian Hospital issued a statement in which they expressed the hope that she will experience a "full recovery."
At a news conference early December 31 about the September attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman expressed his concern. "We just want to say how much Secretary Clinton is in our prayers this morning and hope she recovers rapidly from this health problem," he said. "She's not only been a great secretary of state, she is a personal friend."
Clinton has been ill in recent weeks with a stomach virus that forced her to cancel travel plans and public appearances, including a congressional hearing on the incidents at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where the American ambassador and companions were murdered by Islamist terrorists. Two weeks ago, she fainted and fell at home where she suffered a concussion.
"This is a clot in the vein that is situated in the space between the brain and the skull behind the right ear," reported her physicians, Dr. Lisa Bardack and Dr. Gigi El-Bayoumi, said in a statement. "It did not result in a stroke, or neurological damage." They added that Clinton will be monitored as to her response to medications, including blood thinners, before she can be released. Former President Bill Clinton, her husband, and Chelsea, her daughter, visited her on December 31 at the hospital while her staff continue to hold a vigil. Read more ..
Edge of the Cliff
|Alexander Bolton||January 1st 2013|
The Senate early on New Year's Day voted overwhelmingly in favor of a fiscal cliff deal that would extend tax rates on annual household income under $450,000 and postpones automatic spending cuts for two months.
The bill was approved in an 89-8 vote that came after only 10 minutes of formal floor debate and no official score from the Congressional Budget Office. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated it would reduce federal revenue by $3.93 trillion over the next decade compared to current law.
Five Republicans and three Democrats voted against the bill: Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) missed the vote. Read more ..
India's Dark Edge
|Sam Orez||December 31st 2012|
Many across India canceled festive New Year's Eve celebrations Monday out of respect for the young woman who died days earlier from injuries suffered during a brutal gang rape. The unidentified victim, a 23-year-old student, died Saturday from severe internal injuries that her assailants caused with a metal rod during the attack on a bus two weeks ago. Six men have been arrested and charged with murder in the December 16 attack in New Delhi. They could face the death penalty if convicted. Reflecting the country's somber mood, hotels, clubs, India's military and even the head of the ruling Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi, called off their parties to greet the new year. Many have joined candlelight vigils in the capital and other major cities. Others have chosen to protest peacefully, in contrast to the violent demonstrations that erupted in New Delhi a week ago. Read more ..
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 ..
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