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The Battle for Iraq

Iraq is Falling--Fast

June 12th 2014

Baghdad bomb

Battles continue to rage across northern Iraq, pitting jihadist group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant against Iraqi security forces and their allies. The growing reach of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant has escalated an already brutal campaign in Iraq. Alarmingly quick advances by the militants across an important region of the Middle East could draw in regional powers as well as the United States.
 
Using hit-and-run tactics, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIL, has sought to keep Iraqi security forces dispersed and under pressure. ISIL has achieved this by striking at areas where security forces are weak and withdrawing from areas where Baghdad has concentrated its combat power. The jihadists have been working hard to improve their tradecraft by developing skill sets ranging from staging complex ambushes to using Iraqi army equipment effectively in surprise raids. ISIL has also sought to better develop its ties with local Sunni communities.
Read more ..

Vote 2016

Hillary Clinton Defends Being 'Dead Broke'

June 10th 2014

Hillary Clinton on Tuesday defended, but clarified recent comments she made about leaving the White House in debt in 2001.

“Let me just clarify that I fully appreciate how hard life is for so many Americans today,” Clinton said in a live interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “I want to use the talents and resources I have to make sure people get the same chances.”

Host Robin Roberts asked Clinton if she can understand why people are questioning why she’d describe her family's finances as a struggle.

“Yes, I can, but everything in life has to be put into context. As I recall, we were something like in $12 million in debt,” said Clinton, adding that she soon entered the Senate and couldn’t do much to help reverse that at the time.

Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, she said, was born poor and has worked hard after receiving opportunities like a good education. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Why Medicare Advantage Costs Taxpayers Billions More than it Should

June 8th 2014

Medical bag

In South Florida, one of the nation’s top privately-run Medicare insurance plans faces a federal investigation into allegations that it overbilled the government by exaggerating how sick some of its patients were.

In the Las Vegas area, private health care plans for seniors ran up more than $100 million in added Medicare charges after asserting patients they signed up also were much sicker than normal — a claim many experts have challenged. In Rochester, New York, a Medicare plan was paid $41 million to treat people with serious diseases — even though the plan couldn’t prove the patients in fact had those diseases.

These health plans and hundreds of others are part of Medicare Advantage, a program created by Congress in 2003 to help stabilize health care spending on the elderly. But the plans have sharply driven up costs in many parts of the United States — larding on tens of billions of dollars in overcharges and other suspect billings based in part on inflated assessments of how sick patients are, an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity has found.

Read more ..

Hamas-PA Unity

The U.S. Has Been Speaking To Hamas Through Back Channels For More Than Six Months

June 5th 2014

Hamas head

United States officials have been holding secret back-channel talks with Hamas over the last six months to discuss their role in the newly formed unity government, according to two senior diplomatic sources with direct knowledge of the talks.

The meetings were held between U.S. intermediaries and Hamas’ leadership, which lives outside the Gaza Strip in third-party countries ranging from Egypt to Qatar and Jordan. Topics included the ceasefire agreement with Israel and the recently formed unity government between Hamas and Fatah.

During the talks, Hamas gave assurances that allowed the U.S. to support the unity government, despite heavy pressure by the Israeli government for them to condemn it, the diplomatic officials — one American and one Palestinian — said. They said those assurances including a commitment to maintaining a ceasefire with Israel. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Israel 'Deeply Disappointed' by Obama Administration's Stance toward Palestinians

June 4th 2014

Click to select Image

The Israeli ambassador to the United States late Monday slammed the Obama administration for its willingness to work with the new Palestinian unity government formed earlier that day.

Ambassador Ron Dermer expressed in a series of statements on Twitter that Israel is “deeply disappointed.”

Dermer said Hamas, which has united with the Fatah party, is a terrorist organization that has murdered hundreds of Israelis, and launched thousands of rockets at Israeli cities. Read more ..


Financing the Flames

Looking Back on Israel Parade, Protestors Determined to Confront BDS and the New Israel Fund

June 3rd 2014

Edwin Black

On April 29, 2014, it rained in Manhattan. Beneath a tortoise shell of congregated umbrellas, several dozen American Jewish protestors kept their word, despite the drizzle and despite the criticism. On cue, at 5:30 in the afternoon — they did promise “rain or shine,” — all those assembled raised their curved rams’ horns, long and short, organic and plastic, personal and borrowed, and wailed to the heavens in visceral unison. Their cacophonous alarums continued until the shofar blowers felt they had made their point.

Who were they protesting? This outcry was staged not in front of the Iranian consulate or the United Nations but in front of the 59th Street headquarters of the UJA-Federation of New York.

Buy Financing the Flames
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The Federation’s beneficiary, the Jewish Community Relations Council, was the chief organizer of the June 1st “Celebrate Israel” Parade. The upbeat procession of floats, runners, and marchers is normally a public show of Jewish unity in support of Israel. But this year, the parade became a maelstrom of disunity over the repeat participation of the controversial New Israel Fund (NIF) and other groups which recent revelations now vibrantly link to the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement and the campaign to delegitimize Israel internationally.

The outrage in some American, Jewish, and Israeli circles over the NIF’s inclusion in the highly visible parade, formerly known as the Israel Day Parade, may be more than just a passing horn blast. The discontent may be energizing a historic decision among American Jews. Just what constitutes the Jewish mainstream? Is American Jewry about to set limits on its open tent of inclusion, a precept the community wears as a badge of honor? Read more ..


The Edge of the Universe

What if the Universe Has No Beginning

June 1st 2014

30 doradus stellar nursery

What if the universe had no beginning, and time stretched back infinitely without a big bang to start things off? That's one possible consequence of an idea called "rainbow gravity," so-named because it posits that gravity's effects on spacetime are felt differently by different wavelengths of light, aka different colors in the rainbow.

Rainbow gravity was first proposed 10 years ago as a possible step toward repairing the rifts between the theories of general relativity (covering the very big) and quantum mechanics (concerning the realm of the very small). The idea is not a complete theory for describing quantum effects on gravity, and is not widely accepted. Nevertheless, physicists have now applied the concept to the question of how the universe began, and found that if rainbow gravity is correct, spacetime may have a drastically different origin story than the widely accepted picture of the big bang.

Read more ..

Jewry on Edge

Inside the Presidents Conference and the J Street Vote

May 30th 2014

Edwin Black

The fractious public reaction to the April 30 rejection of J Street’s membership by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations has been based on widespread dissemination of false information about the process, according to exclusive interviews with sources close to the Presidents Conference process. The sources declined to be named because, while fully conversant with all aspects of the J Street vote, they were not authorized to speak publicly. But they emphasize that J Street was rejected not by the “Left or Right” or a “right-wing minority” but by the overwhelming voting consensus of the 50-member organization. Moreover, the sources say, J Street supporters were in a smaller minority than initially apparent because just two voting blocs controlled 8 of the 17 yes votes.

By way of background, after a year of trying, the controversial lobby J Street was rejected by a wide margin for membership in the Presidents Conference, the umbrella group for 50 American Jewish communal organizations. The lopsided vote rang in at only 17 for, and 22 against in a process that required 34 yes ballots out of 50 voting member groups. But digging into the numbers reveals more than previously apparent about who voted yes and who did not, Conference sources say.

J Street bills itself as pro-Israel, but has engendered controversy among the pro-Israel community about its true intentions. Since its April 30, 2014 membership rejection vote, public vitriol by J Street and its supporters in the Conference and the Jewish media has been directed at the Conference as an organization, and, in a few instances, its executive vice chairman, Malcolm Hoenlein, personally. The fallout included a threat by a Reform Judaism leader to break away as well as sarcastic jibes on J Street’s website, which are still live at press time more than a month after the vote.
Read more ..


The Edge of Science

Driving Your Car or Fly Your Plane Via Brainwaves

May 28th 2014

Eye biometrics

Scientists from the Technical Universities of Berlin and Munich have demonstrated that an airplane can be flown without touching the yoke - controlled only by the brain of the pilot. In an experiment, the scientists wired the brain of the test person with an electroencephalograph through a dozens of electrodes. An algorithm developed at the Berlin TU deciphered the electrical signals from the brain and transformed them into control instructions for an airplane - actually it was a flight simulator with a rather realistic visual representation of the environment and with real control elements. However, the test person did not even touch these control elements, instead he "flew" the plane by means of the signals right from his brain in a demonstration. Read more ..


Broken Bookselling

Amazon War with Publishers Irks Authors

May 27th 2014

Amazon Box2

If you're hoping to preorder books by J.K. Rowling, Michael Connelly, and other Hachette Book Group authors, you'll have to go somewhere besides Amazon.com.

A simmering standoff between Amazon and one of the leading New York publishers has intensified. The online retailer, which already had been slowing delivery on a wide range of Hachette titles, has removed preorder buttons for such books as Connelly's The Burning Room and Rowling's The Silkworm, a detective story she wrote under the pen name Robert Galbraith.

Previous changes had been more subtle. The listing for the paperback of J.D. Salinger's Nine Stories says delivery will take three to five weeks and offers "Similar items at a lower price," including a collection of Ernest Hemingway stories published by Scribner.

"We are doing everything in our power to find a solution to this difficult situation, one that best serves our authors and their work, and that preserves our ability to survive and thrive as a strong and author-centric publishing company," Hachette said in a statement last week issued through spokeswoman Sophie Cottrell.

Amazon declined to comment. Numerous Hachette authors have criticized Amazon in recent weeks, including Sherman Alexie and James Patterson, who on his Facebook page noted that the purchase of books written by him, Malcolm Gladwell, Nicholas Sparks, and others had been made more difficult.

"What I don't understand about this particular battle tactic is how it is in the best interest of Amazon customers," Patterson wrote. "It certainly doesn't appear to be in the best interest of authors."

Amazon and Hachette are reportedly at odds over terms for e-book prices at a time when Amazon is in a position of strength and vulnerability. The Seattle company is the most powerful force in the book market, believed to have a share of more than 60 percent of e-book sales and at least a third of book sales overall. Rivals have struggled to compete with Amazon's discounts and customer service.

But recent earnings reports have been disappointing and Amazon's stock price, which surged for years despite narrow profits, has dropped sharply in 2014.

Amazon has a history of aggressive actions with publishers, most dramatically in 2010, when it removed the buy buttons for releases by Macmillan, whose authors include Jonathan Franzen, Bill O'Reilly, and Augusten Burroughs. The issue was also e-books. Apple was about to launch its iBookstore, and Macmillan, Hachette, and other publishers, worried over Amazon's $9.99 offerings for popular e-books, wanted Amazon to accept a new system - the agency model - that would allow publishers to set prices.

Amazon relented, but the system unraveled after the Justice Department sued Apple and five publishers in 2012 for alleged price fixing. The publishers, including Macmillan and Hachette, settled, and a federal judge in New York last year ruled against Apple.

Other books being delayed or otherwise disrupted are Tina Fey's Bossypants, Gladwell's The Tipping Point, and Brad Stone's The Everything Store, a critical portrait of Amazon and its founder, Jeff Bezos.


Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/20140527_Amazon_feud_irks_authors.html#YPQemWKU1ILbtLSH.99
If you're hoping to preorder books by J.K. Rowling, Michael Connelly, and other Hachette Book Group authors, you'll have to go somewhere besides Amazon.com.

A simmering standoff between Amazon and one of the leading New York publishers has intensified. The online retailer, which already had been slowing delivery on a wide range of Hachette titles, has removed preorder buttons for such books as Connelly's The Burning Room and Rowling's The Silkworm, a detective story she wrote under the pen name Robert Galbraith.

Previous changes had been more subtle. The listing for the paperback of J.D. Salinger's Nine Stories says delivery will take three to five weeks and offers "Similar items at a lower price," including a collection of Ernest Hemingway stories published by Scribner.

"We are doing everything in our power to find a solution to this difficult situation, one that best serves our authors and their work, and that preserves our ability to survive and thrive as a strong and author-centric publishing company," Hachette said in a statement last week issued through spokeswoman Sophie Cottrell.

Amazon declined to comment. Numerous Hachette authors have criticized Amazon in recent weeks, including Sherman Alexie and James Patterson, who on his Facebook page noted that the purchase of books written by him, Malcolm Gladwell, Nicholas Sparks, and others had been made more difficult.

"What I don't understand about this particular battle tactic is how it is in the best interest of Amazon customers," Patterson wrote. "It certainly doesn't appear to be in the best interest of authors."

Amazon and Hachette are reportedly at odds over terms for e-book prices at a time when Amazon is in a position of strength and vulnerability. The Seattle company is the most powerful force in the book market, believed to have a share of more than 60 percent of e-book sales and at least a third of book sales overall. Rivals have struggled to compete with Amazon's discounts and customer service.

But recent earnings reports have been disappointing and Amazon's stock price, which surged for years despite narrow profits, has dropped sharply in 2014.

Amazon has a history of aggressive actions with publishers, most dramatically in 2010, when it removed the buy buttons for releases by Macmillan, whose authors include Jonathan Franzen, Bill O'Reilly, and Augusten Burroughs. The issue was also e-books. Apple was about to launch its iBookstore, and Macmillan, Hachette, and other publishers, worried over Amazon's $9.99 offerings for popular e-books, wanted Amazon to accept a new system - the agency model - that would allow publishers to set prices.

Amazon relented, but the system unraveled after the Justice Department sued Apple and five publishers in 2012 for alleged price fixing. The publishers, including Macmillan and Hachette, settled, and a federal judge in New York last year ruled against Apple.

Other books being delayed or otherwise disrupted are Tina Fey's Bossypants, Gladwell's The Tipping Point, and Brad Stone's The Everything Store, a critical portrait of Amazon and its founder, Jeff Bezos.


Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/20140527_Amazon_feud_irks_authors.html#YPQemWKU1ILbtLSH.99
If you're hoping to preorder books by J.K. Rowling, Michael Connelly, and other Hachette Book Group authors, you'll have to go somewhere besides Amazon.com.

A simmering standoff between Amazon and one of the leading New York publishers has intensified. The online retailer, which already had been slowing delivery on a wide range of Hachette titles, has removed preorder buttons for such books as Connelly's The Burning Room and Rowling's The Silkworm, a detective story she wrote under the pen name Robert Galbraith.

Previous changes had been more subtle. The listing for the paperback of J.D. Salinger's Nine Stories says delivery will take three to five weeks and offers "Similar items at a lower price," including a collection of Ernest Hemingway stories published by Scribner.

"We are doing everything in our power to find a solution to this difficult situation, one that best serves our authors and their work, and that preserves our ability to survive and thrive as a strong and author-centric publishing company," Hachette said in a statement last week issued through spokeswoman Sophie Cottrell.

Amazon declined to comment. Numerous Hachette authors have criticized Amazon in recent weeks, including Sherman Alexie and James Patterson, who on his Facebook page noted that the purchase of books written by him, Malcolm Gladwell, Nicholas Sparks, and others had been made more difficult.

"What I don't understand about this particular battle tactic is how it is in the best interest of Amazon customers," Patterson wrote. "It certainly doesn't appear to be in the best interest of authors."

Amazon and Hachette are reportedly at odds over terms for e-book prices at a time when Amazon is in a position of strength and vulnerability. The Seattle company is the most powerful force in the book market, believed to have a share of more than 60 percent of e-book sales and at least a third of book sales overall. Rivals have struggled to compete with Amazon's discounts and customer service.

But recent earnings reports have been disappointing and Amazon's stock price, which surged for years despite narrow profits, has dropped sharply in 2014.

Amazon has a history of aggressive actions with publishers, most dramatically in 2010, when it removed the buy buttons for releases by Macmillan, whose authors include Jonathan Franzen, Bill O'Reilly, and Augusten Burroughs. The issue was also e-books. Apple was about to launch its iBookstore, and Macmillan, Hachette, and other publishers, worried over Amazon's $9.99 offerings for popular e-books, wanted Amazon to accept a new system - the agency model - that would allow publishers to set prices.

Amazon relented, but the system unraveled after the Justice Department sued Apple and five publishers in 2012 for alleged price fixing. The publishers, including Macmillan and Hachette, settled, and a federal judge in New York last year ruled against Apple.

Other books being delayed or otherwise disrupted are Tina Fey's Bossypants, Gladwell's The Tipping Point, and Brad Stone's The Everything Store, a critical portrait of Amazon and its founder, Jeff Bezos.


Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/20140527_Amazon_feud_irks_authors.html#YPQemWKU1ILbtLSH.99

If you're hoping to preorder books by J.K. Rowling, Michael Connelly, and other Hachette Book Group authors, you'll have to go somewhere besides Amazon.com.

A simmering standoff between Amazon and one of the leading New York publishers has intensified. The online retailer, which already had been slowing delivery on a wide range of Hachette titles, has removed preorder buttons for such books as Connelly's The Burning Room and Rowling's The Silkworm, a detective story she wrote under the pen name Robert Galbraith.

Previous changes had been more subtle. The listing for the paperback of J.D. Salinger's Nine Stories says delivery will take three to five weeks and offers "Similar items at a lower price," including a collection of Ernest Hemingway stories published by Scribner. Read more ..


Broken Campaign Financing

Who is Bankrolling Secretive Liberal Group America Votes?

May 26th 2014

Money Bands=Happiness

Even as top Democrats denounce Charles and David Koch’s political “dark money” organizations, party operatives have built a secretive nonprofit network of their own — albeit a much smaller one — to advance liberal policies and win votes. America Votes, which seeks to build “a permanent advocacy and campaign infrastructure” to “promote progressive issues,” raised $12.7 million during its most recent fiscal year, according to new tax documents reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity.

The sources of America Votes’ funding are not clear.

“We do not disclose that information to the public,” said America Votes spokeswoman Liz Accola, adding that her group was “in full compliance” with the law. The new tax records show that a dozen anonymous donors provided the lion’s share of the budget for America Votes during its most recent fiscal year, with each giving between $300,000 and $1.1 million. Together, these 12 donors accounted for 60 percent of the group’s funds.

Read more ..

Broken Government

VA Healthcare Scandal Dominates Sunday Political Discussions

May 25th 2014

Soldier Crying

The scandal involving a potential cover up of medical mistreatment of military veterans by the Department of Veterans Affairs dominated discussion on the Sunday morning political talk shows.

Lawmakers from both parties appeared on every channel to discuss the still-emerging VA scandal, calling for responses ranging from a Department of Justice investigation to the firing of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

Even Democrats said the scandal was unlikely to go away anytime soon. “We’re talking now about…credible and specific evidence of criminal wrongdoing across the country in more than 30 places,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said during an appearance on CBS’s “Face The Nation.” Blumenthal said the Obama administration should allow the Department of Justice to conduct a separate investigation of the complaints against the VA. Read more ..


The UN on Edge

Inside the UN's Secret Infrastructure of Hate

May 24th 2014

Richard Faulk UN

The April reconciliation agreement between the Palestinian Authority’s dominant Fatah faction and the Islamist Hamas movement has come as a shock to many. It shouldn’t have. In the weeks before the deal, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had already taken steps with a profoundly negative impact on the U.S.-sponsored peace talks. Building on his modest success in winning a 2012 UN General Assembly vote to upgrade the Palestinian Authority’s status to that of a non-member state—a designation it shares only with the Vatican—Abbas returned to this unilateralist strategy of peace avoidance by signing 15 applications for membership in a variety of international agencies, conventions, and treaties. Read more ..


Thailand on Edge

Thailand Army Coup Seizes Government

May 22nd 2014

Thai Coup

Thailand's army chief announced a military takeover of the government Thursday, saying the coup was necessary to restore stability after six months of political deadlock and turmoil.

Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha said in a statement broadcast on national television that the same military commission that had imposed martial law Tuesday would now take control of the country's administration. Prayuth will head the body, a deputy spokesman said late Thursday.

The army also announced a nationwide curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. and a suspension of the country's constitution.

"In order for the country to return to normal quickly, the National Peace Keeping Committee comprised of the army, the Thai armed forces, the Royal Air Force and the police need to seize power as of May 22 at 4:30 p.m.,” Prayuth said. Read more ..


Hamas-PA Union

Palestinian Reconciliation and the Rising Power of Hamas and Islamic Jihad: An Iranian Windfall

May 21st 2014

Hamas-Fatah handshake

Representatives of the Fatah and Hamas movements are continuing to talk at both senior and junior levels in an attempt to translate the reconciliation agreement, signed between the sides on April 23, 2014, into a series of operative steps. These primarily involve integrating Hamas and Islamic Jihad into the PLO institutions, setting up a unity government, and preparing for new parliamentary and presidential elections. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), met with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and the emir of Qatar in Doha on May 6. Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmed is expected to come to Gaza for continued reconciliation talks, and discussions are also being held in joint committees. The following are the main points of the agreements that are emerging on various issues:

Setting up a technocrat government: By the end of May, the new government is to be composed of ministers who are not identified with any political party. Its main tasks will be managing daily affairs in the West Bank and Gaza, synchronizing the activities of ministries of a government that currently is divided between Ramallah and Gaza, preparing for parliamentary and presidential elections, implementing the terms of the reconciliation agreement (including putting a halt to “political arrests” and arranging for the employment of those public-sector workers hired since the summer of 2007 when Hamas took control of Gaza in a violent overthrow), rehabilitating Gaza, and assuming control of the Rafiah crossing that links Gaza and Egypt. The Palestinian government will have no authority over relations with Israel.
Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama Backs Off Drone Strikes

May 19th 2014

 The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper

President Obama is relying less on drones and more on foreign governments in the global fight against terrorists.

The shift, which also includes fewer unilateral special operations raids of the type that killed Osama bin Laden, is prompting criticism that Washington depends on unstable governments such as in Nigeria, where Boko Haram, an extremist group, has emerged as a new threat.

The Pentagon has hiked its budget for “Section 1206” counterterrorism programs to train and equip foreign militaries from $218.6 million in 2012 to a requested $290.2 million in 2014, according to a recent Congressional Research Service report.

Its budget for “Section 1208” counterterrorism programs, which train and equip foreign militaries and also include more specific operational activities, is classified, but defense officials say that while the amount has stayed stable, money has shifted from Afghanistan to North Africa and the Middle East. Read more ..


Financing the Flames

New York Jewish Groups Hear Edwin Black on the New Israel Fund and BDS

May 18th 2014

Edwin Black

American Jewish groups concerned with the anti-Israel BDS movement, as well as other issues surrounding agitation NGOs in Israel, have scheduled lectures by renowned human rights author Edwin Black. The groups have summoned Black to hear revelations from his latest bestselling investigative book, Financing the Flames. That book has ignited international repercussions about the role of tax-exempt and taxpayer monies, as well as the human rights movement, in creating a culture of violence, confrontation, and paid terrorism in Israel.

Black’s previous works include the million-copy international seller IBM and the Holocaust and the award-winning JTA series “Funding Hate.”

In Financing the Flames, Black spotlights American taxpayer-supported monies funding salaries of Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons, as well as the organic connection of the New Israel Fund to the BDS movement, and the NIF's robust funding of “agitation human rights NGOs.”

Buy Financing the Flames
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Black kicks off a three-event New York scholar-in residence beginning with a presentation May 19 at 7 p.m. at the StandWithUs-New York headquarters. StandWithUs is the lead sponsor of the tour. The next day, May 20, Black addresses a group of attorneys in a lunch-and-learn session co-sponsored by SWU and the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy, and other groups. He wraps up his visit with a school-wide assembly lecture to Ramban Mesivta High School in Lawrence, Long Island.

In February, Black embarked upon a parliamentary tour of four legislatures in four weeks: The House of Commons in London, the European Parliament in Brussels, the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem, and the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C. At each stop along the way, Black astonished lawmakers with details of donor nation funding for specific terrorists under a Palestinian law called the Law of the Prisoner under the aegis of the Palestinian Ministry of Prisoners. The author also spotlighted how the New Israel Fund has marshaled hundreds of millions of dollars to help establish the BDS movement and to finance confrontation NGOs, which, according to Israeli Knesset leaders and a broad swatch of Israeli military men, seem devoted to destabilizing the Israel Defense Forces and erasing the Jewish identity from the State of Israel. Read more ..


The Battle for the Ukraine

Biden's Son Emerges as Ukrainian Gas Company Attorney

May 16th 2014

joe biden

Vice President Biden's son Hunter has emerged in a key position in the Ukranian gas industry now at the center of the conflict in the Ukraine. According to USA Today: Vice President Biden's son Hunter is joining the board of a gas company that operates in Ukraine. Burisma Holdings, Ukraine's largest private gas producer, said Hunter Biden -- an attorney -- will be in charge of its legal unit and help the company with other international organizations. "I believe that my assistance in consulting the Company on matters of transparency, corporate governance and responsibility, international expansion and other priorities will contribute to the economy and benefit the people of Ukraine," the younger Biden said in a statement. The Biden appointment comes as the United States and allied nations try to help Ukraine reduce its dependence on Russian energy by developing other sources. Kendra Barkoff, spokesperson for Vice President Biden, said that "Hunter Biden is a private citizen and a lawyer. The Vice President does not endorse any particular company and has no involvement with this company." Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

EU Imposes Further Sanctions on Russia while World Awaits Obama Doctrine for Eastern Europe

May 13th 2014

Click to select Image
Catherine Ashton

The European Union has expanded its sanctions over Ukraine’s crisis after pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk declared independence from Ukraine and separatists in Donetsk asked Moscow to allow their self-declared “republic” to join the Russian Federation. The separatists’ appeal to Moscow was in a May 12 statement read out at a news conference by Denis Pushilin, a separatist leader in the self-declared "Donetsk People's Republic."

The move came a day after the Donetsk and Luhansk regions held so-called self-rule referendums. The self-styled separatist officials – some of whom are now being targeted by EU sanctions -- claimed a high voter turnout and an overwhelming support for independence in the May 11 votes. Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

Moscow 'Respects' Outcome of Disputed Ukraine Referendum While Washington Dithers

May 12th 2014

Russian troops in Crimea

Moscow says it respects the vote in favor of self-rule in two eastern Ukraine regions and has called for the results to be implemented through dialogue between Kyiv and separatist leaders. In a May 12 statement, the Russian government declared, "Moscow respects the expression of the people's will in Donetsk and Luhansk." Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said de-escalating the crisis in Ukraine is only possible if Kyiv and the separatists hold talks, rejecting the need for an international meeting.

Ukraine's interim president Oleksandr Turchynov has slammed the rebel-held referendums as a "propaganda farce without any legal basis."

Turchynov told Ukraine's parliament on May 12 the disputed referendums were "nothing more than propaganda to cover up murders, kidnappings, violence and other serious crimes." Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

First Lady Michelle Obama Stands in for the President in Weekly Address

May 10th 2014

First lady Michelle Obama took over the weekly address from her husband Saturday, delivering a Mother’s Day message while voicing solidarity with the nearly 300 schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria.

The White House has taken up the cause of the young women abducted by Boko Haram, a radical Islamist group that has threatened to sell them into slavery because they were trying to advance their education.

“Like millions of people across the globe, my husband and I are outraged and heartbroken over the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls from their school dormitory in the middle of the night,” Obama said. “This unconscionable act was committed by a terrorist group determined to keep these girls from getting an education – grown men attempting to snuff out the aspirations of young girls.”
Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Astronomers Create a Realistic Virtual Universe

May 9th 2014

Move over, Matrix - astronomers have done you one better. They have created the first realistic virtual universe using a computer simulation called "Illustris." Illustris can recreate 13 billion years of cosmic evolution in a cube 350 million light-years on a side with unprecedented resolution.

"Until now, no single simulation was able to reproduce the universe on both large and small scales simultaneously," says lead author Mark Vogelsberger (MIT/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), who conducted the work in collaboration with researchers at several institutions, including the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies in Germany.

These results are being reported in the journal Nature.

Previous attempts to simulate the universe were hampered by lack of computing power and the complexities of the underlying physics. As a result those programs either were limited in resolution, or forced to focus on a small portion of the universe. Earlier simulations also had trouble modeling complex feedback from star formation, supernova explosions, and supermassive black holes. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Climate Change Affecting Every Region of US

May 6th 2014

Staten Island community

A new White House report released Tuesday concludes that human-generated climate change is having dramatic effects on every part of the nation.

The 841-page National Climate Assessment, which the administration touted as the most comprehensive look yet at global warming in the U.S., concludes that climate change is raising temperatures, making water more scarce and wildfires more common.

It said climate change has “moved firmly into the present” for the U.S., underscoring the need for urgent action to combat threats. “Americans are noticing changes all around them,” the report states. “Summers are longer and hotter, and extended periods of unusual heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer.” Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Eco-Friendly Process Emerges to Recycle Valuable Rare Earth

May 5th 2014

Smart phone running voice recogniton

In the March edition of Green Chemistry, researchers from the University of Leuven, Belgium, are detailing what they describe as an environmentally friendly process to separate transition metals copper, cobalt, iron, manganese and zinc from rare earths in neodymium–iron–boron or samarium–cobalt permanent magnets.

The process relies on solvent extraction using trihexyl(tetradecyl)phosphonium chloride as a ionic liquid, without organic solvents, and it could be applied as a sustainable hydrometallurgical method for removing transition metals, claim the researchers. With this new development, old magnets could become an interesting secondary source of rare-earth metals, especially when these elements become scarce-enough and too strategic for the electronics industry not to be re-used. Read more ..


Broken Bookselling

Barnes and Noble May Be Gone By This Time Next Year

May 2nd 2014

Barnes-and-Noble store shot

If anyone gives you a Barnes & Noble gift card, be sure to cash it in by the end of the year.

This may be the last year that Barnes & Noble bookstores remain open.

It’s bad news for people who love books.  It’s worse news for the next generation of readers, who may never experience buying a book in a bookstore.

B&N has been closing about 20 stores per year since 2012 and has said it will continue to do so for the next several years. But its financial position is bleak.

This follows a decades-long period of expansion, moving into neighborhoods where privately-owned bookstores thrived, destroying those stores with cut-price best-sellers, and all but owning the book business.

Borders collapsed because of poor choices -- weak locations, an overemphasis on music, and, worst of all, selling off its online bookstore to Amazon for $20 million in the 1990s.  Chump change, by today’s standards.

Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

Escalation of Combat in Eastern Ukraine

May 2nd 2014

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Fighting broke out on May 2 around a rebel-held city in eastern Ukraine, as Ukrainian forces began a military operation against pro-Russian separatists. Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said the rebels shot down two Ukrainian helicopters during the assault on the city of Slovyansk, killing two pilots. Avakov said on his Facebook page that Ukraine demands the rebels free their hostages, lay down their weapons, vacate the buildings they have seized and restore the municipal infrastructure.

In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Ukraine's offensive Friday delivered a final blow to a faltering peace deal aimed at defusing the crisis in Ukraine.

Men standing near a burning barricade cheered at the news of the downed helicopter. Read more ..


Financing the Flames

Key Lawmakers are Ready to Defund Palestinians Over Terrorist Salaries and Hamas Unity

April 30th 2014

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A growing number of lawmakers in the United States, Great Britain, and the European Union are openly suggesting the billions of dollars, pounds, and euros that they and others have collectively bestowed upon the Palestinian Authority to promote peace and reconciliation with Israel have done the exact opposite. The evidence is now too great to ignore, a growing number of lawmakers confess.

Key legislators say abundant funding has only been financing the flames of confrontation, intransigence, and openly-advertised institutional terrorism. The United States alone contributes between $400 million and $500 million annually to the PA. That sum is now threatened. For many, as Al-Monitor reported in a headline, reunion with Hamas seems to be “the last straw.” Reunification will create what one lawmaker called “the single best financed terror structure in the world.”

The concerns are manifold. Hamas and its Gazan partners wage daily war against the Jewish State—10,000 rockets in recent years. Gaza can become a direct pipeline to Iranian, Syrian, and Hezbollah weaponry, creating a formidable terror nexus just a 20-minute drive from Tel Aviv. But the threat goes beyond just Israel. Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

Keeping Up Appearances: Obama's Ineffective Sanctions on Russia

April 29th 2014

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The United States announced new sanctions on seven Russian government officials April 28. A long-used tactic, sanctions can yield unpredictable effects or have no effect at all, depending upon how they are crafted. It is commonly assumed that sanctions are applied when a target country's actions are deemed unacceptable. The sanctioning nation presumably chooses sanctions to avoid war when war would be too costly or could result in defeat.

Sanctions' stated purpose is to induce behavioral changes in a target state by causing economic pain. To work, sanctions must therefore cause pain. But they must not be so severe that they convince the target state that war is more desirable than capitulating to the demands of the sanctioning nation. Read more ..


Broken Borders

Boehner Walks Tough Tightrope Walk on Immigration Reform

April 26th 2014

Immigration Protest

Speaker John Boehner has become increasingly isolated on immigration reform. He wants to pass a bill, but can't get his House Republican Conference to get behind the effort.

The Ohio Republican recently told a group of GOP donors that he his “hell-bent” on getting legislation passed this year, according to The Wall Street Journal. He went further this past week when he declared that he is ready to act and complained that many of his GOP colleagues don’t want to follow.

“I think we should but the appetite, the appetite amongst my colleagues for doing this is not real good,” Boehner told constituents in Madison Township. “Here’s the attitude, ‘Ohhh, don’t make me do this. Ohhh, this is too hard.’” The comments, which were videotaped, went viral. Conservatives on and off Capitol Hill quickly expressed their displeasure. Read more ..


Palestinians After the Peace Process

'Last Straw" by Palestinians and Hamas Prompts Funding Cessation Talk in Congress--Lawmakers Fed Up

April 24th 2014

Capitol Hill

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the author of the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, called for an immediate suspension of US aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA). The 2006 law, passed after Hamas won that year's legislative elections, prohibits support for a "Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority."

"The Administration must halt aid to the Palestinian Authority and condition any future assistance as leverage to force Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] to abandon this reconciliation with Hamas and to implement real reforms within the PA," Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs panel on the Middle East, said in a statement. "U.S. law is clear on the prohibition of U.S. assistance to a unity Palestinian government that includes Hamas, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, and President [Barack] Obama must not allow one cent of American taxpayer money to help fund this terrorist group." Read more ..


Financing the Flames

US Reconsiders Financial Aid to Palestinians After Unification with Hamas Terror Group

April 24th 2014

Obama meets Abbas

Angry Administration officials and lawmakers are warning they will reconsider financial assistance to the Palestinians if Islamist group Hamas and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) form a unity government, according to a senior U.S. administration official.

"Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the State of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties," the official said, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity.

"If a new Palestinian government is formed, we will assess it based on its adherence to the stipulations above, its policies and actions, and will determine any implications for our assistance based on U.S. law," the official said.

Read more ..

Financing the Flames

NIF Parade Fracas Pushes Outraged Jewish Groups to Define Mainstream

April 23rd 2014

Edwin Black

If a small group of grass-roots Jewish organizations have their way, more than one hundred protestors will assemble in New York City on April 29, 2014, each carrying a shofar. On cue, at 5:30 in the afternoon, rain or shine, all will raise their curved rams' horns, long and short, and wail to the heavens in visceral unison producing a piercing spectacle of protest. The cacophonous alarums will continue their outcry until the shofar blowers feel they have made their point.

What are they protesting? It is their communal leadership.

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The dissident shofar blowers will assemble in front of the 59th Street headquarters of the UJA-Federation of New York. The Federation's beneficiary, the Jewish Community Relations Council, is the chief organizer of the Celebrate Israel Parade scheduled for June 1. The upbeat procession of floats, runners, and marchers is normally a public show of Jewish unity in support of Israel. But this year, the parade has become a maelstrom of disunity over the participation of the controversial New Israel Fund and other groups which recent revelations now link to the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement and the campaign to delegitimize Israel internationally.

The outrage in some American, Jewish, and Israeli circles over the NIF's inclusion in the highly visible parade, formerly known as the Israel Day Parade, may be more than just a passing horn blast. The discontent may be energizing a historic decision among American Jews. Just what constitutes the Jewish mainstream? Is American Jewry about to set limits on its open tent of inclusion, a precept the community wears as a badge of honor?

More than a few American Jews feel their community has been hijacked from within by such groups as the J Street lobby, the New Israel Fund, and other organizations that constitute a powerful, well-funded minority able to wage war against Israel seemingly in the name of the Jewish people. "These groups are anti-Jewish," says Judith Freedman Kadish, special project director of Americans for a Safe Israel, "and they are funding groups that are anti-Semitic. They just veil their actions by saying they are trying to influence public policy and an occupation." The accused organizations and their defenders in the Jewish media and within the Jewish activist community vigorously insist their activities are simply democratic dissent aimed at solving Israel's problems. Read more ..


Broken Intelligence

Keeping NSA Surveillance in Perspective

April 22nd 2014

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In June 1942, the bulk of the Japanese fleet sailed to seize the Island of Midway. Had Midway fallen, Pearl Harbor would have been at risk and U.S. submarines, unable to refuel at Midway, would have been much less effective. Most of all, the Japanese wanted to surprise the Americans and draw them into a naval battle they couldn't win.

The Japanese fleet was vast. The Americans had two carriers intact in addition to one that was badly damaged. The United States had only one advantage: It had broken Japan's naval code and thus knew a great deal of the country's battle plan. In large part because of this cryptologic advantage, a handful of American ships devastated the Japanese fleet and changed the balance of power in the Pacific permanently.

This -- and the advantage given to the allies by penetrating German codes -- taught the Americans about the centrality of communications code breaking. It is reasonable to argue that World War II would have ended much less satisfactorily for the United States had its military not broken German and Japanese codes. Where the Americans had previously been guided to a great extent by Henry Stimson's famous principle that "gentlemen do not read each other's mail," by the end of World War II they were obsessed with stealing and reading all relevant communications. Read more ..


The Edge of Justice

US Anti-Corruption Law Snags Major Tech Company

April 21st 2014

Scales of Justice

Earlier this month, the U.S. technology company Hewlett Packard agreed to plead guilty to bribery charges involving its Russian, Polish, and Mexican subsidiaries. 

Hewlett Packard admitted to the U.S. Department of Justice that it bribed Russian officials in hopes of landing a lucrative contract with Moscow’s Office of the Prosecutor General.  In Poland, HP admitted to bribery connected to contracts with the national police agency, while in Mexico, the illicit cash was tied to deals with Pemex, the state oil company.

What snared Palo Alto, California-based “HP” is the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), a groundbreaking law enacted nearly four decades ago.

HP’s agreement to pay US$108 million in both criminal and civil penalties is the tenth largest settlement ever under the FCPA. Other corporations that have been caught in FCPA’s net include Walmart, Halliburton, KBR, Siemens, BAE Systems, and Daimler AG. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Ukraine Threatens to Undermine Obama's Delayed Asia Pivot

April 20th 2014

Obama pensive with flag

President Obama is traveling to Asia this week under the cloud of the Ukraine crisis, which threatens to put Asian allies on edge about U.S. security commitments and create yet another distraction from the administration's much-delayed "pivot" to the region.

Obama will be visiting Asian allies, including Japan, South Korea and the Philippines, that are involved in increasingly tense territorial disputes with China, and will seek to reaffirm U.S. commitment to them.

That connection was supposed to have been cemented earlier in Obama's tenure, when the administration announced a "rebalance," or "pivot," to Asia. But crises at home and around the world, the latest of which is in Ukraine, have stymied that plan.

"We're almost rescuing the rebalance to Asia," said James Schoff, a former Defense Department senior adviser for East Asia policy under Obama. "It's not necessarily the theme that the White House wanted to go into this trip with." Russia's successful takeover of Crimea, despite protests from the U.S., is an example concerned allies can point to when questioning American commitment. Read more ..


The Edge of Tragety

S. Korean Police Arrest Captain of Doomed Ferry

April 19th 2014

prison cell northern ireland flickr

South Korean police have formally arrested the captain and two crew members of a doomed ferry, on charges of deserting their passengers shortly after the vessel capsized Wednesday and sank.

Investigators are alleging the 69-year-old captain failed to carry out his duty to protect passengers when, according to witnesses, he was one of the first to leave the sinking ship. The ferry Sewol went down off the southwestern island of Jindo with 476 people on board.

Thirty-two people are confirmed dead, and 270 others - many of them high school students - remain unaccounted for as hope diminishes for finding more survivors. Divers saw three bodies through a window Saturday, but were not able to reach them.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the captain also is suspected of instructing passengers to remain seated, even as the ferry began rolling onto its side and blocking escape routes. Earlier Friday, police said a high school vice principal who led 325 students on a four-day ferry excursion committed suicide. Read more ..


The Battle for the Ukraine

Diplomatic Deal Struck on Ukraine

April 17th 2014

Ukraine protest

Diplomats from the United States, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union have agreed to a framework plan designed to end violence in Ukraine.

Secretary of State John Kerry said the framework hashed out by foreign ministers meeting in Geneva would disarm separatist militants in eastern Ukraine and have them vacate the government buildings, streets and squares they have occupied.

In return, the Ukrainian government has offered amnesty to all pro-Russian militants who lay down their arms, with the exception of those who committed capital crimes.

The Ukrainian government has also "committed to going as far as they can to reach out to opponents" as part of a "comprehensive, inclusive process" ahead of next month's elections. That will include consideration of constitutional amendments that could give Ukraine's Eastern regions greater autonomy. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Amazon Smartphone: A Tracking Tool In Disguise

April 15th 2014

Smart phone

The Wall Street Journal report last week that ecommerce giant Amazon is planning to enter the smartphone market with its own handset expected for June is stirring a lot of debate regarding the company’s pricing model in what looks like a saturated and well served market. According to the report, a smartphone with four front-facing cameras or sensors has been demonstrated to developers in Seattle and San Francisco over the last few weeks, with the capability to track the user's gaze, augmented reality features together with a glasses-free 3D-viewing experience.

The auto-stereoscopic 3D screen would serve the on-screen effects based on the user’s head position (as detected by the front-facing sensors). You could certainly extrapolate that back-facing stereoscopic cameras would capture the real world in 3D to support the augmented reality features and match the user’s gaze with the real-world items attracting the consumer’s attention.

Once identified in the real world, these items could be searched and matched in Amazon’s online database to come up with price-competitive offers. In retail stores equipped with Bluetooth Smart beacons, the geolocalized offers pushed to the consumer’s smartphone could even be used by Amazon to fine-tune its contextual counter-offers. Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

Eastern Ukraine Braces for Expanding Pro-Russian Takeover Crisis

April 14th 2014

Ukraine--Berkut Riot Police Nov 2013

Towns in eastern Ukraine were braced for military action by government forces Monday as a deadline passed for pro-Russian rebels to disarm and end their occupation of state buildings or face a major “anti-terrorist” operation.

Angered by the death of a state security officer and the wounding of two other officers near the eastern city of Slovyansk, where armed men had seized two government buildings, acting President Oleksander Turchinov warned the pro-Russian groups on Sunday that a full-scale security operation would be unleashed unless they met the deadline of 9 a.m. local time Monday. 

However, Reuters reported that there were no outward signs that the rebels were complying with that ultimatum as it passed. 

Read more ..

Defense on Edge

Air Force Seeks Less Perfection in its Nuclear Missile Corps

April 11th 2014

Nuclear Missile

Every day, 90 uniformed men and women in their mid-twenties ride elevators forty to sixty feet below remote fields in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota, and Nebraska in rote preparation for improbable nuclear Armageddon.

They spend some of their 24-hour alerts seated in front of steel Minuteman III missile launch control panels mounted on shock-absorbers, with toggle switches capable of hurling ten to fifty nuclear warheads — each with twenty times the explosive force of the Hiroshima bomb — to the other side of the globe, at speeds of 15,000 mph.

But their day-to-day enemy, for decades, has not so much been another superpower, but the unremitting boredom of an isolated posting that demands extreme vigilance, while also requiring virtually no activity, according to accounts by missileers and a new internal review of their work.

That understandable boredom, when paired with the military’s sky-high expectations for their workplace performance, has pushed some of them to use drugs, others to break the rules — even deliberately, and still more to look for any way out.

The millenials who populate this force can watch television, read, study, or sleep in their cramped, often damp quarters. But their checklist routines are typically unvarying, their moment-to-moment responsibilities are few, and the temperature underground — like the policy requiring their presence — is unnervingly stuck in the mid-60’s. Read more ..



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