The Obama Edge
|Jim Kouri||September 15th 2012|
While several major news stories were eclipsed by the U.S. embassy attacks in Libya and Egypt, on Wednesday the Department of Energy's Strategic Initiatives director, Morgan Wright, took the opportunity to refuse to appear for a deposition regarding the Solyndra scandal after receiving a Congressional subpoena, according to the chairman of a key House of Representatives committee.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) called Wright's refusal to appear before Congress "unprecedented and regrettable." Issa sais, "Wright became the first person to ever defy a subpoena for a deposition issued under Oversight Committee authority [which was] first established in 2007 under then Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA)."
“The decision of this key figure in the Solyndra scandal to ignore his legal obligation to appear for a deposition is unprecedented and regrettable. This reflects poorly on not only Mr. Wright’s character, but also on Secretary of Energy Chu and other employees who worked on matters related to the loan program," Chairman Issa stated. Read more ..
The Nuclear Edge
|Shaul Shay||September 14th 2012|
Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies
Though Egypt does not currently have a nuclear energy program, that reality could soon change. Newly elected President Mohammed Mursi made clear that Egypt wishes to create a civilian nuclear energy program. Also of concern are statements made by leaders of Mursi’s party, the Muslim Brotherhood, who call for Egypt to pursue a nuclear weapons program. It is presently unclear whether the new president is sincere about his desire for peaceful nuclear energy or if he concurs with his ideological brethren.
Egypt does not currently possess a nuclear energy program, one that could potentially be diverted for weapons purposes. Several factors can be attributed for this reality, including previous leadership priorities, supplier-based constraints, financial difficulties, and safety concerns. Egypt is a member of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and is the leading proponent of establishing a nuclear weapons-free Middle East. This policy, however, may be changing. Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi recently told a group of Egyptian expatriates living in China that “Cairo is considering renewing the Egyptian nuclear program, which will be purely for civilian purposes, to provide clean energy to the citizens of Egypt.” During that trip, Mursi requested $3 billion from the Chinese to build “power plants.” Read more ..
The New Libya
|Saul Roth||September 13th 2012|
World Jewish Daily
Contrary to earlier claims, the Associated Press now reports that "Sam Bacile," the alleged Israeli producer behind an anti-Islam film blamed for sparking riots in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen, is actually a Coptic Christian living in California. Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, told The Associated Press in an interview outside Los Angeles that he was manager for the company that produced "Innocence of Muslims," which mocked Muslims and the Prophet Muhammad and may have incited the frenzied mobs that attacked U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya. He provided initial details about a shadowy production group behind the film.
Nakoula told the AP that he was a Coptic Christian, and said the film's director supported the concerns of Christian Copts about their treatment by Muslims. Read more ..
The New Libya
|Martin Barillas||September 12th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
Photographs of what is purportedly the body of slain American ambassador John Christopher Stevens have emerged on the Internet. Ambassador Stevens was at the U.S. consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi, when the consulate's security detail engaged in a firefight with gunmen armed with small arms and rockets.
One photogaph shows the American diplomat slumped over the shoulder of a protester. Ambassador Stevens's vehicle was hit by rocket fire when he and 3 others tried to escape the exchange of fire. They were killed by the armed protesters who used firebombs to incinerate the consulate. Video footage shows protesters wielding rocket-propelled grenades and small arms roaming through the ruined diplomatic compound taking videos and photos with cell phones.
President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have deplored the killings that came on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The U.S. embassy in Cairo was also attacked on September 11. Protesters scaled the walls of the embassy in Cairo and tore down the American flag, while also scrawling Islamic messages on the fortress-like mission's walls. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|David Arnold||September 12th 2012|
Voice of America
A United Nations report to be issued this week accuses President Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government of using its military and an allied militia, the shabiha, to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity to help the regime stay in power.
The document, entitled the Syria report, says the Syrian opposition also has committed rights violations during the uprising that started a year and a half ago, but concludes the government and its allies have been the main perpetrators.
The report is to be presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. The Human Rights Council opened a three-week meeting in Geneva on Monday. A panel of U.N.-appointed independent commissioners listened to more than 1,000 accounts of murder, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and torture during its investigation of human rights violations and war crimes in Syria over the past 18 months. “The shabiha were identified as perpetrators of many of the crimes …” Read more ..
The New Libya
|Martin Barillas||September 12th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
Top diplomat Hillary Clinton has confirmed that an American Embassy official was killed in a firefight at the U.S. Consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi. Libyan officials have identified U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens as one of the victims of a rocket attack on his vehicle as he was being taken to safety from the consulate which underwent heavy fire. The attackers at Benghazi have blamed their rage on an amateurish video promoted in the United States by controversial Evangelical pastor Terry Jones. The short marginal online video, which is not a documentary, depicts attacks on Christians by Muslim marauders, but also a dramatization of what is purportedly the life of Mohammed, the founder of Islam.
The murders occured on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
Deploring the killing, Secretary Clinton said in a statement, "I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today. .. We are heartbroken by this terrible loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and those who have suffered in this attack." Saying that she had called upon Libya President Magariaf for support, Clinton sought to frame the attack in the light of what mobs in Egypt and Libya said is unjustified American denigration of Islam. Read more ..
Obama and Israel
|Jim Kouri||September 11th 2012|
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau on Monday blasted the Obama administration's refusal to give the Iranian government a deadline for dropping the Islamist country's nuclear weapons program, an Israeli national police counterterrorism expert stated. The Israelis believe the Obama administration is giving Iran more time to develop a nuclear bomb by its inaction, the Israeli source said. The officials commented on U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's statements on Iran, in which Clinton said the United States does not want to set "a red line" to Iran's nuclear program, the Haaretz daily reported. "Not only do these comments fail to deter Iran, they only serve to calm them," an Israeli official told Haaretz newspaper.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and other members of the Israeli government have stated that they are refusing to get involved in U.S. presidential politics, but Netanyahu is attempting to persuade President Obama to draw a "line in the sand" and to deter the Iranians from building a nuclear device. Read more ..
|Jeremy Herb and Julian Pecquet||September 11th 2012|
Both presidential candidates will mark the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks Tuesday during a campaign shaped by President Obama’s aggressive electioneering on the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Obama will observe a moment of silence at the White House and attend a ceremony at the Pentagon memorial, while GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney will speak at the National Guard Association convention.
In Congress, House and Senate leaders are coming together on the steps of the Capitol for a remembrance ceremony. Obama and Romney will not repeat the joint appearance at Ground Zero in New York that Obama made during the 2008 presidential contest with GOP candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a shift that could highlight the politicization of bin Laden’s death. Read more ..
Pakistan on Edge
|Simon Henderson||September 10th 2012|
AQ Khan, the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb and the worst nuclear proliferator in history, is launching a new political movement. His goal? No less than to become Pakistan's Nelson Mandela.
In contemporary history, few men are as controversial as Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. Celebrated at home as the "father" of Pakistan's nuclear bomb, he saw his international reputation tarnished after it emerged that he handed over crucial nuclear technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. The uranium enrichment centrifuges spinning at Iran's giant Natanz facility near Isfahan and the Fordow plant buried deep under a mountain near Qom are based on a design Khan brought to Pakistan from the Netherlands in the 1970s. For his proliferation sins, he was personally sanctioned by the United States in 2009. Read more ..
The Edge of Climate Change
|Kate Ramsayer||September 10th 2012|
American Geophysical Union
For the past four decades, scientists have monitored the ebbs and flows of the icefields in the southernmost stretch of South America’s vast Andes Mountains, detecting an overall loss of ice as the climate warms. A new study, however, finds that the rate of glacier thinning has increased by about half over the last dozen years in the Southern Patagonian Icefield, compared to the 30 years prior to 2000.
“Patagonia is kind of a poster child for rapidly changing glacier systems,” said Michael Willis, lead author of the study and a research associate at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. “We are characterizing a region that is supplying water to sea level at a big rate, compared to its size.” The Southern Patagonian Icefield together with its smaller northern neighbor, the Northern Patagonian Icefield, are the largest icefields in the southern hemisphere—excluding Antarctica. The new study shows that the icefields are losing ice faster since the turn of the century and contributing more to sea level rise than ever before.
Earlier studies determined that between the 1970s and 2000, both icefields, which feed into surrounding oceans as they melt, together raised global sea levels by an average of .042 millimeters each year. Willis and his colleagues found that since 2001, that number increased to 0.067 mm of sea level rise on average per year—about two percent of total annual sea level rise since 1998. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|Dan Levin||September 7th 2012|
From Canadian Agencies
|Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird|
Read more ..
Canada has closed its embassy in Iran and expelled Iranian diplomats in Canada.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird just announced that he feared for the safety of diplomats in Tehran following recent attacks on the British embassy in the Iran. "Under the circumstances, Canada can no longer maintain a diplomatic presence in Iran,” Baird said Friday. “Our diplomats serve Canada as civilians and their safety is our No. 1 priority."
Baird added that Tehran's support for Syrian president Bashar Assad, Iran’s refusal to comply with the UN’s resolutions on its nuclear program and its regular threats to Israel make it a significant threat to global peace. “It is among the world’s worst violators of human rights; and it shelters and materially supports terrorist groups,” said Baird in the far-reaching statement. Baird adeed, “Moreover, the Iranian regime has shown blatant disregard for the Vienna Convention and its guarantee of protection for diplomatic personnel.”
The Edge of Health
|Nick Flaherty||September 7th 2012|
Researchers in Germany and Holland have developed a tiny wireless biosensor that could eliminate the need for blood testing for diabetes.
The researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems (IMS) in Duisburg worked with Dutch medical firm Noviosens to produce a low power biosensor for blood glucose that combines measurement and digital analysis with both an RF link and can be powered by RF energy in the environment.
For many diabetics checking blood glucose is an everyday part of life, especially for patients with Type-1 diabetes who always have to keep a close eye on their levels as their bodies are incapable of producing the insulin to break down the glucose in the blood. Several times a day, they have to place a tiny drop of blood on a test strip. It is the only way they can ascertain the blood glucose value, so they can inject the correct amount of insulin needed. And this pricking is not only a burdensome: it may also cause inflammation or cornification of the skin. Read more ..
The Way We Are
|William Harms||September 7th 2012|
University of Chicago
Grandparents, an increasingly important source of child care in the United States, vary greatly in the kind of care they provide, depending on their age, resources, and the needs of their children, research at the University of Chicago shows.
A new UChicago study, based on a National Institute on Aging survey, shows that 60 percent of grandparents provided some care for their grandchildren during a 10-year period, and 70 percent of those who did provided care for two years or more. The results mirror recent U.S. Census data showing the importance of grandparents in child care. The 2010 Census reported that 8 percent of grandparents live with their grandchildren, and 2.7 million grandparents are responsible for most of their grandchildren's needs. In 2006, 2.4 million grandparents had that responsibility. Read more ..
Israel's Looming Attack
|Zachary Lichaa||September 6th 2012|
A meeting last month to discuss intelligence matters between the United States and Israel turned confrontational when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lambasted Dan Shapiro, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, for what he believes to be an unsatisfactory American position on Iran’s nuclear program, according to Republican Congressman Mike Rogers who attended the sit down.
“There was no doubt. You could not walk out of that meeting and think that they had not lost their patience with this Administration,” Rogers, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, told WJR radio host Frank Beckmann in Michigan.
Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic first reported on this story.
When Beckmann asked Rogers if there was a shouting match between Netanyahu and Shapiro, something that had been reported in Israeli media last week, Rogers said “there were elevated concerns on behalf of the Israelis”.
“We’ve had sharp exchanges with other heads of state and in intelligence services and other things, but nothing at that level that I’ve seen in all my time where people were clearly that agitated, clearly that worked up about a particular issue where there was a very sharp exchange,” Rogers added.
Netanyahu’s concerns were geared towards the Obama administration’s reluctance to state the White House’s “red lines” on Iran’s nuclear program, which if crossed, would call for the use of U.S. military force against Iran. Rogers does not think the Israeli or Iranian government’s believe that President Obama will use force to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Gertie Skaarup||September 6th 2012|
University of Copenhagen
|Mars’s north polar ice cap|
(credit: NASA/Caltech/JPL/E. DeJong/J. Craig/M. Stetson)
On Mars’s poles, there are ice caps of ice and dust with layers that reflect past climate variations on Mars. Researchers from the Niels Bohr Institute have related the layers in the ice cap on Mars’s north pole to variations in solar insolation on Mars, thus established the first dated climate history for Mars, where ice and dust accumulation has been driven by variations in insolation. The results are published in the scientific journal Icarus.
The ice caps on Mars’s poles are kilometres thick and composed of ice and dust. There are layers in the ice caps, which can be seen in cliffs and valley slopes and we have known about these layers for decades, since the first satellite images came back from Mars. The layers are believed to reflect past climate on Mars, in the same way that the Earth’s climate history can be read by analysing ice cores from the ice caps on Greenland and Antarctica.
Solar insolation on Mars has varied dramatically over time, mainly due to large variations in the tilt of Mars’s rotational axis (obliquity) and this led to dramatic climate variations on Mars. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Michael Beckel||September 6th 2012|
Center for Public Integrity
While Democrats have touted their grassroots fundraising efforts for the 2012 Democratic National Convention, deep-pocketed corporate donors are helping underwrite the event. Among the corporate sponsors at the Charlotte convention: AT&T Inc., Bank of America, Duke Energy, Time Warner Cable, Coca-Cola, Wells Fargo, UnitedHealth Group, Piedmont Natural Gas, US Airways and law and lobbying firm McGuireWoods.
The corporate sponsorship appears to fly in the face of the Democrats’ pledge to host a “people’s convention.” The party’s 2012 “host committee” is not accepting contributions from corporations, lobbyists and political action committees. Democrats also capped how much money individuals can give at $100,000. Read more ..
The Prehistoric Edge
|Vince Stricherz||September 6th 2012|
University of Washington
The most-studied mass extinction in Earth history happened 65 million years ago and is widely thought to have wiped out the dinosaurs. New University of Washington research indicates that a separate extinction came shortly before that, triggered by volcanic eruptions that warmed the planet and killed life on the ocean floor.
The well-known second event is believed to have been triggered by an asteroid at least 6 miles in diameter slamming into Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. But new evidence shows that by the time of the asteroid impact, life on the seafloor – mostly species of clams and snails – was already perishing because of the effects of huge volcanic eruptions on the Deccan Plateau in what is now India.
“The eruptions started 300,000 to 200,000 years before the impact, and they may have lasted 100,000 years,” said Thomas Tobin, a UW doctoral student in Earth and space sciences. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Julian Pecquet and Pete Kasperowicz||September 5th 2012|
Julian Pecquet and Pete Kasperowicz
Democrats on Wednesday reinstated language in their party platform recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but only after an unclear vote in which as many delegates appeared to oppose the change as support it.
See the video here.
The party also added the word "God" back into the party's decree, following criticism that it did not include the word at all.
The additions were approved by a voice vote that seemed to split the crowd evenly and confused Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was leading the proceedings. Villaraigosa looked around the stage and appeared uncertain over how to proceed after an initial vote, in which the "nays" to adding Jerusalem and God back into the platform sounded just as loud as the "ayes."
Villaraigosa called for a second vote with similar results. He then called for a third voice vote, and while it sounded evenly split, he proclaimed that two-thirds of the delegates approved the changes, which sparked some grumbling in the audience. Read more ..
The Obama Edge
|Mark Snowiss||September 4th 2012|
The United States is close to a deal with Egypt's new government for $1 billion in debt relief as part of a U.S. and international assistance package designed to prop up the country's faltering economy and aid its transition to democracy.
A team of senior U.S. diplomats has spent the last week in Cairo finalizing the agreement, which has been delayed by Egypt's political turmoil and caution in Washington about rewarding its newly elected Islamist leadership. Egypt's debt to the U.S. exceeds $3 billion. Senior American officials said Monday a final announcement is expected later this month. U.S. President Barack Obama first pledged economic help for Cairo last year. Obstacles remained to completing the debt relief deal - which is reported to involve a mix of debt payment waivers and complicated "debt swaps." Read more ..
Obama and Israel
|Saul Roth||September 3rd 2012|
Wolrd Jewish Daily
Contrary to recent claims that its military coordination with Israel is excellent, the U.S. has secretly informed Iran that it will not participate in an Israeli air strike on its nuclear facilities.
According to a report published Monday in the Hebrew-language daily Yediot Aharonot: "Senior administration officials reportedly sent messages to Iran, through diplomats from two European states, addressing the possibility that Israel would launch a unilateral strike and establishing that the US expects Iran to not draw it into a conflict by firing on American army bases and aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf. The report is only the latest in a series of similar stories, all of which appear to illustrate a major rift between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government over Iran.
These have included a public disavowal of involvement in an Israeli strike by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as a report of a major dispute between Netanyahu and the U.S. ambassador, which reportedly ended in a shouting match. There is no rift between the U.S. and Israel or between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, the American ambassador to Israel said on Sunday. Speaking to Israel's Channel 2, Ambassador Dan Shapiro admitted that "There is definitely a narrative in the media right now – I'd say an overheated one – about tension between the US and Israel over Iran." Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Peter Michaud||September 3rd 2012|
Nature hath no fury like a dying star – and astronomers couldn’t be happier…
An international research team, led by Edo Berger of Harvard University, made the most of a dying star’s fury to probe a distant galaxy some 9.5 billion light-years distant. The dying star, which lit the galactic scene, is the most distant stellar explosion of its kind ever studied. According to Berger, “It’s like someone turned on a flashlight in a dark room and suddenly allowed us to see, for a short time, what this far-off galaxy looks like, what it is composed of.”
The study, published recently in The Astrophysical Journal, describes how the researchers used the exploding star’s light (called an ultra-luminous core-collapse supernova) as a probe to study the gas conditions in the space between the host galaxy’s stars. Berger says the findings reveal that the distant galaxy‘s interstellar conditions appear “reassuringly normal” when compared to those seen in the galaxies of our local universe. “This shows the enormous potential of using the most luminous supernovae to study the early universe,” he says. “Ultimately it will help us understand how galaxies like our Milky Way came to be.” Read more ..
Obama and Israel
|Saul Roth||September 2nd 2012|
World Jewish Daily
The mood is darkening in Jerusalem.
As the United Nation's nuclear watchdog agency reports that Iran is significantly increasing its nuclear enrichment activities, the United States is backing away from a fight, signaling to Israel that it will significantly scale back a joint military exercise scheduled for October. Israeli officials interpreted the announcement, first reported by Time magazine, as a rebuke.
"Basically what the Americans are saying is, "We don’t trust you," a senior Israeli official told Time. The U.S. was scheduled to send 5,000 troops into the field for what was billed as the largest-ever joint exercise between the two nations. As Time reports, now the U.S. will send as few as 1,200 troops, a 76 percent reduction. Moreover, the U.S. will reduce the "number and potency of the missile interception systems at the core of the joint exercise." Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Erik Wasson and Russell Berman||September 1st 2012|
MSNBC host Chris Matthews got into a heated exchange with Republican delegates at a Tampa restaurant early Friday morning following the conclusion of the GOP national convention. Matthews was booed and sworn at as he was leaving the Tinatapas restaurant, which is near the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Matthews turned back and confronted the taunting GOP officials. The Hill witnessed the exchange and interviewed Republican delegates after the confrontation. Matthews told The Hill in a phone interview that after he left the restaurant, he heard a group of guys “heckling” and “hooting and hollering” at him.
He headed back into the restaurant to mix it up with them. “I wanted to confront them,” Matthews said, describing his exchange with the men as “towel-snapping” among guys. Matthews said he told the rowdy group, “What’s this, a douchebag convention?” The Republicans became angry and retorted back. Read more ..
America on Edge
|Scott Stewart||August 31st 2012|
On the morning of Aug. 24, Jeffrey Johnson returned to his former place of work, Hazan Import Corp., and waited on the street outside the building. Johnson, who was wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase, blended into the crowd of people on the street who were rushing to work that morning. As one of Hazan Import's executives, Stephen Ercolino, approached the building, Johnson drew a pistol from his bag and gunned Ercolino down with no warning, making Ercolino a victim of workplace violence. Media reports suggest that Johnson and Ercolino had been involved in several confrontations, at least one of which became physical, and that Johnson held Ercolino responsible for his being laid off. Each of the men had also reportedly filed police reports claiming the other had threatened him.
Violence in the workplace is a serious security problem in the United States and elsewhere, although it is not nearly as widespread as the media coverage suggests. On average, there are around 500 workplace homicides per year in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2010, the latest year for which statistics are available, there were 518 workplace homicides, and only 12 percent were conducted by a co-worker or former co-worker. This means that while workplace violence incidents tend to get a lot of media attention -- even more so when an incident occurs near the Empire State Building, like the Johnson incident -- they are not common. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Justin Sink||August 31st 2012|
Mitt Romney formally accepted the Republican presidential nomination Thursday in a speech aimed squarely at swing voters disillusioned with President Obama and a still-lagging economy. Arguing that “what America need is jobs,” the former Massachusetts governor asked voters to “forget about what might have been and to look ahead to what can be.”
“Hope and change had a powerful appeal,” Romney said. “But tonight I'd ask a simple question: If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama? You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.”
The speech electrified an eager crowd of delegates packed into the Tampa Forum, who rose repeatedly to their feet to cheer and applaud the GOP nominee while waving signs that exclaimed “Mitt!” and “Believe!” But Romney's address was clearly aimed at swing voters watching at home, who thus far have been reluctant to embrace a candidate who can seem stiff and private. Read more ..
|Ronnie Green||August 30th 2012|
Center for Public Integrity
|Fisherman Jumps in Water for Safety Drill|
Veteran fisherman Fred Mattera stands atop a fishing trawler at the Point Judith Harbor, seagulls squawking by and a fishy mist in the air, and instructs the seven mostly young, tattooed men standing before him to pull on life-safety immersion suits that cover them from foot to head, to zip up and plunge feet first into the water. Then two groups of fishermen interlock like centipedes and take turns paddling backward until they reach a life raft where, going smallest man first, they pull in one by one.
This is survival training, and the plunge-and-rescue dry run is meant to gird the fishermen for the real thing, which comes too often in an industry beset by a high death rate and fragile federal net of protection.
Commercial fishing is the deadliest vocation in the United States. Four years running, from 2007 to 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics ranked commercial fishing as the most dangerous occupation in the United States. From 2000 to 2010, the industry’s death rate was 31 times greater than the national workplace average. Read more ..
|Simon Henderson||August 29th 2012|
|King Abdullah |
This morning, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia left the country for an undisclosed destination after deputizing Crown Prince Salman to take over his responsibilities in his absence. The reason for the trip has not been revealed, but there is widespread speculation that the eighty-eight-year-old king will head to New York City for medical treatment, perhaps after a brief stop in Morocco. He had operations for a back complaint in 2010 and 2011, and he was almost bent double while standing during an Islamic summit in Mecca two weeks ago. Photographs showed him in obvious discomfort as he left the kingdom today.
Despite the lack of information about the trip, now is a good time to examine Saudi Arabia's regional role and relationship with the United States. The Obama administration sees King Abdullah as a crucial ally in several fields. In Syria, Riyadh is providing arms to the anti-Assad rebels. In the oil market, it has expanded production to offset the drop in Iranian exports caused by nuclear sanctions. Although Riyadh was reportedly disappointed with Washington's swift removal of support for longtime ally Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, the kingdom appears to share many policy objectives with the United States. Washington undoubtedly views Saudi leadership of the Arab and Muslim worlds as useful, not to mention its role as a major oil supplier.
Having Crown Prince Salman stand in for the monarch is no particular relief. Although he serves as defense minister and is, at seventy-six, significantly younger than Abdullah, some have expressed concerns about his own health and his ability to focus on detail. An additional worry is that the House of Saud has no obvious crown-prince-in-waiting behind him. The need for such a candidate has become more urgent in the past year given the deaths of no fewer than two crown princes, Sultan and Nayef, who were half-brothers of Abdullah and full brothers of Salman, yet died within eight months of each other. Read more ..
|Jim Walls||August 29th 2012|
The Center for Public Integrity
|Gov. Nathan Deal|
Perhaps no state illustrates the political perils of ethics enforcement better than Georgia, where the ethics commission has been the nexus of more infighting, vitriol and litigation than a Univision novella.
Keeping track of all the resignations, firings, accusations and countercharges there has challenged even the most knowledgeable observers of Peach State politics. Three executive directors have resigned or been fired since 2006. Two other employees collected $405,000 in damages for allegedly wrongful termination. Lawmakers stripped the agency of 40 percent of its funding, its power to make new rules, even its name.
Today, as public pressure builds for ethics reform in Georgia, the agency faces a host of other challenges: Two former top-ranking officials allege the commission fired them for investigating suspected campaign abuses by Gov. Nathan Deal. Thousands of candidate disclosures swamp the agency’s online filing system, paralyzing it at peak periods for many users. Violators continue to avoid stiffer penalties because the commission has not devoted the resources to formally notifying them. Thin staffing keeps the staff from reviewing even 10 percent of the tens of thousands of filings it receives each year. Much of this has come to pass, critics say, because the commission answers to the very politicians it’s supposed to regulate and investigate. Legislative leaders set its budget, control its powers and, along with the governor, decide who its five members will be. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Niall Stanage||August 28th 2012|
Mitt Romney’s campaign is intensifying its efforts to narrow the gender gap that President Obama enjoys among female voters.
Republicans are investing considerable hope that Romney’s wife, Ann, can help the presumptive GOP presidential nominee win over more women when she speaks to the Republican National Convention on Tuesday. The candidate’s wife is widely regarded as one of his most powerful surrogates. Strategists also argue that her perspective, being more personal than others’, could make her husband appear a warmer and more empathic figure.
“Ann Romney is warm and engaging,” Romney campaign adviser Bay Buchanan said. “Her speech is very, very important. Women are one of our target audiences, and Republicans are going to make certain that they see we respect their different roles, whether you’re a mother full time, whether you’re a working mom, whether you’re a single mom, whether you’re single.” Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|Zachary Lichaa||August 27th 2012|
Nearly 6 months after returning home to the west coast, the U.S. Navy’s John C. Stennis aircraft carrier will leave Washington state today and return to the Persian Gulf as tensions between Iran and Israel continue to mount, and Syria falls deeper into the abyss.
The deployment, which comes 4 months ahead of schedule for the nuclear powered carrier and its crew “deals with a lot of threats in the Middle East right now”, including Syria and Iran, said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last week when he spoke to the nearly 2,000 sailors who will depart on Monday. “All of that is the reason we maintain the force we have in the Middle East.” Back in January, The Stennis made headlines when Iran issued a threat, warning the ship not to return to the Persian Gulf following its departure through the Strait of Hormuz in late December.
“We usually don’t repeat our warning, and we warn only once,” said Iran’s Army chief Ataollah Salehi, according to the state-run Fars news agency. “We recommend and emphasize to the American carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf.” Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Ian Swanson and Jonathan Easley||August 27th 2012|
An intensifying tropical storm barreling toward New Orleans forced GOP presidential pick Mitt Romney into emergency convention plans Monday amid fears that the Republicans' four-day party would coincide with disaster in the Gulf.
Tropical Storm Isaac is poised to develop into a category one hurricane with winds of at least 74 mph building up dangerous sea levels, and on Sunday it was already throwing the GOP nominee's carefully choreographed debut into chaos.
Thousands of delegates and politicians arrived at the convention site to a breeze and light rain, but the wind picked up late Sunday and rain began to fill Tampa’s streets. By Sunday night it seemed likely the convention would not suffer a direct hit, with the eye of the storm moving west of Tampa. But meteorologists said the storm could gain strength over the Gulf of Mexico before hitting the Gulf Coast on Tuesday or Wednesday — which would mark the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is scheduled to address the GOP convention on Wednesday, declared a state of emergency in his state and urged people in low-lying areas to voluntarily evacuate. Jindal said he won’t come to Tampa unless the storm dissipates. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Jordy Yager||August 26th 2012|
The city of Tampa, Fla., is on virtual lockdown this week as local and federal law enforcement authorities ready for tens of thousands of protesters, politicians and media to swarm the coastal metropolis during the Republican National Convention. With the Secret Service at the helm, the FBI, the Coast Guard and the military have taken extensive steps to guard against potential terrorist attacks as well as uprisings from anarchists intent on disrupting the five-day event. “As far as demonstrators, we don’t make estimates or predict what will or will not happen — a part of our planning process is planning for any and all scenarios,” said George Ogilvie, a spokesman for the Secret Service. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a joint intelligence bulletin this week stating a “high confidence” that anarchist groups are “preparing to use violence and criminal tactics in an attempt to disrupt the Republican National Convention,” according to a copy provided.
The city’s police department has bulked up its bike and horse units with a $50-million federal grant, adding more than a dozen all-terrain vehicles to speedily navigate Tampa’s streets if protests get out of control with roving mobs, as they have at previous conventions. In an effort to extend a visual olive branch, police purchased more neutral-looking khaki uniforms for the roughly 1,000 officers expected to be on duty throughout the week, in hopes that they will appear more approachable and less threatening to demonstrators. Thousands of police from surrounding cities and counties are expected to bolster the local department’s ranks. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Barbara Kennedy||August 25th 2012|
Penn State University
|Artist’s conception of a red giant star engulfing one of its planets|
The first evidence of a planet’s destruction by its aging star has been discovered by an international team of astronomers. The evidence indicates that the missing planet was devoured as the star began expanding into a red giant—the stellar equivalent of advanced age for stars without enough mass to go supernova.
“A similar fate may await the inner planets in our solar system, when the Sun becomes a red giant and expands all the way out to Earth’s orbit some five-billion years from now,” said Alex Wolszczan, an Evan Pugh Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State, University, who is one of the members of the research team. Wolszczan also is the discoverer of the first planet ever found outside our solar system. The astronomers also discovered a massive planet in a surprisingly elliptical orbit around the same red-giant star, named BD+48 740, which is older than the Sun with a radius about eleven times bigger. Wolszczan and the team’s other members, Monika Adamow, Grzegorz Nowak, and Andrzej Niedzielski of Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland; and Eva Villaver of the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid in Spain, detected evidence of the missing planet’s destruction while they were using the Hobby-Eberly Telescope to study the aging star and to search for planets around it. The evidence includes the star’s peculiar chemical composition plus the highly unusual elliptical orbit of its surviving planet. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Dorian Jones ||August 25th 2012|
Turkish political opposition members are claiming that Turkish authorities are turning a blind eye to Islamic militants based in Turkey who are crossing over the border to join the opposition fighting the Assad government in Syria.
Mehmet Ali Edipoglu is parliamentary deputy for the main opposition Peoples Republic Party, for Hatay -- the main city in the Antakya province that borders Syria. While he says he has no complaints about the Syrian rebels operating from the region, the past few months there has been a worrying change in the influx of new fighters.
Edipoglu says militants who are coming from Libya, Chechnya, Afghanistan, and from various countries in Africa are placed in Hatay and they say they are here to fight for Syria, to make a Jihad and bring Sharia, he says. He says they all openly say that they are al-Qaida and there have been incidents of small fights between these people and Hatay locals. Edipoglu says many are now getting to guns to protect themselves and he says he spoke to the governor and police many times and they tell him they are keeping these people under control. Read more ..
India on Edge
|Anjana Pasricha||August 25th 2012|
In India, the government is defending itself against charges of Internet censorship after asking companies such as Facebook and Twitter to block hundreds of websites. India's efforts to regulate online content and pressure social media companies have attracted criticism.
Following threats to take action against Twitter, Indian officials say the micro-blogging site has agreed to talk to the government. But the government’s face-off with Twitter is far from over. Read more ..
The government wants Twitter to remove 28 pages containing what it calls “objectionable content,” but officials say Twitter has cited technical difficulties in complying with the request. The government asked social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to block hundreds of websites and pages recently after doctored online images fueled rumors of revenge attacks by Muslims on migrants from the north east, prompting them to flee cities. Communication and Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal refutes charges that the government is trying to censor social media. But he says its misuse has to be prevented.
The Iranian Threat
|Matthew Levitt||August 24th 2012|
|Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad|
In addition to elite Iranian and Hizballah operatives, Tehran has a long history of employing unlikely surrogates to target dissidents abroad, including in the United States.
Over the past few months, Iran has demonstrated a renewed willingness to carry out attacks targeting its enemies. From India and Azerbaijan to Cyprus and Thailand, recent Iran directed plots have targeted diplomats and civilians, Israelis, Americans, Saudis, and more. To execute these attacks, Iran has sometimes dispatched its own agents, such as members of its elite IRGC Quds Force. Other times Iran has relied on trusted proxies like Hezbollah. In a number of cases Quds Force and Hezbollah operatives have worked together to execute attacks abroad.
Now, evidence has emerged indicating Tehran is employing another type of agent -- the unlikely surrogate assassin -- to target Iranian dissidents abroad, including here in the United States. Last October, dual U.S.-Iranian citizen Manssor Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri, a commander in Iran's Quds Force, the special-operations unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), were charged in New York for their roles in an alleged plot to murder the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Naira Bulghadaryan and Daisy Sindelar ||August 24th 2012|
Gevorg Payasian's father, Asatur, was just 15 years old when he was forced to flee his home in the ancient city of Ayntap in what is now southeastern Turkey. His entire family had been killed by Ottoman troops in what has come to be known as the Armenian genocide, the mass slaughter and deportation of Anatolia's ethnic Armenians between 1915 and 1922.
Alone, he set out on foot, walking about 130 kilometers before reaching a haven in the Syrian city of Aleppo. Unbeknownst to him, his 9-year-old sister, Nektar, had somehow survived the massacre and was making the same journey. Asatur went on to reunite with his sister in Aleppo. He went to school, started a family, and built a successful horse-breeding business from scratch. But his son Gevorg, now a 69-year-old businessman specializing in radio equipment, believes even as he praised Syria's "merciful embrace" of his people, his father never recovered from the trauma of seeing his home and family destroyed:
"My father always remembered his ancestral home in Ayntap," he says. "He would tell me about how he fled from the Turks and reached Syria. The Turks had killed his parents and relatives. My father and his sister were the only survivors in their family." Nearly a century later, it is the son who is fleeing -- leaving the city that offered his father safe harbor as the bloody 17-month battle between government loyalists and opposition rebels settles over Aleppo. Read more ..
|Jim Kouri||August 23rd 2012|
On Thursday, 10 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents filed a federal lawsuit against the Obama administration seeking an end of President Barack Obama's new non-deportation policy derided as Obama's Dream Act Light by opponents of his illegal immigration policies, according to the ICE agents' union. The ICE agents filed the lawsuit in federal court in one of the state's most affected by the Obama policy -- Texas. The agents allege that President Obama’s policies have reduced the number of illegal aliens who will be deported back to their country of origin.
The ICE agents allege in their lawsuit that the Obama executive order causes a confusing situation in which they must choose between enforcing federal laws and being disciplined by their commanders, or obeying their supervisors thereby violating oaths of office and a Clinton administration law -- passed by a bi-partisan Congress in 1996 -- that mandates the deportation of illegal aliens. Kris W. Kobach, the secretary of state in Kansas, is representing the ICE agents in their lawsuit. Kobach has been a leading voice in support of state immigration legislation such as Arizona’s controversial law. In the 20-page legal complaint, the agents state they’ve been ordered to ignore an entire category of illegal aliens. The agents allege they were told to stop requesting proof of citizenship or immigration status. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Zachary Lichaa ||August 23rd 2012|
Members of Iran’s Quds Force were recently instructed by the country’s most authoritative figure, Ayatollah Khamenei, to increase their attacks on western targets in retaliation for what Iran believes is a direct effort to help the Syrian opposition topple Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad, according to senior western intelligence officials.
The directive was given at a meeting of Iran’s National Security Council in Tehran, which was held to review a report commissioned to examine the geo-political ramifications for Iran if Assad were to lose power in Syria.
Khamenei himself is said to have commissioned the report, according to western intelligence officials, and in response to international sanctions against the Iranian regime, along with western support for Syrian rebels, Khamenei has decided that his country “cannot be passive”. According to one of the intelligence sources who spoke with The Telegraph in Britain, Khamenei believes he must show “America, the Zionists, Britain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others that they cannot act with impunity in Syria and elsewhere in the region” Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Cameron Joseph||August 22nd 2012|
Mitt Romney's campaign has set a precise target for the share of the Hispanic vote it needs to win to defeat President Obama: 38 percent. That's a significant step up from the 31 percent of the Latino vote won by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who Obama thumped while winning a number of key states where Hispanic voters are a key constituency, including Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico.
Romney has to do better than McCain, and his advisers have set a goal that is just below the approximately 40 percent share of the Hispanic vote President George W. Bush won in 2004. "Our goal is to do better than four years ago and the McCain campaign did — our goal is to hit 38 percent with the Hispanic vote," said Jose Fuentes, a co-chairman of Romney's Hispanic leadership team and former attorney general of Puerto Rico. "That's our goal. That's our national average." Polls suggest Romney's magic number with Hispanics may be a tough goal to hit. Obama led Romney 67 to 23 percent with Latino voters in a poll conducted in late July poll by NBC News, The Wall Street Journal and Telemundo. Read more ..
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