|Peter Schroeder||November 18th 2012|
The financial industry is hoping to avoid its own â€œfiscal cliffâ€ at the end of the year when a guarantee program for bank accounts is set to expire.
The Transaction Account Guarantee (TAG) program, which was created during the financial crisis, provides government guarantees to non-interest bearing bank accounts used by small businesses and municipalities. The program serves as a backstop for accounts worth more than $1.4 trillion.
Banking lobbies warn that the expiration of the program could destabilize financial markets and are beginning a last-minute push for an extension in the lame-duck session of Congress.
â€œItâ€™s kind of the fiscal cliff of the financial sector,â€ said Paul Merski, executive vice president for congressional relations for the Independent Community Bankers of America. â€œ$1.4 trillion is a serious amount of cash to become uninsured abruptly at the stroke of midnight.â€
Lobbyists for banks say they already have significant support for another two-year extension of the program, which was first created in 2008, and are working to make sure itâ€™s included in whatever legislation makes it to President Obamaâ€™s desk before the end of the year.
The TAG program applies to transaction accounts, which businesses and governments typically use to set aside large amounts of cash for brief periods of time. Although the program was originally created at the height of the financial crisis to prevent bank runs, financial lobbyists contend the economy is still too tenuous to do away with the lifeline that it provides. Read more ..
Operation Pillar of Defense
|George Friedman||November 17th 2012|
New intelligence indicates forces in Gaza may be manufacturing long-range rockets locally. If this is the case, a significant ground force offers the Israelis the best chance of finding and neutralizing the factories making these weapons. Meanwhile, Israel continues its airstrikes on Gaza, and Gaza continues its long-range rocket attacks on major Israeli population centers, though Israel claims its Iron Dome defense system has intercepted most of the rockets.
Israel appears to be positioning itself for a ground operation, perhaps as early as the night of Nov. 17. The Israeli Cabinet on Nov. 16 approved Defense Minister Ehud Barak's request to call up 75,000 reservists, significantly more than during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009. The Israeli army meanwhile has also sought to strengthen its presence on the borders with Gaza. Primary roads leading to Gaza and running parallel to Sinai have been declared closed military zones. Tanks, armored personnel carriers, self-propelled artillery and troops continue to stream to the border, and many units already appear to be in position. Read more ..
The Petraeus Scandal
|Jim Khouri||November 17th 2012|
Former CIA Director David Petraeus testified before lawmakers on on November 16 and claimed that classified intelligence strongly suggested the deadly raid on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was a terrorist attack, but that the Obama administration withheld the suspected role of specific al-Qaeda affiliates.
Petraeus, a decorated four-star Army general, resigned on Friday, November 9, as the nation's spy chief as a result of an adulterous relationship with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.
Gen. Petraeus told the lawmakers that reason why the Obama White House and his security team avoided references to terrorist groups suspected of carrying out the violence was to prevent the perpetrators from knowing that the U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials were seeking their capture. Read more ..
Operations Pillar of Defense
|Michael Singh||November 17th 2012|
The Washington Institute
The conflict unfolding in the Gaza Strip takes place against a starkly different regional backdrop than the last round of fighting in late 2008 and early 2009. The old regional order that existed then has been swept away, replaced with a new order which is uncertain and, until now, untested. This emerging crisis will be the first such test, and will reveal much about how the recent years' uprisings have affected key regional actors and the relations among them.
The old order in the Middle East was founded on mutual interests, and looked something like a hub-and-spoke alliance system with the United States at its center. U.S. allies in the region shared, above all, an interest in stability and economic prosperity, though each defined stability differently. For Washington, stability required political and economic reform; for our allies, it often meant the preservation of an increasingly shaky status quo. Read more ..
Operation Pillar of Defense
|Martin Barillas||November 17th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
The Israeli military has shut down the main roads around the Gaza Strip, a sign that it is poised to launch a ground offensive on the Palestinian enclave that could explode into an all-out war. Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip early Saturday, November17, destroyed the Hamas Cabinet headquarters. Hamas leader Ismael Haniyeh was not in the building at the time of the strike. Also on November 17, Israel's missile defense system destroyed a Hamas missile over the skies of Tel Aviv.
The strikes followed an exchange of rocket fire on the previous day between Israel and Palestinian Hamas terrorists in Gaza with one Palestinian rocket landing in a field outside Jerusalem. Hamas claimed responsibility for the unprecedented attack on the holy city. Hamas' rockets also struck in the vicinity of Tel Aviv. Israel responded by calling up thousands more military reserves for a potential force of 75,000 reservists. Overnight on November 16-17, Israel stepped up its airstrikes and destroyed at least 120 missile batteries and 20 tunnels. This brought the total number of targets to 830. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Daniel Kelson||November 17th 2012|
A team of astronomers including Carnegie's Daniel Kelson have set a new distance record for finding the farthest galaxy yet seen in the universe. By combining the power of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, Spitzer Space Telescope, and one of nature's own natural "zoom lenses" in space, they found a galaxy whose light traveled 13.3 billion years to reach Earth. Their work will be published in The Astrophysical Journal.
The diminutive blob--only a tiny fraction of the size of our Milky Way galaxy--offers a peek back in time to when the universe was 3 percent of its present age (13.7 billion years). The light from this newly discovered galaxy, named MACS0647-JD, is from 420 million years after the Big Bang.
Eight billion years into its journey, this light took a detour along multiple paths around a massive galaxy cluster called MACS J0647+7015. Due to the gravitational lensing, the research team, led by Marc Postman of the Space Telescope Science Institute, observed three magnified images of MACS0647-JD with the Hubble telescope. The cluster's gravity boosted the light from the faraway galaxy, making the images appear brighter than they otherwise would, enabling astronomers to detect them more efficiently and with greater confidence. Without the cluster's magnification powers, astronomers would not have seen this remote galaxy. Read more ..
Operation Pillar of Defense
|Zach Pontz||November 16th 2012|
Josh Hantman, a spokesman for Israelâ€™s Ministry of Defense, has confirmed that Defense Minister Ehud Barak has approved further call-ups of reserve soldiers. A diplomatic source in Jerusalem said the number of troops was 75,ooo, however Hantman would not confirm this.
Israeli daily Haaretz reports that Israeli government secretary Hauser is conducting a telephone poll of ministers to get the okay. The move would be approved by the Security Cabinet tonight.
In comparison to recent Israeli operations, the number of troops being discussed is quite high. For Operation Cast Lead in 2008 10,000 reserves were called up, and for Israelâ€™s Second Lebanon War in 2006, 60,000 troops were called up.
Alon ben David, the chief military correspondent for Channel 10 news in Israel said that â€œMilitary sources advise to be ready for significant expansion of â€œPillar of Defenseâ€.
Read more ..
Operation Pillar of Defense
|Aryeh Savir||November 16th 2012|
Thursday November 15, 2012 â€“ the IDF dispersed leaflets above several locations in the Gaza Strip to warn local residents to stay away from members of Hamas, and other terror organizationsâ€™ and facilities which may pose a risk to their safety.
The leaflets state: â€œImportant announcement for the residents of the Gaza Strip: For your own safety, take responsibility for yourselves and avoid being present in the vicinity of Hamas operatives and facilities and those of other terror organizations that pose a risk to your safety. Hamas is once again dragging the region to violence and bloodshed. The IDF is determined to defend the residents of the State of Israel. This announcement is valid until quiet is restored to the region. Israel Defense Forces Command.â€
The leaflets stress that Hamas is dragging the region toward violence, and that the IDF is prepared to defend the residents of the State of Israel until quiet is restored to the region. Read more ..
Operation Pillar of Defense
|Jim Kouri||November 16th 2012|
Combat between Israel and Gaza-based terrorist groups flared up late Wednesday following the killing of Ahmed al-Jaabari, the highest-ranking Hamas leader killed by the Israelis since early 2009. According to the source, Israel's air force continued pummeling Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, after killing 10 people, including al-Jaabari.
The attacks were launched amid the large-scale Israeli military Operation Pillar of Defense against Gaza, which began Wednesday afternoon and was officially aimed at Hamas' top leadership and its infrastructure in Gaza, including its stocks of rockets, training camps, rocket-launching sites and police stations, said the Israeli source. While the Palestinian National Authority is the recognized governing body for the Palestinian people, the PNA only controls the West Bank. Hamas is the de factor government of Gaza and several other Islamic terrorist groups are active there including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and members of the Salafists. Read more ..
After the Spill
|Ben Geman||November 15th 2012|
BP has reached a $4.5 billion settlement with the U.S. government to resolve criminal and securities claims over a 2010 well blowout that claimed 11 lives and spilled millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
The British oil giant will pay $4 billion in fines and other payments, the largest criminal penalty in U.S. history, to resolve claims with the Justice Department over the accident that badly harmed Gulf ecosystems and reshaped U.S. offshore drilling policy. The company has also agreed to pay $525 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission to resolve separate claims.
â€œAll of us at BP deeply regret the tragic loss of life caused by the Deepwater Horizon accident as well as the impact of the spill on the Gulf coast region,â€ said BP CEO Bob Dudley in a statement. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and other Justice Department officials have scheduled a 2 p.m. press conference in New Orleans to discuss the settlement. Read more ..
Israel and Palestine
|Sam Orez||November 14th 2012|
From the Israel Project
Responding to months of rocket barrages by Hamas-led terror groups targeting more than a million Israeli civilians, the IDF today launched a widespread campaign targeting military infrastructure and operatives in the Gaza Strip. The campaign has been identified by Israeli military officials as "Operation Pillar Of Defense," and began with a pin-point strike targeting Ahmed Jabari, the commander of Hamas's military wing and a terrorist linked to hundreds of terror operations over the span of decades.
Jabari was Hamas's "chief of staff," and was second-in-command of the Iranian proxy's al-Qassam Brigades. His history of terrorism stretches back to the early 1980s. In 1982 he was arrested and spent 13 years in jail for terror activities, and after his release he rose through the ranks of Hamas. He was in charge of Hamas's military operations during the Second Intifada, the widespread suicide bombing campaign targeting Israeli civilians in the early 2000s, and oversaw the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006.
Also reportedly killed by early Israeli attacks was Raed Al Attar, Jabari's second-in-command, raising speculation that Israel is deliberately seeking to degrade Hamas's military leadership. Hamas commanders routinely go underground during major hostilities with Israel, including historically utilizing medical facilities, and the targeting of Jabari and Al Attar was done at the beginning of what the IDF is identifying as a widespread campaign. Read more ..
|Jeremy Herb||November 13th 2012|
The top U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Gen. John Allen is under investigation for â€œpotentially inappropriateâ€ communications with the woman who sparked the inquiry that led to former CIA Director David Petraeusâ€™s resignation, a senior defense official said Tuesday.
The FBI provided the Pentagon with 20,000-to-30,000 pages of potentially inappropriate communications between Allen and Jill Kelley, the woman who went to the FBI this summer after receiving threatening emails, a senior defense official said. The FBI investigation into those harassing emails ultimately uncovered the affair between Petraeus and his biographer Paula Broadwell.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a statement early Tuesday that the FBI had referred the matter to the Pentagon, and Panetta has ordered a Defense Department Inspector General investigation. Read more ..
Isarel and Gaza
|Saul Roth||November 12th 2012|
Wolrd Jewish Daily
As a series of Hamas war crimes send hundreds of rockets into civilian areas of southern Israel, the IDF and the civilian government are scrambling to come up with an effective response. Two trenchant analyses of possible responses were published on Sunday, outlining the government's options and their likely decision. Ron Ben-Yishai, writing in YNet, says that Hamas wants to continue its racist attacks on Israeli civilians "without dragging Israel into an extensive military campaign." They have assumed that "the current Israeli government will not want to launch a major military operation before the elections," which are scheduled for January.
Israel could confound this strategy by attacking in force, but this would invite serious diplomatic consequences due to the presence of the Hamas-supporting Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt. To balance all these interests will not be "an easy task." Read more ..
Media on Edge
|Martin Barillas||November 11th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
Chris Patten, a British diplomat who negotiated Hong Kongâ€™s transition to Chinese control who is now the chairman of the BBC governing trust, said on November 11 that unless the state-controlled media dinosaur makes significant changes it could be doomed to extinction. "The basis for the BBC's position in this country is the trust that people have in it," Patten said. "If the BBC loses that, it's over."Patten said that public confidence in the BBC must be restored in order to compete with private media conglomerates such as Rupert Murdochâ€™s media behemoth. "If you're saying, 'Does the BBC need a thorough structural radical overhaul?', then absolutely it does, and that is what we will have to do," said Patten, who was once a senior member of Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party.
Pattenâ€™s warning came after the resignation of BBC Director General George Entwhistle on November 10, who had but two months in the job. Entwhistle threw in the towel and took the blame for the airing false child sex abuse allegations against Alistair McAlpine, a former politician. Entwistle said the report, broadcast on November 2, reflected â€œunacceptable journalistic standardsâ€ and should not have been broadcast. Read more ..
America on Edge
|Carlo MuÃ±oz||November 9th 2012|
CIA Director David Petraeus has resigned because of an extramarital affair. Petraeus announced the decision in a letter to President Obama released Friday after telling the president the news on Thursday.
â€œYesterday afternoon, I went to the White House and asked the president to be allowed, for personal reasons, to resign from my position as D/CIA,â€ he wrote.
â€œAfter being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the president graciously accepted my resignation,â€ he wrote. Petraeus's wife, Holly, works at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau set up by the Wall Street reform bill. The shocking news could end a sparkling Washington career for Petraeus, who has been mentioned as a presidential candidate. Affairs can end any political career, but are particularly unacceptable for the nationâ€™s top spy given national security implications. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|John Zimmer||November 9th 2012|
Dispatches from Mideast media and diplomatic sources indicate the Syrian crisis has escalated to a new level of carnage and human misery. The Daily Star of Lebanon reports: "Thousands of Syrians fled their country on Friday in one of the biggest refugee exoduses of the 20 month war after rebels seized a border town. Syria's fractious opposition was meeting in Qatar, under increasing pressure from the United States and Qatar to unite and form a credible body capable of ruling the country effectively if President Bashar al-Assad falls. The United Nations said 11,000 refugees had fled in 24 hours, most to Turkey. The exodus is testing the patience of Ankara, the most militarily capable of Syria's neighbours and a strong opponent of Assad. Ankara has long said a full-blown refugee emergency would demand robust intervention."
One town alone yielded thousands of residents pouring out of the Arab and Kurd town, in the northeastern oil-producing province of Hasaka, 600 km (375 miles) from Damascus.
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan hit out at world powers on the U.N. Security Council over their inaction. "It is very strange. There are currently atrocities being committed in Syria and these atrocities are being directed by a state leader," he said. "How far will this go? When will the permanent members of the Security Council take responsibility?" Read more ..
The Two Koreas
|Steve Herman||November 8th 2012|
South Korea holds a hotly-contested election December 19 to choose a successor to President Lee Myung-bak. He is limited to a single five-year term under South Korea's constitution. Park Geun-hye, the front-runner from the governing party, spoke to correspondents in Seoul Thursday for the first time during her current run. Saying the situation on the Korean peninsula is in an unprecedented state of flux, Park is portraying herself as the best candidate to lead during this critical time. Addressing correspondents in Seoul, the Saenuri (New Frontier) Party presidential candidate noted tensions in Northeast Asia are on the rise, unlike in any previous period.
â€œIf it helps in moving forward South-North relations, I am willing to meet with the new North Korean leader," Park said. "But, importantly, I will not seek a meeting just for the sake of having a meeting. Rather, such a summit must involve an honest dialogue on issues of mutual concern.â€ Read more ..
The Vote Aftermath
|George Friedman||November 7th 2012|
The United States held elections last night, and nothing changed. Barack Obama remains president. The Democrats remain in control of the Senate with a non-filibuster-proof majority. The Republicans remain in control of the House of Representatives. The national political dynamic has resulted in an extended immobilization of the government. With the House -- a body where party discipline is the norm -- under Republican control, passing legislation will be difficult and require compromise. Since the Senate is in Democratic hands, the probability of it overriding any unilateral administrative actions is small. Nevertheless, Obama does not have enough congressional support for dramatic new initiatives, and getting appointments through the Senate that Republicans oppose will be difficult. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Norman Ornstein||November 6th 2012|
Read more ..
What if Hurricane Sandy had taken place one week later? What would happen if the elections were disrupted seriously in a number of states, to a point where polling places could not open and people could not travel to the polls?
The answer is, there is no answer.
There is no federal law or precedent for postponing a federal election, or having the outcomes in critical states based only on early voting or voting in portions of the states. The law does give some leeway to states to choose electors if that cannot be accomplished on Election Day â€” but just imagine letting a state legislature unilaterally determine the outcome of a presidential election.
When the New York primary elections slated for Sept. 11, 2001, were postponed, that was a decision affecting local, not federal, elections, and it was a decision made by executive order.
Imagine if we had Election Day under the immediate cloud of a massive hurricane and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) decided to use his executive power to shut down voting in Democratic-dominated Philadelphia but allowed voting go ahead in Republican-heavy western Pennsylvania. Or imagine Corbett canceling the vote in the state and letting the Republican legislature choose electors, when the stateâ€™s voters would likely have gone for the Democratic candidate. Or imagine if it were left to President Barack Obama to postpone the presidential contest in which his fate was at stake. Or imagine if the Supreme Court were called in to review whether an action of this sort by the president was legitimate.
America After Sandy
|Greg Flakus||November 6th 2012|
One of the places hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy last week was the New York City borough of Staten Island, where hundreds of homes were devastated when sea water flowed into low-lying neighborhoods near the shoreline. But help is flowing in from near and far. Along Staten Island's oceanfront, for several blocks in from the shoreline there are piles of trash mounting in front of homes and businesses devastated by flood waters. Read more ..
Workers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as FEMA, are providing displaced people with temporary shelter and explaining procedures for filing claims. State and local officials are also providing assistance. Government help is arriving, but many victims are being aided by neighbors, friends, and family.
The Iran Threat
|Zachary Lichaa||November 5th 2012|
Just weeks after the New York Times reported that the United States and Iran had agreed to one-on-one nuclear talks, and the Obama Administrationsâ€™ subsequent denial, Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot reported today that â€œsenior officials in Jerusalem know of secret negotiations taking place between the sides for several months,â€ and that the talks were initiated by, and are headed by, senior adviser to President Barack Obama, Valerie Jarrett, who was born in Iran.
â€œAccording to senior sources in Israel,â€ writes the paper, â€œthe attorney from Chicago serves as the American presidentâ€™s personal envoy for contacts with representatives of the spiritual leader Khamenei.â€ Whilst striving to minimize the communication, the White House did subsequently acknowledge that talks were talking place through a secret channel, stressing however that no meetings were arranged between the sides. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Cameron Joseph ||November 5th 2012|
President Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney will spend their final day before the election stumping in battleground states crucial to each campaignâ€™s electoral hopes. Obama will focus on shoring up his Midwestern firewall of Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin, while Romney will swing through Florida, Virginia and Ohio before finishing his day in New Hampshire. The two will wrap up weeks of exhaustive barnstorming in what is a razorâ€™s edge election, with polls Sunday showing the candidates in a dead heat nationally and within striking distance of each other in multiple swing-states.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed Obama with a one-point edge at 48-47, while an ABC News/Washington Post poll also put the president up one at 49-48. Conservative-leaning Rasmussen showed Obama and Romney tied, with 49 each. Romneyâ€™s stops in Florida and Virginia on Monday come just weeks after his campaign confidently predicted the states were sure locks for him. But polls in both states now show tight races in contests that are must-wins for the GOP nominee â€” but alone arenâ€™t enough for him to win the Electoral College. Read more ..
America After Sandy
|Bernard Shusman||November 4th 2012|
The New York Marathon was called off late Friday by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But there are severe fuel shortages and cold temperatures hampering recovery from Superstorm Sandy that hit the northeastern United States last week.
Two-and-one-half-million homes lack electricity, and people are running out of gasoline to run their cars and home generators. Lines at many gas stations are as long as two kilometers.
Marijane Funess of Pelham, New York says lack of gas is a problem. â€œNow, though, the worry is gas. And it seems so... it is such a primitive thing to be worried about l know, because we take it for granted that there will always be gas,â€ said Funess. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says gasoline is on its way. And, the New York City subway system, the largest in the world, is 80 percent operational. Read more ..
The Edge of the Universe
|Kim Luke||November 4th 2012|
The most-distant, super-luminous supernovae found to date have been observed by an international team, including Raymond Carlberg of the University of Toronto's Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics. The stellar explosions would have occurred at a time when the universe was much younger and probably soon after the Big Bang.
"The objects are both unusually bright and unusually slow to fade. These are properties that are consistent with what is known as pair-instability supernova, a rare mechanism for explosion which is expected to happen for high-mass stars with almost no metal content. That is, the very first stars to form," said Carlberg.
The two supernovae, identified as SN2213 and SN1000+2016, were discovered in image data obtained via the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Legacy Survey. In recent years, various surveys have enabled astronomers to open new windows on the universe, including the discovery over the past decade of super-luminous supernovae that are tens to hundreds of times more luminous than regular supernovae. "The Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Legacy Survey stands out as the first really deep survey of the sky, covering large volumes of the universe," said Carlberg, a Canadian leader of the Survey. Read more ..
America After Sandy
|Greg Flakus||November 4th 2012|
Hurricane Sandy slammed the coast of New Jersey four days ago, damaging an area popular with residents of nearby urban centers like New York and Philadelphia as well as with people from the Garden State. But the effort to clean up and recover in Atlantic City, New Jersey is already well underway.
Contractors are clearing sand and debris from this street near the beach in the shoreline community of Ocean City, New Jersey. Some houses right up against the beach have had sand driven through the lower floors by giant waves, while others have only suffered minor flooding.
It was sand, formed into high dunes, that saved many New Jersey homes from the devastation seen elsewhere along the coast. But the dunes also took a beating from Hurricane Sandy, so restoring them is one more challenge facing this community. Thousands of people who left the area during the storm have returned in recent days, enduring long traffic jams. Among those who rode out the storm here is Sha-Ree Lloyd, an avid beach runner. "It wasn't as bad as everybody thought it would be, and I am grateful for that, but it could have been a lot worse," said Lloyd. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Walid Phares||November 3rd 2012|
When Senator Barack Obama ran for office in 2008, most Americans of Arabic and Middle Eastern origin supported him. Mobilized as were many Americans for â€œchangeâ€ on the one hand, these communities were also submitted to an impressive campaign by Islamist-leaning organizations and supporters of Arab regimes, on the other hand, all opposed to the incumbentâ€™s foreign policy then. They used President Bushâ€™s endorsement of Arizona Senate Republican John McCain to frame Obamaâ€™s opponent as anti-Arab and border Islamophobe. To them, Obama was squaring off with a candidate who supported the so-called â€œBush warsâ€ in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, many young people of Iranian and Arab descent viewed Barack Obama as a breaker of US political taboos. â€œIf an African-American can become a Presidentâ€ they thought, â€œso can we.â€ The sky was the limit. McCain, however, received the support of most Lebanese-Americans who had watched their mother country fall into the hands of Hezbollah that same year. Lebanon notwithstanding, most in the global Arab and Middle Eastern community supported Obama. Four years later, the political landscape has changed dramatically among Arab and Mideast groups. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Alexander Bolton ||November 3rd 2012|
The Obama administration is relying heavily on outside contractors to implement a core component of healthcare reform as it races to set up a federal health insurance marketplace before 2014. The fast-approaching deadline gives the administration little time to scrutinize private-sector partners for conflicts of interest.
The purchase of one of these contractors, Quality Software Services, Inc. (QSSI), by UnitedHealth Group, a major healthcare conglomerate, has sparked concerns about a potentially uneven playing field.
QSSI, a Maryland-based contractor, in January won a large contract to build a federal data services hub to help run the complex federal health insurance exchange. It will be working with several other contractors, including CGI Federal, Inc., to create the technological architecture for the exchange.
The quiet nature of the transaction, which was not disclosed to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), has fueled suspicion among industry insiders that UnitedHealth Group may be gaining an advantage for its subsidiary, UnitedHealthcare. UnitedHealth Groupâ€™s acquisition has caught the attention of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee. He has expressed alarm over what he calls a lack of transparency in setting up a national insurance marketplace covering more than 30 states. He asked Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in an Oct. 19 letter for a full account of contractors hired to set up the national exchange and a list of administration officials who signed off on those awards. Read more ..
The Edge of the Universe
|Martin Bertelsen||November 2nd 2012|
National History Museum of Denmark
THE SOLAR SYSTEM Some 4.567 billion years ago, our solar systemâ€™s planets spawned from an expansive disc of gas and dust rotating around the sun. While similar processes are witnessed in younger solar systems throughout the Milky Way, the formative stages of our own solar system were believed to have taken twice as long to occur. Now, new research lead by the Centre for Star and Planet Formation at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, suggests otherwise. Indeed, our solar system is not quite as special as once believed.
Using improved methods of analysis of uranium and lead isotopes, the current study of primitive meteorites has enabled researchers to date the formation of two very different types of materials, so-called calcium-aluminum-rich inclusions (or CAIâ€™s for short) and chondrules, found within the same meteorite. By doing so, the chronology and therefore overall understanding of our solar systemâ€™s development has been altered. The study has just been published in the renowned scientific journal, Science. Read more ..
Obama and Benghazi
|Julian Pecquet||November 2nd 2012|
The chairman of the House oversight panel sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a scathing letter on Thursday accusing the administration of hiding information pointing to Libyan authorities' possible involvement in the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
The letter comes after Foreign Policy reported earlier in the day that reporters in Benghazi had found evidence that a Benghazi police officer appeared to have photographed the inside of the mission on the morning of the attack. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died when Islamist militants attacked the mission that night. â€œThese documents paint a disturbing picture indicating that elements of the Libyan government might have been complicit in the September 11, 2012 attack on the compound and the murder of four Americans,â€ wrote Issa and the chairman of his committee's national security subpanel, Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). â€œIt also reiterates the fact that the U.S. government may have had evidence indicating that the attack was not a spontaneous event but rather a preplanned terrorist attack that included prior surveillance of the compound as a target. Read more ..
Jewry on Edge
|Saul Roth ||November 2nd 2012|
World Jewish Daily
Antisemitism has been on the rise in Europe since the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000, but for the Jewish community in Greece, it has now reached the point where what was once unthinkable is now reality: A neo-Nazi political party has won real political power.
The Golden Dawn, which preaches that Greeks are racially superior to others; foments violence against minorities, immigrants, and homosexuals; and openly denies the Holocaust won 18 seats in parliament in the last elections, and is now poised to become the third-largest party in the country. This is a stunning and terrifyingly meteoric rise for what was just a few years ago a fringe movement universally despised by the Greek political establishment. Like the Nazi party, Golden Dawn has exploited economic and political instability in order to achieve political power, and one of its most potent weapons is antisemitism. Read more ..
The Cyber Edge
|Jennifer Martinez||November 1st 2012|
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Wednesday warned that some of the largest U.S. financial institutions "are actively under attack" from cyber hackers. While Napolitano sounded the alarm about the attacks at a cybersecurity event hosted by The Washington Post, she declined to provide any details about them.
"Right now, financial institutions are actively under attack. We know that. I'm not giving you any classified information," she said. "I will say this has involved some of our nation's largest institutions. We've also had our stock exchanges attacked over the last [few] years, so we know ... there are vulnerabilities. We're working with them on that."
When asked by Post editor Mary Jordan about whether hackers are stealing information or money from banks, Napolitano answered "yes" and then quickly added, "I really don't want to go into that per se."
"All I want to say is that there are active matters going on with financial institutions," she said.
The public websites of Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and others were hit by a series of denial of service attacks this fall, which made their sites inaccessible to customers. A denial of service attack inundates a Web server with large numbers of page requests until the site fails to load. It does not let the hackers siphon sensitive information from its victim.
After Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the East Coast, Napolitano said people should look than no further than the damage caused by the massive storm to understand the need to boost the nation's cybersecurity protections. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Justin Crepp||October 31st 2012|
University of Notre Dame
Justin Crepp, assistant professor of physics at the University of Notre Dame, provided the high-contrast imaging observations that confirmed the first extrasolar planet discovered in a quadruple star system. He is a coauthor on a paper about the discovery, "Planet Hunters: A Transiting Circumbinary Planet in a Quadruple Star System," recently posted to the open-access arXiv.org, and submitted for publication to the Astrophysical Journal.
Crepp's images revealed that the system involved two sets of binary stars. The planet was first noticed by volunteer citizen scientists studying publicly available Kepler data as part of the Planet Hunters citizen science project. Crepp says human observers sometimes are more likely than computer algorithms to recognize planets orbiting binary stars because the complex systems do not produce periodic fluctuations like planets orbiting a single star. Read more ..
America After Sandy
|Margaret Besheer||October 31st 2012|
President Barack Obama promised help for storm victims on the East Coast of the United States assistance ahead of a visit to New Jersey on Wednesday. New Jersey beach communities were among the hardest hit by super storm Sandy - which killed at least 43 people - as she came ashore Monday night. New York City was also dealing with continued power outages and mass transit stoppages, but is slowly trying to restart business in the country's financial capital.
Wednesday morning the New York Stock Exchange is due to reopen. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the trading floor did not sustain any damage and is fully operational.
The city is also working to get its mass transit system back on track. Some 8.5 million people use public transport daily. As of Tuesday evening, limited bus service was beginning in the five boroughs, but subway service remained halted, because flooded tunnels still need to be pumped of millions of gallons of water. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|Matthew Levitt||October 31st 2012|
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An Iranian-American used car salesman pleaded guilty this month to conspiring with Iranian agents to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States. Mansour Arbabsiar's guilty plea would appear to be the end of this story, but in truth it raises more questions than it answers.
The facts were never really in dispute. U.S. officials learned of the plot early on and built an airtight case. The assassin Arbabsiar tried to hire was in fact a DEA informant. Once arrested, Arbabsiar confessed. At the direction of law enforcement, he then called his cousin and Quds Force handler, Gholam Shakuri. With agents listening, Shakuri insisted Arbabsiar go ahead with the plot. "Just do it quickly. It's late."
But why was the Quds Force, which had earned a reputation for operational prowess even among its enemies, so eager to move forward with an obviously flawed operation? Arbabsiar appears to have been a weak character who "wants to be important," as a government-retained psychiatrist determined. He was drawn into the plot by his cousin, a general in the Quds Force, the arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps responsible for external operations. So the real question is: What was the Quds Force thinking?
America After Sandy
|Bernard Banks||October 30th 2012|
from VOA and Agencies
Emergency officials along the U.S. east coast are assessing damage from the massive storm named Sandy, which is now blamed for at least 28 U.S. deaths. President Barack Obama has declared "major disasters" in the northeastern states of New York and New Jersey, where the storm has flooded low-lying areas, damaged structures and caused widespread power outages. Tuesday's declarations free up federal disaster funds to help with disaster relief efforts. During a Tuesday conference at the White House, the president also pledged to deliver additional resources to hard-hit areas. The storm moved ashore late Monday south of New York with hurricane-strength winds. It weakened as it moved inland. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Amie Parnes and Justin Sink||October 30th 2012|
Hurricane Sandy has left more than 7.5 million people without power on the East Coast and thrown both presidential candidates off their schedule from a week from Election Day. New York and New Jersey bore the brunt of the powerful storm, which knocked out power and could leave New York Cityâ€™s subway system stalled for a week.
The storm is a challenge for President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney, who were forced off the campaign trail at a critical moment in their tightening race. Sandy presented particular problems for Romney, who has had momentum in the fight for the White House. While Obama traveled to Washington to direct federal relief operations, Romney announced he and running mate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would participate in â€œstorm reliefâ€ events. Read more ..
America on Edge
|Jennifer Martinez||October 29th 2012|
Wireless carriers say they're taking precautionary steps to prevent and quickly respond to potential phone and Internet service outages from Hurricane Sandy.
U.S. officials have warned about the potential damage Sandy could wreak across the northeast. Even after the derecho thunderstorm this summer disabled some mobile and landline phone services in the Mid-Atlantic, the carriers say they're prepared for Sandy. Verizon has national and regional command centers tracking the storm's progress and effect on its operations, the company said in a statement. The wireless company is bringing in additional equipment, such as fiber-optic and copper cable and portable cell sites, to areas that are expected to be hit hard by the storm so cell service stays up and running.
Verizon said it's also coordinating with state and local agencies, as well as the public safety community, on its response efforts. â€œWe live and work in the towns and cities in the stormâ€™s path, and we are dedicated to keeping our friends, families and neighbors connected in times like these," Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead said in a company statement. "We prepare for situations like this year-round, and pride ourselves in our ability to be there for our customers when they count on us most.â€ Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Alexandra Jaffe||October 29th 2012|
Tight polls in a number of battleground states and a monumental storm that could hamper get-out-the-vote efforts have shuffled an already unpredictable presidential race, with eight days remaining before Election Day. Hurricane Sandy is poised to be this yearâ€™s October surprise, forcing both President Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney to rearrange their campaign schedules, cancelling events in important states, with little time left before the election.
Those lost opportunities for the presidential contenders to rally supporters and sway undecided voters in key states could be crucial. Both candidates scrapped events in battleground Virginia over the weekend to allow local authorities to focus on storm preparations. The Obama campaign also canceled the president's visit to Orlando, Fla. on Monday morning so that he could fly back to Washington to oversee the response to the hurricane.
Obama's campaign previously had cancelled his events in Ohio and Virginia on Monday and his trip to Colorado on Tuesday as well as the first lady's trip to New Hampshire that day. Read more ..
|Shannon K. O'Neil||October 28th 2012|
Council on Foreign Relations
There is much talk of Chinaâ€™s escalating economic influence in Latin America. But itâ€™s worth looking at what has (and hasnâ€™t) actually happened in the three main ways that China interacts with the regionâ€™s economies: trade, foreign direct investment (FDI), and loans (from state-owned banks).
Trade is the most visible and important connection. Over the last several years, goods flowing back and forth have increased some 30 percent per year, bringing todayâ€™s total to roughly US$250 billion. This trade leans in Chinaâ€™s favor, with a deficit (nearly all with Mexico) of nearly US$100 billion. While sizable numbers, this is still just a quarter of Latin Americaâ€™s trade with the United States. And it appears to be leveling off, suggesting that China wonâ€™t overtake the United States as the regionâ€™s primary trading partner anytime soon.
This trade is also quite concentrated. Exports to China come primarily from Brazil, Chile, Peru, and Argentina, and are mainly raw materials (copper, iron ore, lead, tin, soya, and sugar). Of the goods China sends east nearly half go to Mexicoâ€”a mix of consumer goods and capital goods (equipment for production). Trade with China has expanded dramatically over the past decade. But it is worth remembering that it both started from a low base and is unevenly distributedâ€”affecting a few countries significantly and others very little. Read more ..
Myanmar on Edge
|Bernard Banks||October 28th 2012|
from VOA and Agencies
The top U.N. official in Burma says 22,000 people have been displaced in a week of sectarian fighting between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Burma's Rakhine state. The U.N. chief in Rangoon, Ashok Nigam, said Sunday that getting aid to those who fled their homes will be a challenge, because some fled on boats and others have sought refuge on isolated hilltops. The Burmese government said Saturday that the fighting has left more than 2,800 houses burned down and 67 people dead in the past week.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement Saturday that it fears the death toll is far higher, based on the accounts of witnesses fleeing the fighting, which it says has disproportionately targeted Muslims. On Thursday, the U.N. released a statement calling on Burmese authorities to bring lawlessness and vigilante attacks under control and to put a stop to threats and extremist rhetoric. Read more ..
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