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 ..
|Jim Morris||August 22nd 2012|
Center for Public Integrity
|L.V. and Tina Hall in 2006 (photo courtesy of L.V. Hall)|
Around midnight on June 1, 2007, Tina Hall was finishing her shift in a place she loathed: the mixing room at the Toyo Automotive Parts factory in Franklin, Ky., where flammable chemicals were kept in open containers. A spark ignited vapors given off by toluene, a solvent Hall was transferring from a 55-gallon drum to a hard plastic bin. A flash fire engulfed the 39-year-old team leader, causing third-degree burns over 90 percent of her body. She died 11 days later.
After investigating the accident, the Kentucky Labor Cabinet’s Department of Workplace Standards cited Toyo for 16 “serious” violations and proposed a $105,500 fine in November 2007.
“You’re disappointed because you think, that’s all they got fined?” Hall’s sister, Amy Harville, of Moulton, Ala., said in a telephone interview. “But then I thought, at least they got 16 violations. I was thinking they’d stick, as severely as she was burned.” Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Martin Barillas||August 22nd 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
The Russian newspaper Kommersant reported on August 22 that Russia believes that Syria will not resort to using chemical weapons in the current civil war. Citing an unidentified source in Russia's foreign ministry, the Kommersant report appeared to seek reassuring Europe and the United States that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will not use chemical weapons against rebels after President Barack Obama threatened "enormous consequences" if Damascus even moved them menacingly.
According to the newspaper account, there is an ongoing "confidential dialogue" between Syria and Russia that has conviced the latter that "the Syrian authorities do not intend to use these weapons and are capable of keeping them under control themselves." Russia's foreign ministry refused to comment on the report, which cited the official source as saying Russia considered it "entirely probable" the United States would take military action if a chemical attack were imminent. Read more ..
Ethiopia on Edge
|Martin Barillas||August 21st 2012|
From VOA and wire services
|Deceased Ethiopian leader Meles Zenawi|
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has died at the age of 57 after months of speculation about his health. State-run television announced his death on August 21, saying he died from a sudden infection late on August 20 while at a hospital abroad. Meles had been suffering from an undisclosed illness and had not been seen in public for more than a month.
The government-operated media source announced that Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn will serve as acting prime minister.
Prime Minister Meles ruled Ethiopia for more than 20 years, after the rebel alliance he led, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, seized power in 1991. Meles earned praise abroad for improvements in the economy, education and health care. Nonetheless, human rights groups sharply criticized him for various abuses, including restrictions on independent media.
Under Meles, Ethiopia fought a border war with Eritrea and sent troops to Somalia to fight Islamist militants. Ethiopia and Eritrea fought from 1998 to 2000 in a conflict that killed more than 70,000 people. Tension between the two countries remained high. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Dan Robinson||August 20th 2012|
President Barack Obama on Monday again called for Syria's President Bashar al-Assad to step down, saying that any movement or use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government would change America's stance toward Syria.
The president's comments came during a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room, prompted in part by complaints by the media that he has avoided holding a regular news conference.
Asked about Syria, Obama said that so far President Assad has not gotten the message that he has lost legitimacy and needs to step down. "The international community has sent a clear message that rather than drag his country into a civil war, he should move in the direction of a political transition," said President Obama. "But at this point, the likelihood of a soft landing [an easy Assad departure] seems pretty distant." Read more ..
The Edge of Film
|Dan Levin||August 20th 2012|
Authorities in Los Angeles say movie director Tony Scott, director of such Hollywood blockbusters as Top Gun, Days of Thunder and Beverly Hills Cop II, has died after jumping from a Los Angeles County Bridge. An officer with the Los Angeles County Coroner's office said the 68-year-old Scott's death Sunday is being investigated as a suicide. Police say several people called emergency services shortly after midday Sunday to report that someone had jumped from the Vincent Thomas Bridge in Los Angeles. A dive team with Los Angeles Port Police pulled the body from the murky water several hours later, Nordquist said. Scott's body was taken to a dock in Wilmington and turned over to the county coroner's office.
The British-born Scott was producer and director Ridley Scott's brother. Ridley Scott's Prometheus was a summer blockbuster. Scott frequently worked with Denzel Washington, most recently on the runaway train drama Unstoppable.
Scott and Washington collaborated on four other films: Deja Vu, The Taking of Pelham 123, and the visually stunning and evocative Man on Fire. Other Scott films include True Romance and Crimson Tide. Scott was married to actress Donna Scott. They have twin sons.
Motion picture aficionado Edwin Black commented: "Cult-like followings have surrounded some of Scott's films. Among them, Man on Fire has sparked recent fascination. The enduring soundtrack music ends with a haunting collage of ethnic and visceral themes." You can hear the penetrating track here.
The Edge of Climate Change
|Jessa Netting ||August 20th 2012|
Melting over the Greenland ice sheet shattered the seasonal record on August 8 – a full four weeks before the close of the melting season, reports Marco Tedesco, assistant professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences at The City College of New York.
The melting season in Greenland usually lasts from June – when the first puddles of meltwater appear – to early-September, when temperatures cool. This year, cumulative melting in the first week in August had already exceeded the record of 2010, taken over a full season, according to Professor Tedesco's ongoing analysis. "With more yet to come in August, this year's overall melting will fall way above the old records. That's a goliath year – the greatest melt since satellite recording began in 1979," said Professor Tedesco. This spells a change for the face of southern Greenland, he added, with the ice sheet thinning at its edges and lakes on top of glaciers proliferating. Read more ..
Egypt and Israel
|Michael Widlanski||August 19th 2012|
Egypt has set up anti-aircraft missiles in the Sinai Desert, without notifying Israel and in violation of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, according to Israeli reports, even as Egypt’s new leader has seized control of Egypt’s vast bureaucracy.
Israeli officials are not speaking publicly about the missile transfer that is only the latest and perhaps the most serious of actions by Egypt’s new Islamic regime that may signal the imminent failure of the Egyptian-Israeli treaty:
Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, swiftly and unexpectedly replaced the pro-US chiefs of staff of Egypt’s armed forces, and he also installed pro-Brotherhood journalists as editors of Egypt’s top newspapers;
Morsi, who asserts an extreme form of Sunni Islam, is set to go to Iran this month to parley with Iran’s leaders who express a militant version of Shiite Islam, both of whom have doctrines calling for Israel’s destruction.
“We are talking about missiles: anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles that the Egyptian Army has introduced into Sinai, according to reports, in violation of the peace treaty between the two states,” declared Eran Singer, Arab Affairs commentator of The Voice of Israel Radio. Read more ..
|Abubakar Siddique||August 19th 2012|
Militants' storming of a Pakistani Air Force base where some nuclear warheads are reportedly stored has once again sounded the alarms about the security of the country's atomic weapons. Minhas air base, located just 40 kilometers west of Islamabad in the eastern Punjab Province, is considered a key military facility. It houses warplanes and some of Pakistan's most advanced weapons systems -- possibly including nuclear warheads. So the August 16 attack that left nine suspected Islamic radicals and one Pakistani soldier dead once again raised eyebrows over Islamabad's claims that its nuclear installations are under foolproof security. Much of the concern is predictable, but misdirected, according to experts.
The location of Pakistan's nuclear weapons are a highly guarded secret, but despite news reports to the contrary, most observers doubt that warheads are stored at Minhas. Retired General Talat Masood says the real concern is the increasing frequency of high-profile attacks on military facilities. "When defense installations are being targeted so easily -- and we have seen a series of events taking place, starting from the [military's General Headquarters] GHQ to the Mehran [Naval] base, and now this Air Force base -- it shows that these places are vulnerable and Pakistan will have to do a lot more," Masood said. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Jonathan D. Halevi||August 18th 2012|
After the Rafah attack, it was noticeable that the Egyptian government refrained from condemning the terrorists’ plan to carry out a mass-casualty attack in Israel. Indeed, senior Muslim Brotherhood figures pointed an accusing finger at Israel, claiming it was behind the attack in an attempt to create a rift between Egypt and Hamas.
Apart from the anti-Israel propaganda line, the investigation of the attack by Egyptian intelligence found tracks leading in the direction of Gaza. Security sources in Egypt told the Egyptian newspaper Al-Youm al-Saba that the Palestinian organization Army of Islam was responsible for the attack. They said that the day before it occurred, there was a meeting in one of the homes of the Army of Islam’s leader in Rafah; about 35 activists participated, and it was decided to carry out the attack. Read more ..
South Africa on Edge
|Anita Powell||August 18th 2012|
South African President Jacob Zuma has ordered an official inquiry into the police killing of 34 striking miners, the deadliest security operation in the country since the end of apartheid. Zuma said he was "shocked and dismayed" at what he called "senseless violence." The president cut short a visit Friday to a regional summit in Mozambique and traveled to the mine in Marikana, northwest of Johannesburg. Zuma stopped short of saying who was responsible for the killings and urged unions to work with the government to address the situation. South African police say 34 people were killed in a shootout between police and angry miners at a troubled platinum mine. But police, unions and the presidency have stopped short of saying who is at fault.
South Africa’s police commissioner on Friday visited the scene of a deadly shootout between police and strikers at the Lonmin platinum mine in the nation’s northwest. A confrontration Thursday between striking miners and police turned into a gunbattle.
Police spokesman Capt. Dennis Adraio said Friday that in addition to the deaths, 78 people were wounded. Police have arrested 259 people. Adraio said police did everything they could to avert a shootout - and have video to prove it. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Jeffrey White||August 17th 2012|
Syria's internal war has increased dramatically in intensity and scope over the past three months. Reported clashes between regime forces and the armed opposition doubled in May, then again in June, and yet again in July. Last month was the most violent of the war, with some 552 clashes reported and an estimated 1,100 regime personnel killed or wounded. Although the armed rebels also took casualties (estimated at 624 in July), their strength in men and combat formations appeared to grow. Meanwhile, the dramatic July 18 assassination of four key officials in Damascus, though not a fatal blow, exposed the regime's vulnerability at its innermost core. Similarly, its loss of territory in the northwest along with certain border crossings exposed its weakness on the periphery. These developments demonstrate that the regime's strategy for dealing with the rebellion is failing, despite its decision to employ very high levels of violence, go ever deeper into its arsenal, and rely more heavily on irregular forces. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Julien Happich||August 16th 2012|
As mobile speech recognition technologies continue to improve in their efficacy, the vendors of the speech technology platforms are making concerted efforts to enable the long tail of mobile application developers with speech recognition capabilities.
ABI Research notes the efforts of companies such as Nuance, AT&T, and iSpeech for exposing their APIs and developer programs as the foremost strategy in reaching the long tail of mobile applications. “Reaching a varied group of developers working on different OS and hardware platforms makes cloud based solutions the optimum approach to enabling the masses,” says mobile devices, content and applications senior analyst Michael Morgan. “It is the approach of using network based solutions that will drive the rapid increase in cloud based revenues.”
Historically, mobile speech recognition was delivered to consumers through relationships between device OEMs and platform vendors. The other route to the consumer came through virtual assistant applications that were often developed by the platform vendors. Read more ..
|Terrence Sterling||August 15th 2012|
|DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano|
Read more ..
Suzanne Barr, chief of staff for Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been openly accused of cultivating a "frat-house"-style work environment. Barr "voluntarily placed herself on leave," the Department of Homeland Security has announced. The scandal has been referred for internal investigative review.
According to a Fox News report, which has led the reporting on the subject, "Two more ICE employees came forward this week to complain about "lewd" conduct inside the agency, submitting sworn affidavits that depict graphic comments made by two top officials working under DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. The affidavits were given as part of a discrimination and retaliation suit filed earlier this year by James T. Hayes Jr., the head of the New York office for Immigration and Customs Enforcement." ICE Public Affairs Director Brian Hale confirmed in a statement, "ICE has referred these allegations to the DHS Office of Inspector General and the ICE Office of Professional Responsibility for review. Ms. Barr has voluntarily placed herself on leave pending the outcome of this review."
A pair of affidavits similarly described incidents in October 2009. In an impromtu discussion of Halloween plans, Barr alledged turned to a senior ICE employee declaring: "You a sexy" (expletive deleted). The affavadit reportedly continues, "She then looked at his crotch and asked, 'How long is it anyway?'" according to the affidavit. "Several employees laughed nervously," the affidavit said. The names of the workers making the claims have been redacted. Fox News reports: "The other account recalled a trip to Colombia in late 2009, attended by ICE Director John Morton, Barr and Ray Parmer, who is ICE special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations in New Orleans. The account said Parmer and Barr were "drinking heavily" at the house of the deputy chief of mission for the U.S. Embassy there. It said Parmer took the BlackBerry of another employee, Peter Vincent, and sent "lewd messages" to Barr. The affidavit went on to say: "During this party, Suzanne Barr approached me and offered to" perform oral sex."
|Saul Roth||August 14th 2012|
World Jewish Daily
Israel believes its best interests will be served by an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. That is the logic apparent in a remarkable piece at Ha'aretz, an interview with a top Israeli official who is most likely Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Ari Shavit, one of Israel's top columnists, conducts the far-ranging interview, in which the official calmly describes Israel's rationale for attacking Iran in the near future. Shavit says: “A nuclear Iran is one of the gravest things that could happen to Israel,” the decision maker begins. “If Iran goes nuclear, everything here will be different. Everything. We will shift into a different state of existence. If Iran goes nuclear, down the road Israel will face a threat of existential magnitude. The first aspect of the issue doesn’t only concern us but the international community and the regional alignment. I’m talking about the spread of nuclearization. Up to now the world has found a way to live with two recalcitrant countries: Pakistan and North Korea. If Iran goes nuclear, the world will just lose it. It won’t have any control over the nuclear demon.
"We know this as a virtual certainty because we’ve heard it straight from the horses’ mouths. If Iran detonates a nuclear device, Saudi Arabia will be nuclear. Within a few years Turkey will go nuclear. The new Egypt will acquire nuclear capability within less than a decade. People ask, what’s our rush? We’re not rushing at all. We waited for years. If Iran’s nuclearization is not halted now, before long we’ll find ourselves in a Middle East that has all gone nuclear.” Read more ..
|Saul Roth||August 12th 2012|
World Jewish Daily
Israel may be only a short time away from one of the most fateful moments in its history. Friday evening, Israeli television reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak have all but finalized their decision to attack Iran's nuclear program.
The reasons outlined for their decision make for chilling reading. Most importantly, the two men believe that the Obama administration does not and will never consider an Iranian nuke a threat serious enough to justify military action.
"The US," reports the Times of Israel: "has not provided Israel with details of an attack plan. President Obama has not promised to attack Iran if all else fails. Conditions cited by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for an American attack do not calm Israeli concerns. And Obama has a record of seeking UN and Arab League approval before action. Obama does not want to intervene militarily before the presidential elections in November, and it is doubtful that he would act afterwards, runs the Israeli assessment, the TV report said. Obama may believe that the US can live with a nuclear Iran, but Israel cannot." Read more ..
The Edge of Defense
|Carlo Muñoz||August 12th 2012|
Unauthorized leaks of sensitive information regarding American-led counterterrorism operations have "absolutely" damaged U.S. national security, according to a top administration official. "There have been some devastating leaks," chief White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said Wednesday. "It's unconscionable what has gone out. And the president has made his displeasure abundantly clear to his senior team," he said during a speech at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations.
In recent months, a spate of information leaks detailing highly-classified U.S. counterterrorism operations have made their way into U.S. and international media reports. The leaked intelligence included information about a U.S. cyberattack on Iran, a terrorist “kill list” and a double agent operating in Yemen. While refusing to comment on any specific operation that may have been compromised as a result of the leaks, Brennan pointed out their disclosure has done irreparable damage to U.S. efforts to curb terror groups like al Qaeda and others. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|David Schenker||August 11th 2012|
Earlier this month, 48 Iranian Shiite "pilgrims" were abducted in Damascus. The Free Syrian Army claims they were members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, who have been dispatched to Syria to protect one of Tehran's vital interests, Bashar al-Assad's regime. It's not the first time that anti-regime rebels have captured who they claim are Iranian-trained Assad allies. Since May, another armed opposition group called the "Syrian Revolutionaries-Aleppo Province" has been holding eleven Lebanese Shiites who say they are simply making their way back home after a trip to Iran for religious purposes. Initially, at least, these rebels alleged that five of these self-described pilgrims were in reality Hezbollah officials.
In recent weeks, the revolutionaries have tempered their assertions about the Hezbollah association of all the Lebanese captives, but the Syrian opposition is still holding the organization responsible for Assad regime atrocities. In a statement provided to Al Jazeera, the kidnappers indicated that negotiations for the hostages would be predicated on Hezbollah general secretary Hassan Nasrallah apologizing for "assist[ing] in the suppression of the uprising." Nasrallah refused to express contrition for supporting Assad, but Hezbollah's own hostage crisis has just added to his recent woes. Read more ..
|Avi Jorish||August 10th 2012|
Following a two-year investigation, federal prosecutors have submitted a mindboggling 30,000 pages of documentation and 2,000 recorded phone calls that paint an extensive picture of how one of Mexico's most powerful drug-trafficking organizations raises, moves and eventually washes its illicit funds.
The indictment, issued by the Northern District of Texas, charges fifteen people with laundering millions of dollars in drug profits on a sleepy Oklahoma ranch on behalf of the Los Zetas cartel, the most powerful syndicate in Mexico today. In a trial scheduled for October in Austin, Texas, the IRS and other federal authorities will present findings based on thousands of financial records and recorded conversations and dozens of witness interviews that provide information on how the Zetas conduct their business.
The case became public in June when federal agents carried out a sweep of seven locations in several states and seized 200 boxes of evidence. Eight suspects have been arrested, and an additional seven remain at large. It is widely believed that some of the defendants will take plea bargains after providing federal authorities with intelligence. The most notable figure incarcerated is Jose Trevino Morales, the brother of two high-ranking Zetas, Miguel Angel Trevino Morales and Oscar Omar Trevino Morales. Read more ..
Egypt's Blockade of Gaza
|Terrence Sterling||August 10th 2012|
From VOA, AFP and Agencies
Egyptian police have clashed with armed men in the Sinai peninsula, a day after military airstrikes killed 20 suspected militants in the area. State television said the fighting resumed Thursday outside a police station in El-Arish, about 50 kilometers from the border with Israel and the Gaza Strip. The Gaza Strip is the mainly Palestinian territory of the former now-dissolved Ottoman colony. Israel withdrew from the disputed region in 2005.
There were no immediate reports of casualties. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi fired his intelligence chief and the governor of North Sinai on Wednesday in a major reorganization. The military said it carried out its operation Wednesday to restore peace and regain control after an increase in lawlessness following the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak. Militants launched a bloody attack on the army Sunday, killing 16 Egyptian border guards.
AFP reported that Israel said on Thursday it gave Egypt the go-ahead to deploy helicopters in Sinai, easing the restrictions on military presence in the peninsula set by a 1979 peace treaty between the neighbouring countries. At the same time, Egypt slightly eased its land-sea and air blockade of Gaza for a 48-hour period, one way, to allow Palestinians to exit the country and transit back to Gaza. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Julien Happich||August 10th 2012|
By the end of 2012, almost 20% of annual smartphone shipments will include facial recognition capabilities, according to new data from ABI Research. In five years' time, shipments of smartphones and tablets with the technology will increase to 665 million annually. Currently, only Google’s Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean mobile operating systems support the technology in significant volumes. The Samsung Galaxy SIII is one of the most notable smartphones to feature this technology. Over the next two to three years, many more operating systems and mobile OEMs will incorporate the technology.
Facial recognition has been on the technology radar for some time. It was developed in the 1960s by three scientists: Woody Bledsoe, Helen Chan Wolf, and Charles Bisson. Historically, the major challenge for the technology in mobile devices has been incorporating an accurate enough sensor (camera) and a powerful enough processor to undertake the complex algorithms while limiting power consumption. Thanks to major technology advancements, this has changed, notes ABI Research. “Facial recognition technology has improved drastically over the last 10 years and accuracy is almost always above 90%,” says ABI Research senior analyst Josh Flood. “That said, lighting conditions and facial expressions can sometimes cause problems with the recognition. However, the improvements in camera resolution and processing power utilized by mobile devices has helped greatly.” Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
World Jewish Daily
|Sheldon Adelson |
Billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson has had enough, and he let the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) know that Wednesday in a $60 million libel suit against the political organization, reports JTA. In an article on its Web site, the NJDC alleged that Adelson approved of prostitution in his China-based casinos. They further urged presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney to stop taking Adelson’s multi-million dollar donations. Filed in Manhattan federal court, Adelson’s suit alleges that NJDC, its president David Harris, and its chairman Marc Stanley, “crossed the threshold from constitutionally protected speech to defamation of a public figure.”
In response, the NJDC released a statement, noting, “referencing mainstream press accounts examining the conduct of a public figure and his business ventures - as we did - is wholly appropriate. “Indeed, it is both an American and a Jewish obligation to ask hard questions of powerful individuals like Mr. Adelson, just as it is incumbent upon us to praise his wonderful philanthropic endeavors,” the statement continued. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Dany Shoham||August 9th 2012|
Syria’s vast arsenal of operational-level chemical and biological weapons, based on lethal and incapacitating agents, is diverse by any standard. Syria also possesses many sophisticated launch platforms and dispersion equipment, including missiles, rockets, aircraft, artillery shells, cluster warheads, and unitary ammunition – most of which are of high quality. Syria has Scud missiles capable of carrying chemical warheads that can strike anywhere in Israel, even when launched from deep behind Syria’s front lines.
As the regime of Bashar Assad comes to an end, the fate of its non-conventional arsenal is causing growing alarm.
The complexity of the issue has far-reaching ramifications. The transfer – even the possibility of the transfer – of chemical weapons to Hizballah or other terrorist organizations could force Israel to take military steps against Syria, even if this risks escalation to a wider conflict. Such a development is definitely worrisome, especially since it raises the likelihood of the Syrians actually employing chemical or biological weapons. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Richard Hook||August 8th 2012|
European Southern Obervatory
|Spiral galaxy NCG 1187 in Eridanus (credit: ESO)|
The galaxy NGC 1187, discovered is seen almost face-on, which gives us a good view of its spiral structure. About half a dozen prominent spiral arms can be seen, each containing large amounts of gas and dust. The bluish features in the spiral arms indicate the presence of young stars born out of clouds of interstellar gas. Looking towards the central regions, we see the bulge of the galaxy glowing yellow. This part of the galaxy is mostly made up of old stars, gas, and dust. In the case of NGC 1187, rather than a round bulge, there is a subtle central bar structure. Such bar features are thought to act as mechanisms that channel gas from the spiral arms to the centre, enhancing star formation there.
Around the outside of the galaxy many much fainter and more distant galaxies can also be seen. Some even shine right through the disc of NGC 1187 itself. Their mostly reddish hues contrast with the pale blue star clusters of the much closer object. Read more ..
The Obama Edge
Records from the Homeland Security Department reveal that the scandal-ridden General Services Administration, with the authorization of President Barack Obama's White House, directed law enforcement officers to “stand down” and not arrest “Occupy Portland” protesters who were violating the law, according to a report by Fox News Channel's Steve Doocy Wednesday morning.
The records, obtained by the Inside-the-Beltway watchdog group Judicial Watch as a result of a November 11, 2011, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, include internal Homeland Security Department correspondence, Doocy reported.
Officials at Judicial Watch reported that one November 6, 2011, e-mail exchange between DHS/National Protection and Programs Directorate Chief of Staff Caitlin Durkovich and GSA Public Buildings Service Commissioner Robert Peck (who has since been terminated from employment) is specifically related to Occupy Portland protests taking place on federal property in Portland: Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Tina McDowell||August 8th 2012|
|Artist’s conception a white dwarf and companion|
(credit: Casey Reed/NASA/CXC)
Type Ia supernovae are violent stellar explosions. Observations of their brightness are used to determine distances in the universe and have shown scientists that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. But there is still too little known about the specifics of the processes by which these supernovae form. New research led by Carnegie’s Stella Kafka identifies a star, prior to explosion, which will possibly become a type Ia supernova. The work will be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
The widely accepted theory is that type Ia supernovae are thermonuclear explosions of a white dwarf star that’s part of a binary system—two stars that are physically close and orbit around a common center of mass. This white dwarf has mass gradually donated to it by its companion. When the white dwarf mass eventually reaches 1.4 times the sun, it explodes to produce a type Ia supernova. The crucial questions are: What is the nature of the donor star and how does this white dwarf increase its mass. Also, how would that process affect the properties of the explosion? Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Edwin Black||August 7th 2012|
An angry Egypt has tightened its five-year land, sea, and air blockade of Gaza following the spectacular weekend attack on an Egyptian border installation by Islamic terrorists traced to Gaza.
After a recent encouraging meeting in Cairo between newly installed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and Hamas strong man Ismail Haniya, reports suggested that Cairo would keep the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Sinai open for a full 12 hours a day, until 9 pm nightly, The 4-hour increase was expected to allow as many as 1,500 Gazans to cross daily. The Egyptian crossing and checkpoint was Gaza’s transit point to the rest of the world. But the Egyptian government publicly rescinded all such assurances and slammed shut all access points, including tunnels. Moreover, Morsi’s government declared the ramped up blockade strictures were “indefinite.” Read more ..
World Economy on Edge
|George Friedman||August 7th 2012|
Louis M. Bacon is the head of Moore Capital Management, one of the largest and most influential hedge funds in the world. Last week, he announced that he was returning one quarter of his largest fund, about $2 billion, to his investors. The reason he gave to The New York Times was that he had found it difficult to invest given the impossibility of predicting the European situation. He was quoted as saying, "The political involvement is so extreme -- we have not seen this since the postwar era. What they are doing is trying to thwart natural market outcomes. It is amazing how important the decision-making of one person, Angela Merkel, has become to world markets."
The purpose of hedge funds is to make money, and what Bacon essentially said was that it is impossible to make money when there is heavy political involvement, because political involvement introduces unpredictability in the market. Therefore, prudent investment becomes impossible. Hedge funds have become critical to global capital allocation because their actions influence other important actors, and their unwillingness to invest and trade has significant implications for capital availability. If others follow Moore Capital's lead, as they will, there will be greater difficulty in raising the capital needed to address the problem of Europe. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Penny Dixon||August 6th 2012|
|Curiosity at work (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)|
NASA, the U.S. space agency, says that its Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) has made a successful landing on the red planet.
There will be several weeks of testing before NASA turns Curiosity loose to roam about the Martian surface, looking for signs that the planet once might have had conditions suitable to support life. But first the scientists and engineers at the Joint Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles did a little celebrating.
NASA described Curiosity’s plunge through the Martian atmosphere as “seven minutes of terror,” but the landing, which engineers said was the most complex ever attempted, proceeded flawlessly. Moments after touchdown the craft sent a picture back to Earth, showing one of its six wheels on the planet’s surface. The first pictures from the craft were received back on Earth almost immediately after confirmation of the landing Monday at about 5:30a.m. UTC. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Michael Segall||August 5th 2012|
Amid the intensifying crisis in Syria, which in recent weeks has seen massacres of the civilian population in various parts of the country, Iranian military, propaganda, and economic assistance keeps flowing in, and its aim is to help President Bashar al-Assad survive. Iran aided Assad in withstanding the waves of protest as soon as they erupted, and it is now backing him and advising him on how to overcome an existential crisis that put to the test the two countries’ strategic alliance.
Iran, which has invested great military, economic, and political resources in Syria – a main pillar of the anti-Israel “resistance camp” and the gateway to aiding Hizbullah – now views Syria, amid the rapid changes in the Middle East, as a key battleground to confront the West. How this conflict unfolds will determine the new landscape that is being shaped in the region.
Syria as a Battlefield
The present state of affairs is highly reminiscent of what transpired after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in February 2005. Iran backed Hizbullah while Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, and Western states, supported the Lebanese freedom forces. The eventual outcome was Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon at the height of President Bush’s democratization campaign after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi elections of January 2005. Iran then viewed Lebanon as the first line of confrontation with the West, which was trying, unsuccessfully, to impose a rapid democratization there, too, and disarm Hizbullah. At present, Hizbullah weapons are serving as part of Assad’s apparatus of violent repression – under Iran’s command. Read more ..
The Obama Edge
In the wake of what he termed "two more flagrant leaks of sensitive national security information," Rep. Peter T. King (R-NY), Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, urged the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Director Robert Mueller to expand his investigations into the continuing leaks allegedly emanating from the Obama Administration.
In a letter sent to Mueller on Thursday, King wrote: “These reported disclosures represent additional disturbing and irresponsible leaks of potentially classified information from this Administration. Obviously, the ongoing investigations have failed to deter further leaks. The Administration's leaks must stop before they further endanger the lives of men and women sent into harm's way on our Nation's behalf.”
According to the veteran congressman, on Aug. 1, 2012, a Reuters news service report stated that U.S. sources revealed President Barack Obama “signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government.” Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Justin Sink||August 3rd 2012|
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued an apology to casino mogul and prominent Republican donor Sheldon Adelson on Thursday, after the billionaire threatened to sue the organization over comments insinuating he profited from prostitution at his Chinese resorts.
"In press statements issued on June 29 and July 2, 2012, the DCCC made unsubstantiated allegations that attacked Sheldon Adelson, a supporter of the opposing party," the DCCC said in an e-mail released Thursday. "This was wrong. The statements were untrue and unfair and we retract them. The DCCC extends its sincere apology to Mr. Adelson and his family for any injury we have caused." The June 29 statement released by the DCCC cited an Associated Press story to assert that Adelson "personally approved of prostitution and knew of other improper activity at his company's properties," while the July 2 statement from DCCC spokesman Jesse Ferguson blasted House Republicans from accepting donations from Adelson. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Scott Stewart||August 2nd 2012|
The unraveling of the al Assad regime in Syria will produce many geopolitical consequences. One potential consequence has garnered a great deal of media attention in recent days: the possibility of the regime losing control of its chemical weapons stockpile. In an interview aired July 30 on CNN, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said it would be a "disaster to have those chemical weapons fall into the wrong hands -- hands of Hezbollah or other extremists in that area." When he mentioned other extremists, Panetta was referring to local and transnational jihadists, such as members of the group Jabhat al-Nusra, which has been fighting with other opposition forces against the Syrian regime. He was also referring to the many Palestinian militant groups such as Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, which have long had a presence in Syria and until recently have been supported by the al Assad regime.
The fear is that the jihadists will obtain chemical weapons to use in terrorist attacks against the West. Israel is also concerned that Palestinian groups could use them in terrorist attacks inside Israel or that Hezbollah could use such weapons against the Israelis in a conventional military battle. Read more ..
|Edwin Black||August 1st 2012|
When most people travel to Israel, they think of that country’s two major compelling cities—Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Jerusalem is the spiritual epicenter of Israel’s historic legacy. Tel Aviv offers the national mad dash to cosmopolitan nirvana. But, there is a third major city that most tourists often don’t visit. It is, of course, Haifa--Israel’s gleaming maritime city along its northern coast.
Haifa is a paragon of cross-ethnic cohesion where Arab and Jewish citizens have lived together as neighbors. Its great bay vistas and muscular architecture, buttressed by a diverse fabric of cultural and artistic enterprise, are exceeded only by its maddening traffic congestion. This is a city revolving ever faster around a multidimensional axis of technology, shipping and boating, Israel’s mushrooming business sector, and the de facto gateway to the country, Galilee and the northern realm. Here you find the wondrous Baha’i Temple with its hanging gardens and iridescent sheen, a spate of museums devoted to Israel’s historic intersection with the sea, an urban-functional mountain cable car, the pantheon of Israel’s technological magic including the Technion University, and of course the front door to Israel’s Golan and Galilee. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Suzanne Presto||August 1st 2012|
|Mars Rover |
The U.S. space agency is preparing for its newest Mars rover, Curiosity, to touch down on the Red Planet on August 6. The rover’s entry and descent will be nerve-wracking for NASA engineers, compounded by a 14-minute delay as the rover’s signals travel to Earth from Mars. If successful, Curiosity will be the sixth NASA spacecraft to land on the Red Planet.
Curiosity is the centerpiece of the $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft, launched in November aboard an Atlas V rocket. It’s traveled some 560 million kilometers toward its destination.
Curiosity is a “Mars scientist’s dream machine,” said Deputy Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada ahead of its launch. “This rover is not only the most technically capable rover ever sent to another planet, but it’s actually the most capable scientific explorer we’ve ever sent out,” he said. Read more ..
Healthcare on Edge
|Hilary Heuler||July 31st 2012|
Uganda is battling yet another outbreak of the Ebola virus, with 14 deaths reported so far and a number of people in quarantine. Ugandan newspapers are filled once again with images of hazmat suits and hospital beds, as the country is rocked by a new outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.
Addressing journalists on Monday, Minister of Health Christine Ondoa said there was no cause for alarm. She said the ministry, working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, had managed to contain the virus. But in an address to the nation the same day, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni urged people to avoid all physical contact, including shaking hands.
Although most of the cases come from western Uganda, some have also been reported in the capital, Kampala. The city’s main hospital has set up an isolation ward for those suspected of being infected, while a number of people in western Uganda have been placed in quarantine.
This is not the first time Ebola has gripped the country. Thirty-seven people died in the last outbreak in 2007, and an epidemic in 2000 killed nearly 200. Symptoms of the hemorrhagic fever include diarrhea and vomiting.
Denis Lwamafa of the Ministry of Health says Uganda has improved its ability to detect and diagnose Ebola. “Uganda now is probably at the forefront, in terms of handling viral hemorrhagic fevers, on the continent of Africa," says Lwamafa. "So this is now an indigenous local capacity of which we must take note. We’ve been able to elevate the level of proficiency in diagnosing even these highly infectious organisms here in Uganda, and I would like to report that the diagnosis of the Ebola virus was done here.” He adds that although the disease does occur in neighboring countries as well, it is not always detected. Read more ..
The Race for Smart Grid
|Anjana Pasricha||July 31st 2012|
India suffered a second day of a massive power breakdown that affected nearly half the country on Tuesday. India experienced its worst-ever power crisis, leaving more than 650 million people without electricity. India's transport system screeched to a halt for a second day, as trains stopped and traffic signals stalled -- stranding passengers and drivers.
Three electricity grids failed Tuesday, with power cut from as far north as Kashmir to the eastern state of Assam. The lights went out in major cities like the capital New Delhi and the eastern city of Kolkata shortly after 1 p.m. local time. It was the second day that India suffered a blackout - but this time it hit a far larger part of the country. On Monday, an outage affected seven northern states, leaving more than 300 million people without electricity for nearly ten hours. On Tuesday, more than a dozen states were hit. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Barry Rubin||July 31st 2012|
Speaking to an often-cheering group of about 400 people in Jerusalem, Governor Mitt Romney gave a speech less notable for what he said that for the fact that the audience believed he was sincere in saying it. At a beautiful outdoor setting with the Old City in the background, Romney declared his strong support for Israel, using phrases often heard from American presidents. He also proclaimed his view that Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital. The difference, of course, is that those listening were less inclined to think that when President Barack Obama said similar things to AIPAC meetings he was describing his own views and policies.
Clearly, Romney was restrained by the American principle that partisan politics stops at the water’s edge, that no politician should criticize a president or U.S. government while abroad. Thus, Obama’s name—or even his specific policies—was never explicitly mentioned. What Romney did do, however, was to scatter among the assertions of U.S. support for Israel’s security and a strong belief in a U.S.-Israel alliance some subtle references that many viewers and much of the mass media are likely to miss. Here are the key ones, which give some hints about Romney’s future campaign and possibly his presidency: Read more ..
The Safety Edge
Sheri Sangji is on fire.
The 23-year-old research associate, a Pomona College graduate raised in Pakistan, has accidentally pulled the plunger out of a syringe while conducting an experiment in the Molecular Sciences Building at UCLA. The syringe contains a solution that combusts upon contact with air. The solution spills onto Sangji’s hands and torso, and she is instantly aflame. She isn’t wearing a lab coat; no one told her she has to. Her synthetic rubber gloves provide no protection as the fire burns through her hands to the tendons. She inhales toxic, superheated gases given off by her burning polyester sweater, a process that accelerates as she runs and screams.
It’s December 29, 2008, mid-afternoon. The UCLA campus is mostly quiet for the holidays, but chemistry professor Patrick Harran’s team is working. Harran is in his office, one floor up from Room 4221, where at his direction Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji has been trying to produce a chemical that holds promise as an appetite suppressant. She is unsupervised. Read more ..
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