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 Group’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 system’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 CAI’s for short) and chondrules, found within the same meteorite. By doing so, the chronology and therefore overall understanding of our solar system’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. “These 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,” wrote Issa and the chairman of his committee's national security subpanel, Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). “It 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|
Read more ..
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 City’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 “storm relief” 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. “We live and work in the towns and cities in the storm’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.” 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 year’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 China’s escalating economic influence in Latin America. But it’s worth looking at what has (and hasn’t) actually happened in the three main ways that China interacts with the region’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 today’s total to roughly US$250 billion. This trade leans in China’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 America’s trade with the United States. And it appears to be leveling off, suggesting that China won’t overtake the United States as the region’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 Mexico—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 distributed—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 ..
|Blake Clayton||October 27th 2012|
Council on Foreign Relations
The International Energy Agency has reconfirmed what Washington has long suspected: Iraq has the potential to reshape the global energy landscape in the years ahead, thanks to its huge untapped oil reserves. But whether Baghdad can capitalize on this opportunity is far from clear. The stakes are high—both for the global economy and the country’s future.
Despite decades of turmoil and bloodshed, Iraq is already one of the world’s major oil suppliers. The roughly 3 million barrels a day it pumps make it the world’s third-largest exporter. Consider that Iran, hobbled by Western sanctions, is only producing half as much oil today as Iraq, whose wells are putting out more than twice what they did in 2003, the year of the Iraq War.
Yet by the 2030s, according to the IEA, Iraq may double its current output, leapfrogging energy-powerhouse Russia as the second-largest oil exporter in the world. This is hardly a far-fetched forecast. The country’s proven oil reserves are the fifth largest in the world, its proven gas reserves the thirteenth largest. Its actual rank is likely far higher. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Mario Trujillo||October 27th 2012|
President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are among the politicians whose past criticisms of the Electoral College system would draw new scrutiny if there is a split verdict in this year’s presidential election. National and swing state polls suggest it’s possible Republican Mitt Romney could win this year’s popular vote while Obama triumphs in the Electoral College — potentially marking the second time the rare split in outcomes has occurred in the last 12 years.
The last time it happened was in 2000, when Democratic candidate Al Gore won the popular vote but lost where it mattered. George W. Bush won Florida’s disputed recount, propelling him to 271 electoral votes — one more than he needed to take the White House. The outcome triggered an intense — if shortlived — debate over reforming the Electoral College. Today, lawmakers in Washington are no closer to agreeing on whether to change the rules of how someone wins the presidency. Read more ..
The Arab Winter of Rage
|Jim Kouri||October 26th 2012|
On Friday, sources in Benghazi during the attack on the U.S. consulate said that Central Intelligence Agency operatives twice asked for permission to help Ambassador Chris Stevens and his staff, and twice were told to 'stand down' -- while a later request for military backup was denied, according to a Fox News Channel alert by Megyn Kelly.
But, during a U.S. Defense Department press conference on Wednesday, when reporters asked about the U.S. failure to respond to a terrorist attack on a U.S. Consulate in Libya, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta made short shrift of the confusing -- some say deliberately misleading -- White House statements over the last several weeks.
Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, were viciously attacked and murdered during an attack that occurred on Sept. 11, 2012, and began at 10 p.m., Libyan time, at the consulate, which attackers set afire, and spread to the nearby annex during the course of six or more hours. Read more ..
Israel's Looming Attack
|Zach Pontz||October 26th 2012|
According to Western diplomats Iran has nearly finished installing centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. The underground plant was disclosed by the country in 2009 only after Western spy agencies discovered it.
A report in Reuters states that “the diplomats said they had heard of indications that Iran had put in place the last 640 or so uranium centrifuges of a planned total of some 2,800 at the site, but had not started running them yet.” “I understand that they have installed all the centrifuges there,” one envoy told Reuters.
Fordow is especially worrisome to the West because Iran is refining uranium there to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, which Iran says it needs for a medical reactor. However, twenty percent purity is only a short technical step from weapons grade. The West fears that this refinement, for peaceful purposes according to Iran, is in fact a cover for developing nuclear weapons—or the capability of developing them quickly if it decides to. Read more ..
The Arab Winter of Rage
|Jim Kouri||October 25th 2012|
With the release on Wednesday of emails connected to the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, more and more Americans are learning about a radical Islamist group named Ansar Al-Sharia. What is not widely known, according to a knowledgeable source, is that the Egyptian-based Salifists, who won a considerable number of seats in the new Egyptian legislature, changed their name to Ansar Al-Sharia. The upheaval in the Arab world and the political changes in several Muslim nations have given extremists an opportunity to change the names of their terror organizations. That includes the Salafist movement, according to an Israeli National Police source on Monday night via telephone.
Until recently, the Salafi-Jihadi movement operated in Arab nations as an underground group. However, the rise of Islamist governments in some Arab countries has enabled it to come out into the open. As part of this movement's makeover, several Salafist groups have adopted the name "Ansar Al-Sharia" ("Supporters of the Sharia"), or other similar names. Such re-branding helps to unify the separate groups into a single movement dedicated to spreading the message and promoting the goals of the Salafi-jihadi philosophy. Read more ..
The Arab Winter of Rage
|Martin Barillas||October 24th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
The minister of information for Sudan’s Islamist government accused Israel of attacking an arms factory in the East African nation’s capital, Khartoum. According to Information Minister Ahmed Belal Osman, "Four military planes attacked the Yarmouk plant ... We believe that Israel is behind it," adding that "the planes had appeared to approach the site from the east." Various news sources, including Al Jazeera and Reuters have reported on the October 24 incident that has been attributed to Israel. Osman also told reporters, "Sudan reserves the right to strike back at Israel," for the deaths of two Sudanese citizens and the partial destruction of the arms factory.
"We are now certain that this flagrant attack was authorized by the same state of Israel. The main purpose is to frustrate our military capabilities and stop any development there and ultimately weaken our national sovereignty," Osman said. He said that his government will take up the issue with UN Security Council. According to a spokesman for Sudan’s military, the incident happened just past midnight. "Israel is a country of injustice that needs to be deterred," Vice President Ali Osman Taha, standing next to President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, told a mob of hundreds that gathered in Khartoum on October 24. "This attack only strengthens our resolve." Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Sam Baker||October 24th 2012|
House Republicans on Wednesday threatened to subpoena the Obama administration over public-relations contracts to promote President Obama's healthcare law.
It's the third healthcare-related subpoena threat in two weeks. This one came from Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee, who said they haven't received a response to their inquiries about public-relations contracts.
The Health and Human Services Department (HHS) has signed at least 2 PR contracts to promote the president's landmark Affordable Care Act. HHS signed a $20-million deal to raise awareness of new coverage for preventive services, and a separate $3-million contract is focused on the federally run insurance exchange, which will begin operating in 2014. Read more ..
The Edge of Climate Change
|Maria-José Viñas||October 24th 2012|
The steady and dramatic decline in the sea ice cover of the Arctic Ocean over the last three decades has become a focus of media and public attention. At the opposite end of the Earth, however, something more complex is happening.
A new NASA study shows that from 1978 to 2010 the total extent of sea ice surrounding Antarctica in the Southern Ocean grew by roughly 6,600 square miles every year, an area larger than the state of Connecticut. And previous research by the same authors indicates that this rate of increase has recently accelerated, up from an average rate of almost 4,300 square miles per year from 1978 to 2006.
"There's been an overall increase in the sea ice cover in the Antarctic, which is the opposite of what is happening in the Arctic,” said lead author Claire Parkinson, a climate scientist with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "However, this growth rate is not nearly as large as the decrease in the Arctic.” Read more ..
|Simon Henderson and Olli Heinonen||October 24th 2012|
Although both Washington and Tehran deny reports that they have agreed to bilateral nuclear negotiations, the rumors will prompt fresh debate about what concessions the United States can or should make.
International diplomacy concerning Iran's nuclear program centers on the regime's lack of compliance with agreements it has signed to ensure that peaceful nuclear work is not used as a cover for weapons development. Tehran denies that it has any nuclear military intentions, but it continues to obstruct International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) efforts to confirm this. The challenge for diplomacy is to break this logjam -- and quickly.
The main concern at the moment is Iran's uranium enrichment efforts, which are conducted using centrifuge technology acquired from Pakistan in the 1980s. The fear is that without resolution of uncertainties about Tehran's intentions, the regime will be able to amass enough high-enriched uranium to make at least one nuclear bomb within a matter of months. This is known as breakout. Unfortunately, much of the public debate about this potential scenario is hampered because Iran's current enrichment level -- which produces uranium with slightly less than 20 percent of the fissile isotope U-235 -- sounds a long way from the 90 percent needed for a bomb. This is not the case. Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu tried to explain why in the drawing he displayed during his September UN address, but largely failed. Read more ..
The New Tunisia
|Isobel Coleman||October 24th 2012|
Council on Foreign Relations
To be fair, the constitution drafting process is ongoing, with a draft of the constitution released in August. Nonetheless, the assembly is far from consensus on several profound issues related to governance and identity. These include the role of the judiciary, the structure of the government (a parliamentary versus a presidential system), the language that defines women’s rights, and protections of free speech and religion. Read more ..
The Way We Are
|Diane Swanbrow||October 23rd 2012|
Less than half of Generation X adults can identify our home in the universe, a spiral galaxy, according to a University of Michigan report. "Knowing your cosmic address is not a necessary job skill, but it is an important part of human knowledge about our universe and—to some extent—about ourselves," said Jon D. Miller, author of "The Generation X Report" and director of the Longitudinal Study of American Youth at the U-M Institute for Social Research.
The study, funded by the National Science Foundation since 1986, now includes responses from approximately 4,000 adults ages 37-40—the core of Generation X. The latest report examines the scientific literacy of Gen Xers about their location in the universe. Miller provided Generation X participants in the study with high-quality image of a spiral galaxy taken by the Hubble space telescope, and asked them to identify the image, first in an open-ended response and then by selecting from multiple choices.
Forty-three percent of the Gen Xers surveyed were able to provide a correct answer that indicated that they recognized the object as a galaxy similar to our own. Miller found that 53 percent of males correctly identified the image, compared with just 32 percent of females, and that the proportion who identified the image correctly rose steadily with education, from 21 percent who had less than a high school education to 63 percent of those with doctorates or professional degrees. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Julian Pecquet||October 23rd 2012|
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney opened Monday night's debate by calling for a measured U.S. policy in the Middle East. “We can't kill our way out of this mess,” Romney said. “We don't want another Iraq, we don't want another Afghanistan.”
Romney also ruled out military action in Syria — including no-fly zones — prompting President Obama to say the Republican candidate would do the same things he has. “And that's because we're doing exactly what we should be doing.”
The comments highlighted the relative similarities between Obama’s and Romney’s policies with those countries, while distinguishing Romney from the previous Republican administration of George W. Bush, who sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Meghashyam Mali||October 22nd 2012|
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on Sunday pushed back against criticism that his release of diplomatic cables had endangered the lives of Libyans, accusing the administration of “falsely politicizing the issue.”
In particular, Issa disputed claims from an administration official that a human-rights activist identified in the cables was in danger in Libya, claiming that a past visit to the U.S. by the activist had already been publicly documented.
“The Libyan-rights activist who was highlighted by the Obama administration in news accounts as having not been ‘publicly associated with the U.S.’ until the Oversight Committee released documents had actually been brought to the U.S. in December 2011 by the State Department and her trip is highlighted on the Internet,” said Issa in the statement, released late Sunday night.
“President Obama should be ashamed of yet another example where his administration has been caught trying to mislead the American people about what happened in Libya,” he continued. Read more ..
Lebanon on Edge
|Bernard Banks||October 22nd 2012|
Beirut exploded into violence on Sunday following a public funeral for the country's intelligence chief, whose murder has been widely blamed on Syria and its proxy militia Hezbollah.
Wissam al-Hassan was killed in a massive explosion on Friday that also killed eight others. He is believed to have been targeted because he helped finger Syria and Hezbollah as responsible for the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, who also opposed Syria and Hezbollah.
Current Prime Minister Najib Mikati heads a government dominated by Hezbollah, which many see as little more than a Syria-controlled puppet government. Following al-Hassan's funeral, thousands of protesters advanced on Mikati's offices, demanding the government resign and justice be done on al-Hassan's murderers. Read more ..
Russia on Edge
|Bernard Banks||October 21st 2012|
From RFE/RL and agencies
On the eve of Russia's presidential election, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has criticized nationalist attempts to stir up ethnic discord while and the same time called for tougher immigration laws. In a lengthy article published in the daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and reprinted on his official campaign website, Putin put forth a vision of a multiethnic and multiconfessional Russia and decried nationalists for promoting a vision of the country as a “national” and “mono-ethnic” state. He also dismissed a nationalist opposition slogan championed by anticorruption crusader Aleksei Navalny, saying that “Stop Feeding the Caucasus” is as senseless as calls for the Kremlin to stop subsidizing Siberia or the Moscow Region. "We have lived together for centuries. We fought together in the worst war. And we will live together in the future. And those who want or are trying to divide us, I can say just one thing -- keep waiting," Putin wrote. Read more ..
The Edge of Climate Change
|Nancy Ambrosiano||October 21st 2012|
Combine the tree-ring growth record with historic information, climate records and computer-model projections of future climate trends, and you get a grim picture for the future of trees in the southwestern United States. That’s the word from a team of scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the U.S. Geological Survey, University of Arizona, and several other partner organizations.
Described in a paper published in Nature Climate Change this week, “Temperature as a potent driver of regional forest drought stress and tree mortality,” the team concluded that in the warmer and drier Southwest of the near future, widespread tree mortality will cause forest and species distributions to change substantially. The researchers aligned about 13,000 tree core samples with known temperature and moisture data, further blending in known historic events such as documented megadroughts that drove the ancient Pueblo Indians out of longtime settlements such as Mesa Verde, Colo. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Julian Pecquet and Jordy Yager||October 20th 2012|
Republicans are hitting President Obama from all sides over his handling of the attack in Libya as he prepares to go head-to-head with Mitt Romney in Monday night’s foreign policy debate.
Bolstering the criticism of his Senate colleagues, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) took direct aim at the president in a sharply worded letter Friday demanding to know why the administration drew down the U.S. security presence in Libya amid a surge in violence.
“Americans … deserve a complete explanation about your administration's decision to accelerate a normalized presence in Libya at what now appears to be at the cost of endangering lives,” Issa wrote. “These critical foreign policy decisions are not made by low or mid-level career officials — they are typically made through a structured and well-reasoned process that includes the National Security Council at the White House.
“The ultimate responsibility rests with you as the President of the United States,” Issa wrote.
Meanwhile, Senate hawks John McCain (R-Ariz.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have flooded the TV airwaves to slam the administration's shifting account of the attack that killed four Americans at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Romney's foreign policy surrogate, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), is expected to carry the criticism forward during his three scheduled appearances on Sunday news shows.
And on Friday, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s seven Republicans — including Rubio — demanded to know who leaked information about possible retaliation for the Libya assault. Read more ..
Afghanistan on Edge
|Frud Bezhan and Shahpur Saber||October 20th 2012|
A disturbing spate of violent attacks against women has gripped western Afghanistan, where over a dozen women have been killed this year. In the latest incident, an 18-year-old identified only as Najibullah was arrested on October 13 in connection with the gruesome torture and beheading two days earlier of a woman in the western city of Herat, near the border with Iran.
Mahgul, a 25-year-old newlywed, was found dead outside her home by her family, who then carried her mutilated body to the local Department for Women's Affairs to raise awareness of her killing. Najibullah, who gave a confession in front of journalists and television cameras on October 15, said he was forced to carry out the act by his aunt, Mahgul's mother-in-law, Parigul. He said Parigul restrained Mahgul, while he took a sharp knife and beheaded her. Read more ..
|Susan Ferriss and Amy Isackson||October 19th 2012|
The Center for Public Integrity
Read more ..
In a nation built by immigrants, they thought they could pursue their American Dream — with loved ones at their side. Instead, they're living an American nightmare that's tearing families apart and forcing Americans into exile. Chris Xitco, a native of Los Angeles, never imagined that after marrying his wife Delia in 2002 and trying to legalize her, she'd end up barred by U.S. officials for life, with no pardon even possible for 10 years. She now lives south of Tijuana, Mexico, alone with the couple’s two small children. T.J. Barbour, a native of San Diego, has been struggling every day to care for a 10-year-old son, since his wife Maythe was deported and then barred from the United States in 2011 for what could be 20 years. In central North Carolina, Anita Mann Perez has been financially ruined trying to raise three small children since her husband Jorge was exiled for 10 years in 2007. Now she's moved to Mexico to join him.
The Edge of Terrorism
|Scott Stewart ||October 18th 2012|
|Al Qaeda's Abu Hamza|
The Obama administration's efforts to counter the threat posed by al Qaeda and the wider jihadist movement have been a contentious topic in the U.S. presidential race. Political rhetoric abounds on both sides; administration officials claim that al Qaeda has been seriously crippled, while some critics of the administration allege that the group is stronger than ever. As with most political rhetoric, both claims bear elements of truth, but the truth depends largely on how al Qaeda and jihadism are defined. Unfortunately, politicians and the media tend to define al Qaeda loosely and incorrectly.
The jihadist threat will persist regardless of who is elected president, so understanding the actors involved is critical. But a true understanding of those actors requires taxonomical acuity. It seems worthwhile, then, to revisit Stratfor's definitions of al Qaeda and the wider jihadist movement. Read more ..
America and Israel
|Lilach Shoval||October 17th 2012|
A large joint U.S.-Israel air defense training exercise will commence on Sunday and is expected to last four weeks. The drill is expected to simulate a ballistic missile attack on Israel.
Both countries will test a wide-range of operational air-defense systems, as well as those still in their planning stages, including the Israeli "Arrow 2" and "Arrow 3" anti-ballistic missile systems; the American "Thaad" (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system to shoot down short, medium, and intermediate ballistic missiles) system; Israel's "Patriot" surface-to-air missile array; Israel's "Magic Wand" system (designed to intercept medium- to long-range rockets and slower-flying cruise missiles), and even Israel's "Iron Dome" system (designed to intercept and destroy short-range rockets and artillery shells), which has already proven its effectiveness in the Gaza arena. In addition, next week the Israel Defense Forces Homefront Command, in conjunction with the Homefront Defense Ministry, will also hold a training exercise to simulate a large-scale earthquake with thousands of casualties. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Bernard Banks||October 16th 2012|
from VOA News and agencies.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is taking responsibility for a deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya last month, saying it is her job to be in charge of security for State Department employees working around the world. Clinton said in television interviews during a visit to Peru Monday that President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden would not know about specific decisions made by security personnel. She also said circumstances surrounding attacks like the one on September 11 that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans are not always clear at the time.
The attack, and the Obama administration's response, have become an issue in the presidential campaign. Republican candidate Mitt Romney has criticized Obama for not providing more security at the consulate in Benghazi. Clinton said Monday she did not want the attack to be part of a political "blame game." The Obama administration initially said the assault came after a protest against an anti-Islam film made in the United States, but now says it was a terrorist attack. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Saul Roth||October 15th 2012|
World Jewish Daily
The chief financial officer of the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah has defected to Israel, the Arab media reported on Saturday.
According to Now Lebanon and Al-Arabiya, Hussein Fahs "has crossed to Israel carrying with him $5 million in embezzled money from the group. Fahs is also head of Hezbollah’s operational communications network." According to Al-Arabiya, Fahs was arrested in September by Iranian intelligence, which suspected him of embezzlement and spying for Israel. While not explicitly stated, Fahs's arrest appears to be his primary motivation for defecting.
According to "Hezbollah officials," money was not the only thing Fahs took with him. He was also in possession of "classified documents and maps." One must also assume that, as CFO of Hezbollah, he would also have been privy to an enormous amount of information about the inner workings of the group. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Jim Erickson||October 15th 2012|
The most likely source of the water locked inside soils on the moon's surface is the constant stream of charged particles from the sun known as the solar wind, a University of Michigan researcher and his colleagues have concluded. Over the last five years, spacecraft observations and new lab measurements of Apollo lunar samples have overturned the long-held belief that the moon is bone-dry.
In 2009, NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing satellite, known as LCROSS, slammed into a permanently shadowed lunar crater and ejected a plume of material that was surprisingly rich in water ice. Water and related compounds have also been detected in the lunar regolith, the layer of fine powder and rock fragments that coats the lunar surface.
But the origin of lunar surface water has remained unclear. Is it mainly the result of impacts from water-bearing comets and other chunks of space debris, or could there be other sources? Theoretical models of lunar water stability dating to the late 1970s suggest that hydrogen ions (protons) from the solar wind can combine with oxygen on the moon's surface to form water and related compounds called hydroxyls, which consist of one atom of hydrogen and one of oxygen and are known as OH. Read more ..
China on Edge
|Steve Herman||October 14th 2012|
China's central bankers on Sunday allowed some public and direct insight into their thinking. A top official of the People's Bank of China delivered remarks to those who had been attending a joint meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Tokyo.
The deputy governor of the People's Bank of China, Yi Gang, says the priority for monetary authorities in Beijing is on stable prices and they want to pursue a sustainable path of economic development.
China's next stimulus package - focused on expanding the country's transportation infrastructure, will be an appropriate one, according to Yi. "When I say appropriate in terms of size that is large enough to stabilize the growth but not too large to cause some further negative impact or negative problem in the future." China's economy has slowed for the past six consecutive quarters. But it still has cash reserves estimated to be around 40 percent of its gross domestic product and with official foreign currency reserves around three-and-a-quarter trillion dollars. Read more ..
The Geologic Edge
|Glenn Harris||October 13th 2012|
University of Southampton
Scientists from the University of Southampton have identified a repeating trigger for the largest explosive volcanic eruptions on Earth.
The Las Cañadas volcanic caldera on Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, has generated at least eight major eruptions during the last 700,000 years. These catastrophic events have resulted in eruption columns of over 25km high and expelled widespread pyroclastic material over 130km. By comparison, even the smallest of these eruptions expelled over 25 times more material than the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland. By analysing crystal cumulate nodules (igneous rocks formed by the accumulation of crystals in magma) discovered in pyroclastic deposits of major eruptions, the scientists found that pre-eruptive mixing within the magma chamber – where older cooler magma mixed with younger hotter magma – appears to be the repeating trigger in large-scale eruptions. Read more ..
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