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Myanmar on Edge

UN Says 22,000 Displaced in Burma Fighting

October 28th 2012

Ethnic strife

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 ..

Oil Addcition

Iraqi Oil Could Reshape Global Energy

October 27th 2012

Saudi Oil

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

Looking Hard at The Electoral College

October 27th 2012

Vote Buttons

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

CIA Was Denied Military Backup in Benghazi

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

Western Diplomats: Iran has Finished Installing Centrifuges at Fordow Plant

October 26th 2012

Iran centrifuges

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

Benghazi Attack Organization Ansar Al-Sharia Controls Seats in Egypt's New Parliament

October 25th 2012

Libyan rioters at US consulate Sep 2012 #2

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

Sudan Vows Retribution for Alleged Attack by Israel

October 24th 2012

Israeli Jet Dive Bombing

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

GOP Threatens Subpoenas in Probe of Obama Healthcare Law PR Campaigns

October 24th 2012

Obama in front of AMA

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

Opposite Behaviors? Arctic Sea Ice Shrinks, Antarctic Grows

October 24th 2012

Glacier calving

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 ..

Iran's Nukes

Iran's Nuclear Timetable--How Long to a Bomb

October 24th 2012

Ahmadinejad at Iranian nuclear plant

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

Tunisia One Year After the Vote

October 24th 2012

Tunisians Vote

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

Does Generation X Know Our Place in the Galaxy?

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

Romney Chides Obama: "We Can't Kill our Way out of this Mess' in the Middle East

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

Issa Defends Release of Libya Diplomatic Cables

October 22nd 2012

Darrell Issa

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

Beirut Burning As Sectarian Clashes Break Out

October 22nd 2012

Lebanon agitatioin

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

Putin Gets Tough on Nationalists and Immigrants

October 21st 2012

Putin Gesticulates

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

Will Trees Disappear from the Southwest?

October 21st 2012

mexico drought

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

Obama Hit from All Sides on Benghazi Attack

October 20th 2012

Obama Bowed Head

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

Afghan Woman's Beheading Latest In Alarming Trend

October 20th 2012

Afgan Women in Burka

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 ..

Broken Borders

American Dream Becomes Nightmare as Immigrant Spouses are Barred for Years

October 19th 2012

Immigration Protest

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

Defining Al Qaeda and its Persistent Goals

October 18th 2012

al Qaeda Fighters
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

Massive Joint U.S./Israel Exercise to test Iron Dome and Missile Defenses

October 17th 2012

Israeli Jets Parked

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

Clinton Takes Responsibility for Diplomatic Security

October 16th 2012

Libyan rioters at US consulate Sep 2012 #2

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

Hezbollah's Top Moneyman Defects To Israel

October 15th 2012

Hezbollah Nazi Salute

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

Solar Winds May be Source of Water Locked in Lunar Soils

October 15th 2012

Click to select Image

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

China Central Bank Says Priority is Keeping Prices Stable

October 14th 2012

Bank of China

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

Identifying the Trigger for Earth's Largest Volcanic Eruptions

October 13th 2012


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 ..

The Digital Edge

Initiative to allow UN to Control, Tax, and Regulate the Internet Gains Momentum

October 13th 2012

Russian computer user

U.S. Ambassador Terry Kramer warned on Friday that a proposal to give a United Nations agency more control over the Internet is gaining momentum in other countries. Proposals to expand the U.N.'s International Telecommunications Union's (ITU) authority over the Internet could come up at a treaty conference in Dubai in December. European telecommunications companies are pushing a plan that would create new rules that would allow them to charge more to carry international traffic.

The proposal by the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association could force websites like Google, Facebook and Netflix to pay fees to network operators around the world.

Kramer said the idea of an international Internet fee is "gaining more interest in the African states and also in the Arab states." He said the United States delegation to the conference will have to redouble its efforts to convince other countries that the proposal would only stifle innovation and economic growth. "We support efforts to grow broadband markets—not just divvying a static pie of revenue between operators and governments," Kramer said in a speech in Washington hosted by the Telecommunications Industry Association. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Top Taliban Bomb Maker Captured in Afghanistan

October 12th 2012

Bomb explosion

A top Taliban bomb maker who specialized as an improvised explosive device (IED) producer in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province was captured by Afghan and coalition security forces on Wednesday night, according to U.S. military officials.

The arrested Taliban facilitator is accused of managing the production of an enormous number of IEDs, as well as acting as an organizer for the distribution of the IEDs and other weapons to support the terrorists and insurgents operating in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The captured Taliban bomb maker is suspected of being directly involved in organizing and executing IED placements that target Afghan and coalition forces. The American-led security force detained several suspected terrorists and also seized 2 pounds of illegal narcotics, according to officials. In other counterterrorism operations around Afghanistan on Wednesday, a security force in Paktika province arrested a Haqqani network member believed to be responsible for January and May suicide bombings in Paktika and to have direct ties to a recent suicide bombing in Khost province. The security force also detained two suspected insurgents and seized their cache of weapons. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

UN Paints Bleak Rights Picture In Iran

October 12th 2012

Iranian Women

The UN human rights expert on Iran has painted a bleak picture of rights abuses in the Islamic Republic. Ahmed Shaheed said human rights activists are beaten with batons, raped, deprived sleep and undergo mock hangings among other things. 

Shaheed said Iran has executed at least 223 people over the first half of 2012, most for drug-related offensives. Shaheed also condemned Iran's reliance on stoning as a form of punishment. 
Shaheed said Iran is now cracking down on Internet users, with 19 bloggers and Internet commentators now detained, with four of them sentenced to death in January after being accused of "enmity against God" and "corruption on earth." 

"Sakhi Righi" was sentenced to 20 years in prison for "publishing false information" and "committing acts against national security" in what is believed to be the harshest sentence yet to a blogger in the country. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Romney Gains Big in Swing State Polls After Debate Triumph

October 11th 2012

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney gaining in three key swing states one week after his strong debate performance, according to a new poll released late Wednesday. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls show Romney and President Obama in a statistical tie in Virginia and Florida with Obama holding a slight edge in Ohio, a third major battleground.

In Virginia, Romney now leads the president with 48-47 percent, a 3-point shift from the same poll released last week on the day of the debate. In Florida, Obama is holding on to his pre-debate, 1-point edge. Obama won 48 percent support in the new poll compared to 47 percent for Romney. In last week's poll, Obama had a 47-46 percent edge.

Among likely Ohio voters, Obama still leads Romney 51-45 percent, but the new figures show a 2-point bounce for the GOP challenger. Last week Romney trailed in the state 51-43 percent. The NBC/WSJ/Marist numbers are the latest in a slew of polls showing Romney enjoying a bounce post-debate, with a Gallup tracking survey of likely voters earlier this wek showing him leading nationally for the first time. A Pew Research poll also found Romney up nationally by four points. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Planet Made of Diamonds Discovered

October 11th 2012

Exoplanet candidate UCF-1.01

New research led by Yale University scientists suggests that a rocky planet twice Earth's size orbiting a nearby star is a diamond planet.

"This is our first glimpse of a rocky world with a fundamentally different chemistry from Earth," said lead researcher Nikku Madhusudhan, a Yale postdoctoral researcher in physics and astronomy. "The surface of this planet is likely covered in graphite and diamond rather than water and granite."

The planet — called 55 Cancri e — has a radius twice Earth's, and a mass eight times greater, making it a "super-Earth." It is one of five planets orbiting a sun-like star, 55 Cancri, that is located 40 light years from Earth yet visible to the naked eye in the constellation of Cancer. The planet orbits at hyper speed — its year lasts just 18 hours, in contrast to Earth's 365 days. It is also blazingly hot, with a temperature of about 3,900 degrees Fahrenheit, researchers said, a far cry from a habitable world. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

House Hearings on Benghazi Consulate Attack Reveals Ineptness and Waffling

October 10th 2012

Libyan rioters at US consulate Sep 2012 #1

A House Oversight and Government Reform Committee probe today into the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, is revealing an inept, uninformed and dishonest Obama administration and State Department.

Prior to the deadly terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Ambassador Chris Stevens' request for additional security officials was turned down by the Obama administration in order to project a friendly atmosphere to the distrusting Islamic population, a State Department security official in Washington, D.C., told a Congressional panel Wednesday.

"In the immediate aftermath of the attack, and then for several days, administration officials contended that the attack on the consulate was a spontaneous reaction to a crude anti-Islamic movie trailer posted to YouTube. The New York Times, Reuters, and Fox News have in the last few days published stories, based on what these news organizations said were reliable sources, that “within hours” of the attack, U.S. intelligence agencies submitted dozens of reports to high officials suggesting that an al Qaeda-affiliated Libyan militia was behind the attack," according to Homeland Security Newswire. Read more ..

North Korea's Nukes

North Korea Threatens Its Rockets can hit U.S. Mainland

October 10th 2012

North Korean Missile

The isolated North Korea regime has declared its rockets can hit the U.S. mainland. Reclusive North Korea has been enginering an ICBM missile with a range of more than 4,000 miles that can hit the American coastline. Two tests have failed, but development continues. North Korean rocket are capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.

"We do not hide (the fact) that the revolutionary armed forces ... including the strategic rocket forces are keeping within the scope of strike not only the bases of the puppet forces and the U.S. imperialist aggression forces' bases in the inviolable land of Korea [South Korea], but also Japan, Guam and the U.S. mainland," KCNA said.

In Washington, the State Department declined to comment. "Certainly rather than bragging about its missile capability, they ought to be feeding their own people," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, adding that "threats or provocations" by North Korea would only undermine its efforts to seek more engagement with the international community. Read more ..

Israel's Looming Strike

Is a Joint US-Israeli Strike Against Iran in the Offing

October 9th 2012

B-2 Bomber

In Mitt Romney's "Hope Is Not a Strategy" speech at the Virginia Military Institute, the Republican challenger zeroed in on the current unrest in the Middle East as a sign that President Barack Obama's foreign policy is not working. The most biting implication in the speech is the assertion that al Qaeda is resurgent -- in other words that killing Osama bin Laden, emotionally satisfying as it was, was not the game-changer in the region that the Obama administration has implied it was.

But of equal importance to the Republican critique of Obama is Romney's assessment that Obama's efforts to reverse Iran's course toward gaining nuclear weapons have been unsuccessful. In the hours before the speech was delivered, neoconservative Romney foreign-policy advisor Dan Senor suggested on MSNBC's Morning Joe that Obama effectively had to be dragged against his will toward tougher sanctions on Iran -- the same tough sanctions for which the administration is now regularly taking credit because they have started to work. Senor noted that both Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and former Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg pushed back against bipartisan congressional support for the sanctions out of concern that they would have unintended negative consequences for the U.S. and global economies. Read more ..

Inside Venezuela

Venezuela's President Chavez Re-elected--Aims for 20 Years in Office

October 8th 2012

Hugo Chavez infirm

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez emerged victorious Sunday from the presidential election. If he completes his six-year term, the South American leader will have held the reins of power in the oil-rich country for 20 years. President Chavez was not able to campaign as vigorously this year as he has in the past. He has been fighting cancer and that battle has left him weak and exhausted. The president has not given specific information about the cancer other than it was in the pelvic region and is currently in remission. Analysts have questioned whether the 58-year-old leader is strong enough to continue to preside over South America's largest oil exporting country and also find solutions for Venezuela's crumbling infrastructure and high murder rate.

The leftist leader has nationalized much of Venezuela's economy since he took power in 1999.  He says he wants to improve the life of the country's poor majority.  Critics say his policies are scaring off investors.  For many poor voters, his socialist vision is a fresh start after decades of governments that paid scant attention to their needs. Read more ..

China and the US

China's Expanding Economic Influence Within the Critical National Infrastructure of the United States

October 7th 2012

The East is Red

In June 2012, the People's Republic of China held approximately $1.1643 trillion in U.S. Government debt, which was up slightly from the $1.1640 trillion in debt during the previous month of May. However, Chinese ownership of U.S. Government debt hit an historical peak of $1.3149 trillion in July 2011. The slight decline in U.S. debt to China  is attributed to increased purchase of U.S. Government debt by Japan during the past twelve months.

The U.S. financial debt to China has only been one area of concern during the past several years. Events during the last six months for example, have given rise to new concerns regarding China's interest in expanding its economic influence in the United States. These concerns include the purchase by the Chinese National-owned Ralls Corporation and its interest in the Oregon wind farms it had purchased earlier this year, and its planned development and expansion of state-of-the-art telecommunications facilities within the U.S. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Turkey Retaliates as Syrian Refugees Stream over the Border

October 7th 2012

Syrian Rebels in Aleppo

Turkey launched retaliatory artillery fire at Syria for a fifth straight day on October 7 after another mortar round exploded in the Turkish village of Akcakale, in the southwestern region of the Anatolian country. Last week, five civilians were killed by a previous Syrian strike. According to Turkish TV reports, a mortar round landed very close to a public building. There were, however, no reports of casualties followed the attack.

A rebel flag flew over a Syrian government army outpost near the Turkish border province of Hatay on the same day after rebels seized the building. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels took control of the area near the Syrian town of Khirbat al-Joz on October 6 after a 12-hour battle. Syrian troops continued their offensive on to retake areas controlled by rebels in Aleppo, Homs, and towns in the periphery of Damascus, the Syrian capital. They were also seeking to bring the southern villages to heel on the border with Jordan. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Iranian Money Becomes Worthless

October 6th 2012

Iranian Rial Close-Up

The Iranian currency is in a free fall, the economy is in shambles, and Iranian citizens across the country are bearing the brunt. To get an idea of how average Iranians are coping with the currency crisis, we spoke to Hamid (not his real name), a student in his mid-20s who works in a computer shop near Tehran, and to Reza, a 20-something living in Iran's second city of Isfahan. Hamid says uncertainty, anxiety, and fear of the future have become part of the daily life of many middle-class Iranians and those from the lower strata of society.

"Life has become so difficult," he says with a sigh, lamenting that he and others are struggling to make ends meet. "We don't know what the future will bring. We actually don't even know how things will be in the next few hours," he says. "Our money has become worthless, affecting all aspects of life." Iranians feel the sting of the plunging rial when they go shopping. Prices of food staples and other goods, including imported medicines, have doubled or even tripled, in some cases. The price of home appliances and electronic devices has skyrocketed. Prices increase every day, Hamid complains. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Evolution Occurs Every Day Around Us

October 6th 2012


Take a good look around on your next nature hike. Not only are you experiencing the wonders of the outdoors – you're probably also witnessing evolution in action. New research from the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) on the effect of insects on plant populations has shown that evolution can happen more quickly than was previously assumed, even over a single generation.

"Scientists have long hypothesized that the interaction between plants and insects has led to much of the diversity we see among plants, including crops, but until now we had limited direct experimental evidence," says Marc Johnson, Assistant Professor in the UTM Department of Biology. "This research fills a fundamental gap in our understanding of how natural selection by insects causes evolutionary changes in plants as they adapt, and demonstrates how rapidly these changes can happen in nature." Read more ..

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