The Edge of Space
|Peter Michaud||September 3rd 2012|
Nature hath no fury like a dying star – and astronomers couldn’t be happier…
An international research team, led by Edo Berger of Harvard University, made the most of a dying star’s fury to probe a distant galaxy some 9.5 billion light-years distant. The dying star, which lit the galactic scene, is the most distant stellar explosion of its kind ever studied. According to Berger, “It’s like someone turned on a flashlight in a dark room and suddenly allowed us to see, for a short time, what this far-off galaxy looks like, what it is composed of.”
The study, published recently in The Astrophysical Journal, describes how the researchers used the exploding star’s light (called an ultra-luminous core-collapse supernova) as a probe to study the gas conditions in the space between the host galaxy’s stars. Berger says the findings reveal that the distant galaxy‘s interstellar conditions appear “reassuringly normal” when compared to those seen in the galaxies of our local universe. “This shows the enormous potential of using the most luminous supernovae to study the early universe,” he says. “Ultimately it will help us understand how galaxies like our Milky Way came to be.” Read more ..
Obama and Israel
|Saul Roth||September 2nd 2012|
World Jewish Daily
The mood is darkening in Jerusalem.
As the United Nation's nuclear watchdog agency reports that Iran is significantly increasing its nuclear enrichment activities, the United States is backing away from a fight, signaling to Israel that it will significantly scale back a joint military exercise scheduled for October. Israeli officials interpreted the announcement, first reported by Time magazine, as a rebuke.
"Basically what the Americans are saying is, "We don’t trust you," a senior Israeli official told Time. The U.S. was scheduled to send 5,000 troops into the field for what was billed as the largest-ever joint exercise between the two nations. As Time reports, now the U.S. will send as few as 1,200 troops, a 76 percent reduction. Moreover, the U.S. will reduce the "number and potency of the missile interception systems at the core of the joint exercise." Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Erik Wasson and Russell Berman||September 1st 2012|
MSNBC host Chris Matthews got into a heated exchange with Republican delegates at a Tampa restaurant early Friday morning following the conclusion of the GOP national convention. Matthews was booed and sworn at as he was leaving the Tinatapas restaurant, which is near the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Matthews turned back and confronted the taunting GOP officials. The Hill witnessed the exchange and interviewed Republican delegates after the confrontation. Matthews told The Hill in a phone interview that after he left the restaurant, he heard a group of guys “heckling” and “hooting and hollering” at him.
He headed back into the restaurant to mix it up with them. “I wanted to confront them,” Matthews said, describing his exchange with the men as “towel-snapping” among guys. Matthews said he told the rowdy group, “What’s this, a douchebag convention?” The Republicans became angry and retorted back. Read more ..
America on Edge
|Scott Stewart||August 31st 2012|
On the morning of Aug. 24, Jeffrey Johnson returned to his former place of work, Hazan Import Corp., and waited on the street outside the building. Johnson, who was wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase, blended into the crowd of people on the street who were rushing to work that morning. As one of Hazan Import's executives, Stephen Ercolino, approached the building, Johnson drew a pistol from his bag and gunned Ercolino down with no warning, making Ercolino a victim of workplace violence. Media reports suggest that Johnson and Ercolino had been involved in several confrontations, at least one of which became physical, and that Johnson held Ercolino responsible for his being laid off. Each of the men had also reportedly filed police reports claiming the other had threatened him.
Violence in the workplace is a serious security problem in the United States and elsewhere, although it is not nearly as widespread as the media coverage suggests. On average, there are around 500 workplace homicides per year in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2010, the latest year for which statistics are available, there were 518 workplace homicides, and only 12 percent were conducted by a co-worker or former co-worker. This means that while workplace violence incidents tend to get a lot of media attention -- even more so when an incident occurs near the Empire State Building, like the Johnson incident -- they are not common. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Justin Sink||August 31st 2012|
Mitt Romney formally accepted the Republican presidential nomination Thursday in a speech aimed squarely at swing voters disillusioned with President Obama and a still-lagging economy. Arguing that “what America need is jobs,” the former Massachusetts governor asked voters to “forget about what might have been and to look ahead to what can be.”
“Hope and change had a powerful appeal,” Romney said. “But tonight I'd ask a simple question: If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama? You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.”
The speech electrified an eager crowd of delegates packed into the Tampa Forum, who rose repeatedly to their feet to cheer and applaud the GOP nominee while waving signs that exclaimed “Mitt!” and “Believe!” But Romney's address was clearly aimed at swing voters watching at home, who thus far have been reluctant to embrace a candidate who can seem stiff and private. Read more ..
|Ronnie Green||August 30th 2012|
Center for Public Integrity
|Fisherman Jumps in Water for Safety Drill|
Veteran fisherman Fred Mattera stands atop a fishing trawler at the Point Judith Harbor, seagulls squawking by and a fishy mist in the air, and instructs the seven mostly young, tattooed men standing before him to pull on life-safety immersion suits that cover them from foot to head, to zip up and plunge feet first into the water. Then two groups of fishermen interlock like centipedes and take turns paddling backward until they reach a life raft where, going smallest man first, they pull in one by one.
This is survival training, and the plunge-and-rescue dry run is meant to gird the fishermen for the real thing, which comes too often in an industry beset by a high death rate and fragile federal net of protection.
Commercial fishing is the deadliest vocation in the United States. Four years running, from 2007 to 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics ranked commercial fishing as the most dangerous occupation in the United States. From 2000 to 2010, the industry’s death rate was 31 times greater than the national workplace average. Read more ..
|Simon Henderson||August 29th 2012|
|King Abdullah |
This morning, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia left the country for an undisclosed destination after deputizing Crown Prince Salman to take over his responsibilities in his absence. The reason for the trip has not been revealed, but there is widespread speculation that the eighty-eight-year-old king will head to New York City for medical treatment, perhaps after a brief stop in Morocco. He had operations for a back complaint in 2010 and 2011, and he was almost bent double while standing during an Islamic summit in Mecca two weeks ago. Photographs showed him in obvious discomfort as he left the kingdom today.
Despite the lack of information about the trip, now is a good time to examine Saudi Arabia's regional role and relationship with the United States. The Obama administration sees King Abdullah as a crucial ally in several fields. In Syria, Riyadh is providing arms to the anti-Assad rebels. In the oil market, it has expanded production to offset the drop in Iranian exports caused by nuclear sanctions. Although Riyadh was reportedly disappointed with Washington's swift removal of support for longtime ally Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, the kingdom appears to share many policy objectives with the United States. Washington undoubtedly views Saudi leadership of the Arab and Muslim worlds as useful, not to mention its role as a major oil supplier.
Having Crown Prince Salman stand in for the monarch is no particular relief. Although he serves as defense minister and is, at seventy-six, significantly younger than Abdullah, some have expressed concerns about his own health and his ability to focus on detail. An additional worry is that the House of Saud has no obvious crown-prince-in-waiting behind him. The need for such a candidate has become more urgent in the past year given the deaths of no fewer than two crown princes, Sultan and Nayef, who were half-brothers of Abdullah and full brothers of Salman, yet died within eight months of each other. Read more ..
|Jim Walls||August 29th 2012|
The Center for Public Integrity
|Gov. Nathan Deal|
Perhaps no state illustrates the political perils of ethics enforcement better than Georgia, where the ethics commission has been the nexus of more infighting, vitriol and litigation than a Univision novella.
Keeping track of all the resignations, firings, accusations and countercharges there has challenged even the most knowledgeable observers of Peach State politics. Three executive directors have resigned or been fired since 2006. Two other employees collected $405,000 in damages for allegedly wrongful termination. Lawmakers stripped the agency of 40 percent of its funding, its power to make new rules, even its name.
Today, as public pressure builds for ethics reform in Georgia, the agency faces a host of other challenges: Two former top-ranking officials allege the commission fired them for investigating suspected campaign abuses by Gov. Nathan Deal. Thousands of candidate disclosures swamp the agency’s online filing system, paralyzing it at peak periods for many users. Violators continue to avoid stiffer penalties because the commission has not devoted the resources to formally notifying them. Thin staffing keeps the staff from reviewing even 10 percent of the tens of thousands of filings it receives each year. Much of this has come to pass, critics say, because the commission answers to the very politicians it’s supposed to regulate and investigate. Legislative leaders set its budget, control its powers and, along with the governor, decide who its five members will be. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Niall Stanage||August 28th 2012|
Mitt Romney’s campaign is intensifying its efforts to narrow the gender gap that President Obama enjoys among female voters.
Republicans are investing considerable hope that Romney’s wife, Ann, can help the presumptive GOP presidential nominee win over more women when she speaks to the Republican National Convention on Tuesday. The candidate’s wife is widely regarded as one of his most powerful surrogates. Strategists also argue that her perspective, being more personal than others’, could make her husband appear a warmer and more empathic figure.
“Ann Romney is warm and engaging,” Romney campaign adviser Bay Buchanan said. “Her speech is very, very important. Women are one of our target audiences, and Republicans are going to make certain that they see we respect their different roles, whether you’re a mother full time, whether you’re a working mom, whether you’re a single mom, whether you’re single.” Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|Zachary Lichaa||August 27th 2012|
Nearly 6 months after returning home to the west coast, the U.S. Navy’s John C. Stennis aircraft carrier will leave Washington state today and return to the Persian Gulf as tensions between Iran and Israel continue to mount, and Syria falls deeper into the abyss.
The deployment, which comes 4 months ahead of schedule for the nuclear powered carrier and its crew “deals with a lot of threats in the Middle East right now”, including Syria and Iran, said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last week when he spoke to the nearly 2,000 sailors who will depart on Monday. “All of that is the reason we maintain the force we have in the Middle East.” Back in January, The Stennis made headlines when Iran issued a threat, warning the ship not to return to the Persian Gulf following its departure through the Strait of Hormuz in late December.
“We usually don’t repeat our warning, and we warn only once,” said Iran’s Army chief Ataollah Salehi, according to the state-run Fars news agency. “We recommend and emphasize to the American carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf.” Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Ian Swanson and Jonathan Easley||August 27th 2012|
An intensifying tropical storm barreling toward New Orleans forced GOP presidential pick Mitt Romney into emergency convention plans Monday amid fears that the Republicans' four-day party would coincide with disaster in the Gulf.
Tropical Storm Isaac is poised to develop into a category one hurricane with winds of at least 74 mph building up dangerous sea levels, and on Sunday it was already throwing the GOP nominee's carefully choreographed debut into chaos.
Thousands of delegates and politicians arrived at the convention site to a breeze and light rain, but the wind picked up late Sunday and rain began to fill Tampa’s streets. By Sunday night it seemed likely the convention would not suffer a direct hit, with the eye of the storm moving west of Tampa. But meteorologists said the storm could gain strength over the Gulf of Mexico before hitting the Gulf Coast on Tuesday or Wednesday — which would mark the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is scheduled to address the GOP convention on Wednesday, declared a state of emergency in his state and urged people in low-lying areas to voluntarily evacuate. Jindal said he won’t come to Tampa unless the storm dissipates. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Jordy Yager||August 26th 2012|
The city of Tampa, Fla., is on virtual lockdown this week as local and federal law enforcement authorities ready for tens of thousands of protesters, politicians and media to swarm the coastal metropolis during the Republican National Convention. With the Secret Service at the helm, the FBI, the Coast Guard and the military have taken extensive steps to guard against potential terrorist attacks as well as uprisings from anarchists intent on disrupting the five-day event. “As far as demonstrators, we don’t make estimates or predict what will or will not happen — a part of our planning process is planning for any and all scenarios,” said George Ogilvie, a spokesman for the Secret Service. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a joint intelligence bulletin this week stating a “high confidence” that anarchist groups are “preparing to use violence and criminal tactics in an attempt to disrupt the Republican National Convention,” according to a copy provided.
The city’s police department has bulked up its bike and horse units with a $50-million federal grant, adding more than a dozen all-terrain vehicles to speedily navigate Tampa’s streets if protests get out of control with roving mobs, as they have at previous conventions. In an effort to extend a visual olive branch, police purchased more neutral-looking khaki uniforms for the roughly 1,000 officers expected to be on duty throughout the week, in hopes that they will appear more approachable and less threatening to demonstrators. Thousands of police from surrounding cities and counties are expected to bolster the local department’s ranks. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Barbara Kennedy||August 25th 2012|
Penn State University
|Artist’s conception of a red giant star engulfing one of its planets|
The first evidence of a planet’s destruction by its aging star has been discovered by an international team of astronomers. The evidence indicates that the missing planet was devoured as the star began expanding into a red giant—the stellar equivalent of advanced age for stars without enough mass to go supernova.
“A similar fate may await the inner planets in our solar system, when the Sun becomes a red giant and expands all the way out to Earth’s orbit some five-billion years from now,” said Alex Wolszczan, an Evan Pugh Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State, University, who is one of the members of the research team. Wolszczan also is the discoverer of the first planet ever found outside our solar system. The astronomers also discovered a massive planet in a surprisingly elliptical orbit around the same red-giant star, named BD+48 740, which is older than the Sun with a radius about eleven times bigger. Wolszczan and the team’s other members, Monika Adamow, Grzegorz Nowak, and Andrzej Niedzielski of Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland; and Eva Villaver of the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid in Spain, detected evidence of the missing planet’s destruction while they were using the Hobby-Eberly Telescope to study the aging star and to search for planets around it. The evidence includes the star’s peculiar chemical composition plus the highly unusual elliptical orbit of its surviving planet. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Dorian Jones ||August 25th 2012|
Turkish political opposition members are claiming that Turkish authorities are turning a blind eye to Islamic militants based in Turkey who are crossing over the border to join the opposition fighting the Assad government in Syria.
Mehmet Ali Edipoglu is parliamentary deputy for the main opposition Peoples Republic Party, for Hatay -- the main city in the Antakya province that borders Syria. While he says he has no complaints about the Syrian rebels operating from the region, the past few months there has been a worrying change in the influx of new fighters.
Edipoglu says militants who are coming from Libya, Chechnya, Afghanistan, and from various countries in Africa are placed in Hatay and they say they are here to fight for Syria, to make a Jihad and bring Sharia, he says. He says they all openly say that they are al-Qaida and there have been incidents of small fights between these people and Hatay locals. Edipoglu says many are now getting to guns to protect themselves and he says he spoke to the governor and police many times and they tell him they are keeping these people under control. Read more ..
India on Edge
|Anjana Pasricha||August 25th 2012|
In India, the government is defending itself against charges of Internet censorship after asking companies such as Facebook and Twitter to block hundreds of websites. India's efforts to regulate online content and pressure social media companies have attracted criticism.
Following threats to take action against Twitter, Indian officials say the micro-blogging site has agreed to talk to the government. But the government’s face-off with Twitter is far from over. Read more ..
The government wants Twitter to remove 28 pages containing what it calls “objectionable content,” but officials say Twitter has cited technical difficulties in complying with the request. The government asked social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to block hundreds of websites and pages recently after doctored online images fueled rumors of revenge attacks by Muslims on migrants from the north east, prompting them to flee cities. Communication and Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal refutes charges that the government is trying to censor social media. But he says its misuse has to be prevented.
The Iranian Threat
|Matthew Levitt||August 24th 2012|
|Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad|
In addition to elite Iranian and Hizballah operatives, Tehran has a long history of employing unlikely surrogates to target dissidents abroad, including in the United States.
Over the past few months, Iran has demonstrated a renewed willingness to carry out attacks targeting its enemies. From India and Azerbaijan to Cyprus and Thailand, recent Iran directed plots have targeted diplomats and civilians, Israelis, Americans, Saudis, and more. To execute these attacks, Iran has sometimes dispatched its own agents, such as members of its elite IRGC Quds Force. Other times Iran has relied on trusted proxies like Hezbollah. In a number of cases Quds Force and Hezbollah operatives have worked together to execute attacks abroad.
Now, evidence has emerged indicating Tehran is employing another type of agent -- the unlikely surrogate assassin -- to target Iranian dissidents abroad, including here in the United States. Last October, dual U.S.-Iranian citizen Manssor Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri, a commander in Iran's Quds Force, the special-operations unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), were charged in New York for their roles in an alleged plot to murder the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Naira Bulghadaryan and Daisy Sindelar ||August 24th 2012|
Gevorg Payasian's father, Asatur, was just 15 years old when he was forced to flee his home in the ancient city of Ayntap in what is now southeastern Turkey. His entire family had been killed by Ottoman troops in what has come to be known as the Armenian genocide, the mass slaughter and deportation of Anatolia's ethnic Armenians between 1915 and 1922.
Alone, he set out on foot, walking about 130 kilometers before reaching a haven in the Syrian city of Aleppo. Unbeknownst to him, his 9-year-old sister, Nektar, had somehow survived the massacre and was making the same journey. Asatur went on to reunite with his sister in Aleppo. He went to school, started a family, and built a successful horse-breeding business from scratch. But his son Gevorg, now a 69-year-old businessman specializing in radio equipment, believes even as he praised Syria's "merciful embrace" of his people, his father never recovered from the trauma of seeing his home and family destroyed:
"My father always remembered his ancestral home in Ayntap," he says. "He would tell me about how he fled from the Turks and reached Syria. The Turks had killed his parents and relatives. My father and his sister were the only survivors in their family." Nearly a century later, it is the son who is fleeing -- leaving the city that offered his father safe harbor as the bloody 17-month battle between government loyalists and opposition rebels settles over Aleppo. Read more ..
|Jim Kouri||August 23rd 2012|
On Thursday, 10 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents filed a federal lawsuit against the Obama administration seeking an end of President Barack Obama's new non-deportation policy derided as Obama's Dream Act Light by opponents of his illegal immigration policies, according to the ICE agents' union. The ICE agents filed the lawsuit in federal court in one of the state's most affected by the Obama policy -- Texas. The agents allege that President Obama’s policies have reduced the number of illegal aliens who will be deported back to their country of origin.
The ICE agents allege in their lawsuit that the Obama executive order causes a confusing situation in which they must choose between enforcing federal laws and being disciplined by their commanders, or obeying their supervisors thereby violating oaths of office and a Clinton administration law -- passed by a bi-partisan Congress in 1996 -- that mandates the deportation of illegal aliens. Kris W. Kobach, the secretary of state in Kansas, is representing the ICE agents in their lawsuit. Kobach has been a leading voice in support of state immigration legislation such as Arizona’s controversial law. In the 20-page legal complaint, the agents state they’ve been ordered to ignore an entire category of illegal aliens. The agents allege they were told to stop requesting proof of citizenship or immigration status. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Zachary Lichaa ||August 23rd 2012|
Members of Iran’s Quds Force were recently instructed by the country’s most authoritative figure, Ayatollah Khamenei, to increase their attacks on western targets in retaliation for what Iran believes is a direct effort to help the Syrian opposition topple Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad, according to senior western intelligence officials.
The directive was given at a meeting of Iran’s National Security Council in Tehran, which was held to review a report commissioned to examine the geo-political ramifications for Iran if Assad were to lose power in Syria.
Khamenei himself is said to have commissioned the report, according to western intelligence officials, and in response to international sanctions against the Iranian regime, along with western support for Syrian rebels, Khamenei has decided that his country “cannot be passive”. According to one of the intelligence sources who spoke with The Telegraph in Britain, Khamenei believes he must show “America, the Zionists, Britain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others that they cannot act with impunity in Syria and elsewhere in the region” Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Cameron Joseph||August 22nd 2012|
Mitt Romney's campaign has set a precise target for the share of the Hispanic vote it needs to win to defeat President Obama: 38 percent. That's a significant step up from the 31 percent of the Latino vote won by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who Obama thumped while winning a number of key states where Hispanic voters are a key constituency, including Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico.
Romney has to do better than McCain, and his advisers have set a goal that is just below the approximately 40 percent share of the Hispanic vote President George W. Bush won in 2004. "Our goal is to do better than four years ago and the McCain campaign did — our goal is to hit 38 percent with the Hispanic vote," said Jose Fuentes, a co-chairman of Romney's Hispanic leadership team and former attorney general of Puerto Rico. "That's our goal. That's our national average." Polls suggest Romney's magic number with Hispanics may be a tough goal to hit. Obama led Romney 67 to 23 percent with Latino voters in a poll conducted in late July poll by NBC News, The Wall Street Journal and Telemundo. Read more ..
|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|
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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 ..
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