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Broken Banking

Moody's Downgrades 15 of the World's Biggest Banks

June 21st 2012

I Bailed Out a Bank

Moody's Investors Service issued downgrades to 15 of the world's biggest banks Thursday, saying that they all had "significant exposure" to volatility and risk inherent in their global trading activities.

Banks such as Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and Bank of America were among the firms downgraded by the rating agency — a move that could require the banks to pony up billions in additional collateral to cover their derivatives transactions, and also make it more expensive for them to borrow.

"All of the banks affected by today’s actions have significant exposure to the volatility and risk of outsized losses inherent to capital markets activities", said Greg Bauer, the firm's global banking managing director. "However, they also engage in other, often market leading business activities that are central to Moody’s assessment of their credit profiles. These activities can provide important ‘shock absorbers’ that mitigate the potential volatility of capital markets operations, but they also present unique risks and challenges." Read more ..


The Edge of Space

A Close Look at the War and Peace Nebula

June 21st 2012

NGC 6537
VLT image of NGC 6537 (credit: ESO)

Deep in the Milky Way in the constellation of Scorpius (The Scorpion) lies the War and Peace Nebula, or NGC 6357, a region of space where new stars are being born of chaotic clouds of gas and dust. The name, which has no link to Tolstoy's great novel, was given to this object by scientists working on the Midcourse Space Experiment. They noted that the bright, western part of the nebula resembled a dove, while the eastern part looked like a skull in their infrared images. Unfortunately, this effect cannot be seen in the visible-light image presented here.

NGC 6357, also occasionally nicknamed the Lobster Nebula, was first recorded visually by John Herschel in 1837, but he only recorded the brightest central parts. The full scale of this huge nebula was only seen in photographs much later, and the outer parts of this vast nebula have now been imaged by ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT). Read more ..


Islam's War Against Christianity

Islamists Launch Religious Cleansing of Northern Nigeria with Church Bombings

June 20th 2012

bomb in kaduna nigeria

A curfew has been imposed by Nigerian authorities in the city of Damaturu, following deadly clashes between Boko Haram islamist terrorists and the army in the northeastern state of Yobe. Violence swelled on June 18 and grew overnight in Damaturu. It is believed that at as many 52 deaths came about. Damaturu lies approximately 80 miles east of Maiduguri, a Boko Haram stronghold. Speaking in the name of Pope Benedict, Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi condemned the attacks.

The surge in fatalities follows suicide bombing attacks on Sunday, June 17, on five Christian churches in Kaduna and Zaria in the state of Kaduna, central Nigeria. Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the bombings. A statewide ban on movement has been reinstated there, while a 24-hour curfew is in effect for the city of Kaduna. The shattered and barely-recognizable remains of one of the bombers were found near the Shalom church in Kaduna.

The Christian Association of Nigeria said in a statement that the car bombings in Kaduna are a clear indication of “religious cleansing” perpetrated by the Boko Haram religious sect. According to the Christian group, Boko Haram "has declared war on Christians and Christianity in Nigeria." In a statement, the group said "The pattern of bombings and gun attacks suggests to us a systematic religious cleansing which reminds Christians of the genesis of a Jihad." It also criticized the federal government’s response, saying that it had “cast a hallmark of weakness” upon President Goodluck Jonathan’s leadership. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Russian Ship Suspected of Carrying Arms to Syria Turns Back

June 19th 2012

Russian cargo ship

A cargo ship believed to be carrying Russian-made attack helicopters has been halted on its way to Syria after its insurance coverage was withdrawn.  Some analysts say the nature of the cargo was what kept the vessel from reaching its destination. The cargo ship, the MV Alaed, is said to have had its policy cancelled by insurers in London.

Britain says the vessel is now heading home. "I am pleased that the ship that was reported to be carrying arms to Syria has turned back apparently towards Russia," British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the House of Commons. A statement by the British-based ship insurance company Standard Club said it was told about the nature of the vessel's cargo and it consequently informed the ship's owners that their "insurance coverage ceased due to the nature of the journey." The Russian news agency Ria Novosti reported that the ship is thought to be carrying refurbished Russian Mi-25 attack helicopters as well as coast-based anti-ship missiles.  Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Dems Say GOP Willing to Sacrifice the Country to Defeat Obama in '12

June 19th 2012

Barack Obama in Thought

House Democratic leaders this week are intensifying accusations that Republicans want to sink the economy simply to defeat President Obama in November.

The Democrats say House GOP leaders are sitting on a host of proposals – some of them with broad bipartisan support – that could create jobs immediately. Republicans are refusing to bring those bills to the floor, the Democrats charge, because an improved economy could play to Obama's advantage in the polls.

"We have enormous tasks in front of us and an obstructionist Congress that refuses to deal with these realities. This is creating a perfect storm for November," Rep. John Larson (Conn.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters in the Capitol Tuesday. "Time and again they [Republicans] would rather see Obama fail than the country succeed." Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the House Democratic whip, piled on later in the morning. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

New Evidence Supports Theory of Extraterrestrial Impact

June 17th 2012

gaseous ring on star

An 18-member international team of researchers that includes James Kennett, professor of earth science at UC Santa Barbara, has discovered melt-glass material in a thin layer of sedimentary rock in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Syria. According to the researchers, the material –– which dates back nearly 13,000 years –– was formed at temperatures of 1,700 to 2,200 degrees Celsius (3,100 to 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit), and is the result of a cosmic body impacting Earth.

These new data are the latest to strongly support the controversial Younger Dryas Boundary (YDB) hypothesis, which proposes that a cosmic impact occurred 12,900 years ago at the onset of an unusual cold climatic period called the Younger Dryas. This episode occurred at or close to the time of major extinction of the North American megafauna, including mammoths and giant ground sloths; and the disappearance of the prehistoric and widely distributed Clovis culture.

"These scientists have identified three contemporaneous levels more than 12,000 years ago, on two continents yielding siliceous scoria-like objects (SLO's)," said H. Richard Lane, program director of National Science Foundation's Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the research. "SLO's are indicative of high-energy cosmic airbursts/impacts, bolstering the contention that these events induced the beginning of the Younger Dryas. That time was a major departure in biotic, human and climate history." Read more ..


The Massacres in Syria

Syrian Government Forces Escalate Attacks

June 17th 2012

Restan,Homs

Syrian government forces stepped up their attacks across the country Sunday, employing artillery barrages in the flashpoint city of Homs, as well as the suburbs of Damascus and Aleppo, and the towns of Rastan, Telbiseh and Deir ez Zor.

Webcam images showed thick plumes of smoke rising from artillery strikes across the besieged city of Homs Sunday, as shells crashed into apartment blocks and other buildings. Witnesses report increasingly desperate conditions, with little respite in the shelling. A veiled woman with two small daughters explained in an amateur video that she was not afraid, but worried about what would happen to her children.

She says that there is no water, no electricity and that she has no milk for her children. She pleads with the outside world to help her save her children, saying she fears for their safety. In an interview with Agence France Presse one resident of Homs called the siege by government forces “suffocating.” Other activists reported that many neighborhoods have been completely isolated from one other, amid worries of an imminent government onslaught. Read more ..


The Afghanistan War

Army's Mishandling of Afghanistan Police Contract Added Millions of Dollars

June 16th 2012

Afgan Police

As the U.S. military heads for the door in Afghanistan, one of its most important tasks is to train Afghan police to take control of the nation’s security. But a billion-dollar Afghan police training contract, now being administered by the Army, has encountered some troubles, according to a new report by the Defense Department’s Inspector General’s office.

In just the first four months after the contract was signed in December 2010, its cost shot up $145 million, or 14 percent. A series of late revisions has slowed the training process for Afghan police, the IG report said, and the contract has been written in a way that allows new costs to accumulate without penalty.

The IG blamed the Army for the early cost hike, asserting that those overseeing the work by the lead contractor, DynCorp International, should have anticipated that its scope would be greater than initially estimated. Read more ..


Broken Borders

Obama Grants Legal Status to Young Illegal Immigrants

June 15th 2012

Students

The Obama administration said Friday it will stop deporting most illegal immigrant students and young adults in a campaign-year move that escalates the immigration debate to the fore. For years the administration had said it didn’t have the authority to make such a move, saying it couldn’t decide to stop deporting wide categories of people on its own without approval from Congress.

But on Friday Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said she now interprets the law to give her this discretion. “Our nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner,” she said in a statement announcing the move. “But they are not designed to be blindly enforced without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case. Nor are they designed to remove productive young people to countries where they may not have lived or even speak the language. Discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified here.”

Her move grants “deferred action” — meaning the department will no longer pursue deportations for those who qualify. The decision is an effort to go around Congress, which has repeatedly failed to pass a bill granting legal status to this category of illegal immigrants. That type of legislation is usually called the Dream Act, though details vary depending on the version.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, said the new amnesty will become “a magnet for fraud,” and will end up letting jobs go to current illegal immigrants. “How can the Administration justify allowing illegal immigrants to work in the U.S. when millions of Americans are unemployed?” Mr. Smith said. “President Obama and his administration once again have put partisan politics and illegal immigrants ahead of the rule of law and the American people.”  Read more ..


The War Next Door

'Dark Angel' and Mexican Meth Manufacturers' Financial Network in the U.S.

June 14th 2012

FBI sting

In a U.S. operation dubbed "Dark Angel," local and federal law enforcement officers on May 30 arrested 20 individuals involved in methamphetamine trafficking across five states. Authorities confirmed that the leader of the trafficking network, Armando Mendoza-Haro, has links to Mexico, where the methamphetamine was likely produced. The group appears to have used legitimate companies to transport methamphetamine from California to the Denver area and elsewhere in the Western and Midwestern United States. The group then sent the profits back to California, where the cash was wired to banks in China and the Cayman Islands.

Mexico's methamphetamine trade seems to be booming these days. Earlier in 2012, the Mexican military made the largest single seizure of methamphetamine ever (15 tons, worth around $1 billion) outside Guadalajara. As the United States increased its restrictions on the pharmaceutical chemicals used to produce methamphetamine, Mexican producers stepped in to meet the growing demand. Details from Operation Dark Angel provide insight into how traffickers in the United States are getting their product to market and, more interestingly, how they are laundering their profits. Read more ..


The Race for Water

Big Uncertainties About the Global Water Budget

June 13th 2012

Arid Desert

No life without water. Catastrophes like droughts or strong rains reflect our dependence on the water cycle and climate system. Hence, it is important to understand details of the water cycle among the atmosphere, oceans, and land. A study in the Journal of Hydrometeorology now outlines significant differences of global models and measurement data sets. As the network of measurement stations worldwide is shrinking dramatically, uncertainties are increased.

“Climate change and the associated change of water availability are facts and will require partly significant adaptation,” emphasize Harald Kunstmann and Christof Lorenz of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, who are the authors of the said study. “This is the reason why we have to better understand interactions of evaporation, clouds, and precipitation also on the regional level.” To check the reliability of various global analyses, the hydrologists and climate researchers reevaluated three of the most modern global coupled atmosphere and ocean models with respect to the water budget and compared the results with measurement data of the years 1989 to 2006.

“We found very big uncertainties in the global water budget estimates,” says Kunstmann. The mean precipitations analyzed in some regions deviate by up to four liters per square meter and day. For comparison: In Germany, about two liters of rain fall per day and square meter on the average. Hence, these models do not allow for a reliable derivation as to when and where how much precipitation occurs. The models do not even provide simple relationships, such as that between the evaporation surplus above the oceans and precipitation above the continents. “Models will continue to tell us with very big uncertainties how much precipitation and, hence, permanently renewed freshwater is available on earth.” Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Loss of Supply Lines in Pakistan Costs $100M a Month

June 13th 2012

Leon Panetta

The continued closure of Pakistani supply routes to U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan is costing the Pentagon nearly $100 million a month, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Congress on Wednesday.

American military planners have been forced to use supply lines in Central Asia, known as the Northern Distribution Network, to move men and materiel to and from Afghanistan since last November, after an errant U.S. airstrike ended in the deaths of Pakistani troops. Transiting troops and equipment out of Afghanistan through Central Asia has been an extremely pricey endeavor, compared to using the cheaper, more direct land routes through Pakistan, Panetta told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. As a result, the Pentagon is losing "$100 million a month because of the closure of those [ground lines]" in Pakistan, Panetta said.

Washington and Islamabad were reportedly close to a deal in May to reopen the lines, which have been closed to American and NATO forces since Pakistan shut the routes in retaliation for the airstrike deaths. But Pakistan's decision to increase the price-per-truck cost to the United States and its allies to move supplies through the country eventually scuttled the deal. Islamabad also continues to demand a formal administration apology for the incident.

U.S.-Pakistani talks on the issue have since been suspended and the U.S. negotiators were pulled from the country on Monday. During Wednesday's hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) pressed Panetta on whether an official White House apology would be enough to break the impasse. "The apology is all-important ... and I think the position is that the national security of this nation is best served if we can develop a positive relationship with Pakistan," Feinstein said. Read more ..


Spain on Edge

As Spain Wobbles, Europe's Creditor Nations Capitulate to Crisis

June 12th 2012

Euro Bills

Eurozone countries on June 9 agreed to lend Spain up to 100 billion euros ($125 billion) to stabilize the Spanish banking system. Because the bailout dealt with Spain's financial sector directly rather than involving the country's sovereign debt, Madrid did not face the kind of demands for more onerous austerity measures in exchange for the loan that have led to political instability in countries such as Greece.

There are two important aspects to this. First, yet another European financial problem has emerged requiring concerted action. Second, unlike previous incidents, this bailout was not accompanied by much melodrama, infighting or politically destabilizing threats. The Europeans have not solved the underlying problems that have led to these periodic crises, but they have now calibrated their management of the situation to minimize drama and thereby limit political fallout. The Spanish request for help without conditions, and the willingness of the Europeans to provide it, moves the European process to a new level. In a sense, it is a capitulation to the crisis.

This is a shift in the position of Europe's creditor nations, particularly Germany. Berlin has realized that it has no choice but to fund this and other bailouts. As an export-dependent country, Germany needs the eurozone to be able to buy German products. Moreover, Berlin cannot allow internal political pressures to destabilize the European Union as a whole.

For all the German bravado about expelling countries, the preservation and even expansion of the existing system remains a fundamental German interest. The cycle of threats, capitulation by creditors, political unrest and then German accommodation had to be broken. It was not only failing to solve the crisis but also contributing to the eurozone's instability. In Spain, the Germans shifted their approach, resolving the temporary problem without a fight over more austerity. Read more ..


Pakistan on Edge

US Pulls Negotiators, Suspends Supply Route Talks with Pakistan

June 11th 2012

S-300

American negotiators working with Pakistan to reopen critical supply routes into Afghanistan have been called back to the United States, casting further doubt on whether the lines will ever be reopened to U.S. and coalition forces.

Defense Department spokesman George Little told reporters on Monday that several members of the U.S. negotiation team had already left Islamabad, with the remaining members scheduled to depart the country within days. The team had been in Pakistan for the past six weeks, attempting to hammer out a deal to open the supply lines that had been closed to American and NATO forces since last November, according to recent news reports.

The team's withdrawal was a "U.S. decision," according to Little, who added that getting the supply lines reopened remained a top priority for the Pentagon and the White House. Military officials at the American embassy in Pakistan will continue informal talks on the issue with their counterparts in Islamabad, Little said.  Read more ..


The Massacres in Syria

Assad uses Chemical Weapons on Civilians--Israel offers Humanitarian Assistance to Victims

June 10th 2012

Syria Damascus fighting injured baby

According to Ayoub Kara, Israel’s Deputy Minister for Development of the Negev and Galilee, the Assad regime in Syria has used chemical weapons against Syrian civilians in its struggle to control the country. Photos Kara has seen, according to Times of Israel, led him to believe that the embattled government is using such weapons against Syrian men, women and children. Kara, who is a member of Israel’s Druze community, noted that Israeli medical times are working on the border between Syria and Turkey to save lives and treat people injured by the deadly clashes between Syria’s government forces and the insurgent groups arrayed against them. Kara is a member of the Likud party in the Knesset, which is currently in power and led by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Speaking at gathering of Druze community leaders in the Golan Heights, Kara said that Israel is primed to accept Syrians wounded during the now 15-month long conflict that has claimed more than 13,000 lives. Speaking about Israel’s humanitarian assistance, Kara said the Jewish state is also willing to go to Jordan to treat the wounded. “Israel is ready to receive casualties who are evacuated from Syria to Israel, and alternatively we are ready to send medical assistance through Jordan to those unfortunate children and babies whose families have been annihilated by the shabiha of the Syrian regime,” Kara said. The shabiha are pro-government militia who have been accused of some of the worst atrocities against civilians recently. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Obama Campaign Kick-Starts Unprecedented Data Mining Campaign

June 10th 2012

Barack Blackberry Obama

Barack Obama’s re-election campaign will set a new standard for social media usage and technology, even after it raised the bar for the political use of data mining and networking during his 2008 campaign. According to a June 9 report in Politico, Obama’s political headquarters in Chicago has brought in 150 technicians to strip as much of voters’ personal information that they can from social media and other websites. Surpassing any kind of similar research seen before in American politics, "They know what you read and where you shop, what kind of work you do and who you count as friends. They also know who your mother voted for in the last election," the report said. Obama’s techies are seeking to mine every bit of data available about voters in an effort to get their Blackberry-wielding leader a secure seat in the White House. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Dozens More Die in Syria

June 9th 2012

Machine Gun Bunker

Anti-government-related violence across Syria left more than two dozen people dead June 9, while Russia said it would not object to the departure of Syria's president, under certain conditions.

The bloodiest attack took place in Dara'a.  The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told VOA at least 17 people were killed as government forces pounded targets in the southern city.

Residents of Damascus also reported clashes between Syrian government troops and the opposition Free Syrian Army. There were reports of shooting in the heart of the capital, including the upscale Mazzeh district. That followed clashes in the Barzeh and Kafr Sousah neighborhoods on Friday.

Activists say deadly violence erupted in other areas, on June 9, including the flashpoint Homs region. ​​Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would not object to the departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, if that is the result of a dialogue among Syrians, and not external pressure. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Annan, Clinton Meet on Syria as Violence Escalates

June 8th 2012

Homs Ablaze June 8 2012
Homs Ablaze

Syrian activists say violence nationwide killed 17 people Friday as international envoy Kofi Annan called for additional pressure on the Syrian government as he met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington. Speaking tersely while standing next to Clinton, Annan said the two diplomats are looking how to move his stalled peace plan forward. "Everyone is looking for a solution," he said. "Some say the plan may be dead. Is the problem the plan or the problem the implementation? If it's implementation, how do we get action on that?" The Annan-brokered cease-fire has failed to deter attacks by the Syrian government and clashes with opposition rebels that have left hundreds dead.

Clinton said the pair want to figure out how to "engender a greater response" by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government to Annan's overtures. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland says the talks were meant to craft a unified transition strategy for Syria and gain greater international support for that strategy, principally from Russia. "We have been strongly working with, encouraging the Russians to work with us on a common political strategy," Nuland said. Read more ..


Coke and Confiscation

Jewish Egyptian vs. Coca-Cola Chairman Muhtar Kent in Lifetime Struggle over Stolen Family Property

June 7th 2012

Edwin Black

For 15 years, Egyptian-Jewish businessman Refael Bigio has been battling a goliath corporate adversary, The Coca-Cola Company. Bigio charges that Coke has been profiting from his family’s stolen property just outside Cairo. The Bigio family’s property was expropriated by Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser in the mid-1960s during one of Egypt’s anti-Jewish purges. Over the course of a decade and a half, the Coca-Cola Company has steadfastly refused to bargain in good faith or to negotiate any fair compensation for the expropriated property, according to Bigio’s lawyers. In the company’s defense, Coke’s attorneys have defended Egypt’s anti-Jewish seizures and even those of Hitler’s Germany as confiscations that “did not violate international law.”

Coca-Cola’s stony refusal to even place a fair offer on the table, Bigio’s attorneys charge, stands in bitter contrast to hundreds of millions of dollars in profits derived since 1965 from the operations of “Coca-Cola Egypt.” Coke has always known that its multimillion dollar windfall in Egypt has been and is now being generated by property unlawfully stolen from its Jewish owners by Nasser’s regime in a Nazi-style property seizure. In other words, the company is in possession of stolen property—and knows it. Coke’s only defense is that the theft Bigio suffered, for no reason other that he was Jewish, actually did not violate international law and was perfectly legal. By Coke’s long-standing legal rationale, the property of every Jew in the world could be seized without violating international law.

After 15 years, Bigio believes he is now locked in a mortal struggle—not with a beverage company, not with its powerful million-dollar attorneys, King and Spalding—but with the only man who has the authority to resolve the conflict: Muhtar Kent, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of The Coca-Cola Company.

“The Coca-Cola Company had clearly mistreated our family in a shameless way,” says Bigio from his current home in Montreal. With exasperation, he adds, “Enough with the multiple excuses invented by the Coca-Cola legal team.” Bigio continues, “Today the ultimate responsibility lies on its chairman, Muhtar Kent. Kent needs to look at the acquisition of the El Nasr Bottling Company [ENBC], an entity which gobbled up and was merged with the industrial complex of the Bigio family property in Cairo, two bottling factories—all seized by Nasser for no other reason than we were Jews.” Read more ..


Pakistan on Edge

Increasing Tension and Operational Challenges for U.S./Pakistan Relationship

June 7th 2012

Consulate General Peshawar Pakistan

US Consul General Candace Putnam (r) and Garace Reynard of US Embassy
Islamabad meet with Pakistani police official Malik Navid at vehicle donation.

On June 4, four U.S. diplomats assigned to the Consulate General of the United States in Peshawar, Pakistan, were stopped at a military checkpoint and temporarily detained after refusing to allow their two vehicles to be searched. The diplomats -- including a vice consul -- were traveling in a two-vehicle motorcade and were accompanied by three Pakistani Foreign Service National (FSN) security officers.

According to media reports, the Pakistani military has charged that the diplomats had traveled to Malakand without first obtaining permission from the Pakistani government. Malakand is a city located about 120 kilometers (75 miles) northeast of Peshawar in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, formerly known as the Northwest Frontier Province.

Because of the problems Pakistan has had with foreign jihadists in its border badlands, all foreigners are required to obtain something called a No Objection Certificate from Pakistan's Interior Ministry before visiting areas in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the adjacent Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Furthermore, the Pakistani press noted that the Pakistani military also objected to the Americans and their Pakistani FSNs' being armed and operating vehicles with fake license plates to disguise the diplomatic vehicles. Read more ..


Nigeria on Edge

Muslim Terror Strikes Nigeria and Christian mourners After Fatal Air Disaster

June 6th 2012

Nigeria Boko Haram
Nigerian Boko Haram spokesman.

At least 12 people were killed, and 35 seriously injured, in a suicide bombing at a Christian church in northern Nigeria on Sunday, June 3. The suicide bomber drove his vehicle, packed with explosives, into a security checkpoint that had been set up by police near the church in Bauchi.

Although the vehicle was stopped short of the church itself, the explosion caused the building to collapse, and worshippers who rushed out were caught in a fire started by the bomb.

“We have a checkpoint not far from the church which prevented the bomber from gaining access to his target,” said State police commissioner Mohammed Ladan. “So he rammed the car into a security gate and the car exploded, killing him and eight other people. … many people were injured,” he added.

Boko Haram has claimed attacks killing more than 1,000 in Nigeria since July 2009, with some of the worst bloodshed coming in the northeast. The group staged a daring jailbreak in Bauchi in September 2010 during which it said roughly 100 of its members were freed.

Meanwhile Archbishop of Jos and President of the Conference of Catholic bishops of Nigeria, Ignatius Ayau Kaigama condemned the killings. "We are appalled and shocked by the two tragedies that hit Nigeria, the airplane crash in Lagos that killed 153 people, and the attack on a Christian church in Bauchi." Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Higher Taxes, Smoke-free Policies are Reducing Smoking in Pregnant Moms

June 5th 2012

Click to select Image

It's estimated that almost 23% of women enter pregnancy as smokers and more than half continue to smoke during pregnancy, leading to excess healthcare costs at delivery and beyond. In one of the first studies to assess smoking bans and taxes on cigarettes, along with the level of tobacco control spending, researchers have found that state tobacco control policies can be effective in curbing smoking during pregnancy, and in preventing a return to smoking within four months on average, after delivery. The results were published online today in advance of the July issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"This is one of the first studies of pregnant women's smoking in the new era of more restrictive state tobacco control policies," says lead investigator E. Kathleen Adams, PhD, Department of Health Policy and Management, Emory University. "We found that a $1.00 increase in cigarette taxes increases the quit rate among pregnant women from 44.1% to 48.9%, a sizable effect. Moreover, tax policies appear to be effective in keeping these women from relapsing in the first few months postpartum, and the implementation of a full workplace smoke-free policy also increases quits."

Researchers from Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined cigarette smoking among 225,445 women with live births from 2000-2005 in 29 states plus New York City. Data on smoking status (pre-pregnancy smoking; quitting during pregnancy; and remaining quit 4 months after delivery) were merged with cigarette price data, including federal, state, and local cigarette excise taxes, data on state tobacco control spending for the period, and the existence of full or partial bans of worksite or restaurant smoking. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Al-Qaeda Presence in Syria Disturbs U.S. Officials

June 4th 2012

Syrian security forces

In Syria, as government troops continue to massacre members of the civilian population, Iran is hard at work supporting both the Bashar al-Assad regime and the al-Qaeda terrorists all for the Iranian government's own benefit, according to Pentagon officials today.

"I believe al-Qaeda is seeking to consolidate its power in the Middle East and will once again attack the United States' mainland and its interests in order to deter Americans from entering the fray in Syria," said Mike Snopes, a former military intelligence officer and New York police detective.

On Thursday, Navy Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, while briefing the press at the Pentagon said, “[Pentagon officials] remain deeply troubled and concerned by the ongoing violence in Syria and by the horrific acts of the Assad regime against [his] own people.” “And we certainly have seen reports and have reason to believe that Iran continues to assist the Assad regime in committing these acts of atrocities against the Syrian people,” he added. Read more ..


Broken Elections

Wisconsin Recall Breaks Cost Records with Help of Outside Cash

June 3rd 2012

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

Tuesday’s recall election of Republican Gov. Scott Walker is the most expensive in Wisconsin history. More than $63.5 million has been spent by candidates and independent groups, the overwhelming majority underwritten by out-of-state sources. The record spending total was made possible thanks to the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision — which had the effect of invalidating Wisconsin’s century-old ban on independent expenditures by corporations and unions — and a state law that allows unlimited contributions to the incumbent in recall elections.

The amount spent since November 2011 trounces the state’s previous record of $37.4 million, set during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign. The election has become a national referendum on the future of public sector unions, which have been a major force within the Democratic Party for decades. In the first of two debates, Walker vowed to “stand up and take on the powerful special interests,” suggesting that national unions have propped up his Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Global Cancer Rates Expected to Soar by 2030

June 3rd 2012

exam

The number of cancer cases is predicted to surge by 78 percent in middle income countries such as South Africa and India, and spike 93 percent in the developing world by the year 2030. Experts say an aggressive global strategy is needed. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC, in Lyon, France, the incidence of all cancer cases will rise from 12.7 million new cases in 2008 to 22.2 million by 2030. The estimates are based on an analysis of social and economic trends in 184 countries compiled by the IARC. The organization looked at the incidence of nine of the most commonly diagnosed cancers, including cancers of the cervix, liver, breast, prostate, lung and colon. It concluded that reductions in cancers caused by infections in middle-income countries, such as those of the cervix and stomach, are likely to be rapidly off-set by a rise in breast, colon and prostate, as countries become more Westernized. Read more ..

Broken Government

OSHA Whistleblower Wins Court Victory

June 1st 2012

OSHA world trade

A whistleblower who was fired by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration after complaining publicly about the poor quality of injury and illness data kept by employers has won a major court victory.

Robert Whitmore, a supervisory economist with OSHA’s Office of Statistical Analysis, lost his job in 2009, ostensibly for insubordination. On Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that Whitmore was fired in retaliation for telling journalists and Congress about OSHA’s failure to crack down on companies submitting suspect data. OSHA is supposed to use the data to identify potentially unsafe workplaces; accuracy, therefore, is crucial.

The Merit Systems Protection Board upheld Whitmore’s firing, finding that he had acted in a threatening manner toward a supervisor. The appeals court, however, found that OSHA failed to provide “clear and convincing” evidence that Whitmore’s whistleblowing had no bearing on his dismissal. The case will go back to the board for rehearing. Read more ..


The Obama Edge

Obama Admininistration Seeks to Declare Arab Americans a "Disadvantaged Minority"

May 31st 2012

Arab American National Museum
Arab American National Museum

The Commerce Department is considering naming Arab Americans a socially and economically disadvantaged minority group that is eligible for special business assistance. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) petitioned Commerce earlier this year to ask that Arab Americans be made eligible for the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), which helps minority entrepreneurs gain access to capital, contracts and trade opportunities.

The ADC petition cited “discrimination and prejudice in American society[,] resulting in conditions under which Arab-American individuals have been unable to compete in a business world.” The group claimed discrimination against Arab Americans increased after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “The ADC petition asserts that, in the government’s efforts to protect Americans, they essentially took away the rights of other Americans,” according to the notice of proposed rulemaking about the petition. Commerce is asking for comment about whether there is social and economic discrimination against Arab Americans, along with examples of it occurring. Read more ..

The Automotive Edge

Automatic Road Train Tested on Public Roads

May 31st 2012

Highway

After having carries out extensive trials on special sites, the SARTE consortium now tested its technology on a public road. A road train comprising three passenger cars plus one truck automatically driving in convoy behind a lead vehicle has operated on a public motorway in Spain among other road users. The test was in Spain successful, the consortium said.

Vehicle platoon tests in the SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project - a joint venture between Ricardo UK Ltd, Applus+ Idiada, Tecnalia Research & Innovation, Institut für Kraftfahrzeuge Aachen (IKA), SP Technical Research Institute, Volvo Technology and Volvo Car Corporation - are making progress. One major step forward was taken last week on a motorway outside Barcelona - the first-ever test drive of a road train among other road users. The convoy drove 200 kilometres in one day. "The test turned out well. We're really delighted," says Linda Wahlström, project manager for the SARTRE project at Volvo Car Corporation. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Discovery of Historical Photos Sheds Light on Greenland Ice Loss

May 30th 2012

Melting Glaciers

A chance discovery of 80-year-old photo plates in a Danish basement is providing new insight into how Greenland glaciers are melting today. Researchers at the National Survey and Cadastre of Denmark - that country's federal agency responsible for surveys and mapping - had been storing the glass plates since explorer Knud Rasmussen's expedition to the southeast coast of Greenland in the early 1930s. In this week's online edition of Nature Geoscience, Ohio State University researchers and colleagues in Denmark describe how they analyzed ice loss in the region by comparing the images on the plates to aerial photographs and satellite images taken from World War II to today.

Taken together, the imagery shows that glaciers in the region were melting even faster in the 1930s than they are today, said Jason Box, associate professor of geography and researcher at the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State. A brief cooling period starting in the mid-20th century allowed new ice to form, and then the melting began to accelerate again in the 2000s. "Because of this study, we now have a detailed historical analogue for more recent glacier loss," Box said. "And we've confirmed that glaciers are very sensitive indicators of climate." Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Did Israel Unleash 'Flame' Virus?

May 29th 2012

Iran centrifuges

Experts say the recently discovered "Flame" virus is the most sophisticated ever found, three times as large as Stuxnet and almost certainly created by a state sponsor. But who?

Early speculation has centered on Israel. As The New York Times reports:  Moshe Ya’alon, Israel’s vice-premier, fueled speculation of Israeli involvement on Tuesday when he told Army Radio: “Whoever sees the Iranian threat as a serious threat would be likely to take different steps, including these, in order to hurt them.”

Israel was a country blessed with superior technology, he said, adding: “These achievements of ours open up all kinds of possibilities for us.”

The Flame virus has been infecting computer systems in Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Sudan and the West Bank. While Stuxnet targeted computers tied to Iran's nuclear program, Flame is spyware that steals information and sends it back to a central server.

According to ABC News:  "We can't pinpoint who is actually behind it but we can narrow the list of potential actors," Vikram Thakur, a manager at Symantec, told ABC News Monday. "It's a project that's been out for years, and flown under the radar. It is extremely well funded." Read more ..


The Obama Edge

Propaganda Plan Revealed to Sway Media After SCOTUS Obamacare Ruling

May 28th 2012

Obamacare Protest

A month before the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of Obamacare, liberal supporters are already planning an aggressive propaganda campaign to sway media coverage and public opinion.

The focus of the liberal public-relations campaign will be on “real people” — individuals who can speak about the impact of the ruling regardless of what the Supreme Court decides. A newly released memo, first published by BuzzFeed, suggests liberals should adapt their message and events to defend government-run health care.

“No matter what the flavor of our response is, we’ll need real people who are impacted bythe decision to anchor our message and create urgency,” according to the memo, which was prepared by Health Care for America Now and circulated to coalition allies by the Herndon Alliance. Liberal groups are encouraged to have statements prepared by Memorial Day. The memo advises them to host events within 12 to 24 hours after the Supreme Court decision. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

The Challenge of Studying the Big Bang So Long After it Happened

May 27th 2012

Centaurus A aka NGC 5128

The universe is a marvelously complex place, filled with galaxies and larger-scale structures that have evolved over its 13.7-billion-year history. Those began as small perturbations of matter that grew over time, like ripples in a pond, as the universe expanded. By observing the large-scale cosmic wrinkles now, we can learn about the initial conditions of the universe. But is now really the best time to look, or would we get better information billions of years into the future - or the past?

New calculations by Harvard theorist Avi Loeb show that the ideal time to study the cosmos was more than 13 billion years ago, just about 500 million years after the Big Bang. The farther into the future you go from that time, the more information you lose about the early universe. "I'm glad to be a cosmologist at a cosmic time when we can still recover some of the clues about how the universe started," Loeb said.

Two competing processes define the best time to observe the cosmos. In the young universe the cosmic horizon is closer to you, so you see less. As the universe ages, you can see more of it because there's been time for light from more distant regions to travel to you. However, in the older and more evolved universe, matter has collapsed to make gravitationally bound objects. This "muddies the waters" of the cosmic pond, because you lose memory of initial conditions on small scales. The two effects counter each other - the first grows better as the second grows worse. Read more ..


Counting Palestinians

U.S. Senate Bill Alters Palestinian Refugee Status and “Right of Return”

May 27th 2012

Sen Mark Kirk

The U.S. State Department and Jordan are lobbying to block a Senate bill that would bring the number of Palestinian refugees recognized by the United States to 30,000, from the current 5 million.

The bill, which was introduced by Senator Mark Kirk, would drastically cut the hundreds of millions of dollars Washington gives to the UN body that oversees Palestinian refugees every year, and could change the landscape for future negotiations between Israel and Palestinian leaders on the issue of “right of return” – one of the most intractable matters facing negotiators on both sides.

“The amendment simply demands basic transparency with regard to who receives U.S. taxpayer assistance,” Senator Kirk said. The definition of Palestinian refugees used by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees differs from all other refugees in the world, granting refugee status to the descendants of those who were displaced following Israel’s independence in 1948.  Jordan, which has close to 2 million people living in the country that are defined as Palestinian refugees, having allowed for hundreds of millions of dollars to flow into the Heshimite Kingdom, has joined the State Department in opposition to Senator Kirk’s bill. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Over 90 Killed in Syrian Government Shelling

May 26th 2012

Dead Syrians

Syrian opposition forces say more than 90 people, many of them children, have been killed in a coordinated assault on a village outside the city of Homs by government artillery and militiamen. Government officials do not deny the massacre but blame unidentified "terrorists" for one of the deadliest incidents since the start of an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's administration more than a year ago.  As elsewhere in Syria, emotions in the cluster of towns that make up Houla are running high.

Witnesses say the killing began when government forces shelled the village of Teldau soon after Friday prayers. Opposition activists say some of the victims, many of whom are children, were killed in the shelling, while others were shot by pro-government militiamen known as “shabiha.”

A woman resident of Teldau claims on a video distributed by opposition forces that she and her daughters-in-law managed to escape the village after it came under attack from militiamen who destroyed part of her house. But she says several other relatives were slaughtered by security forces dressed in black, who killed them with knives.  Read more ..


Media on Edge

Propaganda Firm Owner Admits Smear Campaign Against Journalists

May 26th 2012

USA Today Hq

A co-owner of a pentagon propaganda contractor has admitted responsibility for a number of websites involved in a ‘mis-information’ campaign that sought to cast doubts over the character of two USA TODAY journalists. USA TODAY reported that Camille Chidiac, former president of Leonie Industries, claims he personally funded the websites he used to discredit Tom Vanden Brook and Ray Locker, who had reported on the Pentagon's "information operations" program, which came under fire for appropriating millions of dollars to marketing campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq that were said to be poorly monitored.

Using proxy services to conceal his identity, Chidiac, whose presidency of Leonie Industries ended in 2008, mounted what online reputation expert, Andy Beal, described as a “sophisticated reputation attack.” Twitter and Facebook accounts were registered in Tom Vanden Brook’s name before the stories were published and a Wikipedia entry and group postings included a misrepresentation of his report on the West Virginia Mine Disater. Stating that he made clear that the websites were “fan sites” of editor Ray Locker and reporter Vanden Brook, Chidiac admitted that comments “quickly degenerated from legitimate criticism to immature and irrelevant rhetoric by unknown users." Chidicac’s attorney stated that the entries on Wikipedia and Twitter came from someone with "absolutely no relationship or connection with Leonie Industries." Read more ..


Broken Elections

Real Estate Influence Group Spends 'Mind Boggling' Amount in California House race

May 26th 2012

Washington DC

It’s challenging enough to knock off an entrenched member of Congress in a primary contest. But California State Sen. Bob Dutton probably didn’t count on the fact that he would also be picking a fight with nearly a million Realtors.

The Rancho Cucamonga Republican is running against Rep. Gary Miller, a 14-year GOP incumbent in the June 5 open primary. The National Association of Realtors political action committee and a super PAC funded by the trade association have spent more than $709,000 on advertising and direct mail supporting Miller. "The amount of money being funneled into this primary from Washington, D.C., special interests on behalf of Miller is mind boggling,” said Clint Lorimore, Dutton’s campaign manager, in an email.

Actually, the super PAC is based in Chicago, as is the trade association. But the NAR has an office in the capital and plenty of money to spend on Washington politics. The association spent more than $22 million on lobbying last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Viral Video calls on Catholics to Vote their Conscience in November

May 25th 2012

Produced by a Florida-based organization, a video calling on Catholics to vote against politicians favoring same-sex marriage, abortion, and euthanasia is going viral on YouTube. With over 1.5 million hits, ‘Test of Fire’ depicts a blacksmith in a darkened workshop pounding out on a forge the words ‘jobs,’ ‘taxes,’ and ‘energy,’ as haunting vocals and symphonic music provide a background reminiscent of Carmina Burana.

The video tells viewers that some issues, such as the above, are negotiable even while others are not. “Many issues are at stake,” the video declare, “but some are not negotiable.” Among these are the defense of life, "From conception. Until natural death," says the video in a quote from Pope Benedict XVI. “This November,” the video says, “Catholics across the nation will be put to the test,” in reference to the current contest between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Governor Mitt Romney. In the video, a presumably Catholic woman is seen striding to a polling place to cast her ballot on Election Day.

Polling shows that while a majority of Catholics supported Obama’s election campaign, there is now a majority that rejects his administration’s mandate requiring Catholic hospitals and charitable institutions to provide insurance coverage for contraception to employees, even against Catholic teachings. This has been considered a dealbreaker by much of the Catholic hierarchy. As a result, this week some 43 Catholic universities and institutions have filed suit in federal courts to challenge the mandate imposed by the Department of Health and Human Services.

“In generations past, the church has always been able to count on the faithful to stand up and protect her sacred rights and duties. This generation of Catholics must do the same,” declares the video in an opening graphic. Saying that issues such as jobs and energy require work by America’s citizens, the video asks rhetorically “But what if we labor in vain?’ Referring to Scripture, the video provides an answer from the 127th Psalm “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Representatve King Points Fingers at Leaks in Bin Laden Informant's 30-year Sentencing

May 24th 2012

Rep Peter T. King

The Pakistani medical doctor who aided U.S. intelligence officers in locating terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was sentenced to 30 years in prison and fined $3,500 yesterday in retaliation for contributing to an operation that was unsanctioned by the Pakistani government, according to reports obtained by the National Association of Chiefs of Police.

Congressman Peter King (R-NY), chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives' Homeland Security Committee, told members of the news media on Wednesday about his suspicion that a  Obama administration official or officials leaked the identity of the Pakistani physician who helped CIA officers locate bin Laden. Shakil Afridi, a physician, was charged with treason and tried under the tribal justice system for running a fake vaccination program for America's bin Laden hunters. Osama bin Laden drew his last breath when he was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs in Abbottabad on May 1, 2011.

The killing of the al-Qaeda leader without the Pakistan officials' prior knowledge of the operation caused the Pakistanis to not only condemn the U.S. but also expel American forces out of Pakistan. When the Pakistani government discovered Dr. Afridi ran a vaccination program specifically for the CIA to collect DNA and verify bin Laden's presence at the compound in the town of Abbottabad, according to King. Read more ..


The Health Edge

Poor, Fake Antimalarial Drugs Threaten Efforts to Fight Disease

May 24th 2012

mosquito biting

 A new study has found that poor quality or counterfeit antimalarial drugs in Africa and Southeast Asia threaten the lives of those infected with the mosquito-borne illness, and sabotage critical efforts to combat the disease.

Researchers with the Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health analyzed 27 studies dating back to 1999.  They found that more than one-third of the drugs used to treat malaria in southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are fake, mislabeled or ineffective.  Malaria threatens 3 billion people around the world, and the parasitic disease kills as many as 1 million people each year, most of them infants and children in Africa. Data collected from 21 African countries found that 35 percent of almost 2,300 antimalarial drug samples failed a chemical analysis, 36 percent of 77 samples failed packaging tests and 20 percent of 389 samples were purposely falsified.

A similar analysis of studies from seven Southeast Asian countries found that 35 percent of more than 1,400 antimalarial drugs failed a chemical test, nearly half of 919 samples were improperly packaged and 36 percent of 1260 drug samples were classified as fake. "And that is an injustice," said Joel Breman. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Iran Rejects World Powers Stance in Nuclear Talks

May 24th 2012

Click to select Image

Iran rejected the stance of world powers in talks over its disputed nuclear program on May 24th. The two sides were meeting for a second day in Baghdad in an attempt to resolve international concerns about potential military dimensions to the Iranian nuclear program. At issue is Iran's enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity. Iran says its enrichment work is meant for medical research and generating electricity.

Western nations fear Iran could quickly upgrade its uranium to the 90 percent purity needed for nuclear weapons. Iran criticized the proposal from the six-nation group, saying it makes too many demands of Iran while offering too little in return. Western powers have rebuffed Tehran's call for an immediate easing of economic sanctions.

In turn, Iran accused world powers Thursday of creating a “difficult atmosphere” with its demands. The world powers group includes the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany. Talks were scheduled through late afternoon. But Iran is signaling the impasse is significant and could derail further talks. The French news agency quoted an Iranian official as saying “the basis for another round of negotiations does not exist yet.” Read more ..



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