Pakistan on Edge
|Scott Stewart||June 7th 2012|
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
|Martin Barillas||June 6th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
|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
|Beverly Lytton||June 5th 2012|
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
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 ..
|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
|Jessica Berman||June 3rd 2012|
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 ..
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
|Rachel Leven||May 31st 2012|
|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
|Christoph Hammerschmidt||May 31st 2012|
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
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 ..
World Jewish Daily
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
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
|Christine Pulliam||May 27th 2012|
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
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 ..
|Zachery Lichaa||May 27th 2012|
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
|Edward Yeranian||May 26th 2012|
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
|Jude Freeman||May 26th 2012|
Cutting Edge Correspondent
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 ..
|Alexandra Duszak||May 26th 2012|
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
|Martin Barillas||May 25th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
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
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
|Jessica Berman||May 24th 2012|
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 ..
From VOA and Agencies
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 ..
The Race for Solar
|Susan Kraemer||May 23rd 2012|
Saudi Arabia has finally noticed it has twenty centuries of solar reserves and has made plans to tap them. For its own use. The Kingdom has just announced a $109 billion plan to create a solar industry that generates a third of the nation’s electricity by 2032, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Maher al- Odan, a consultant at the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KACARE) announced a plan to have 41 GW of solar capacity within two decades.
To put 41 GW in perspective, China is the world’s leader in wind power now, overtaking Germany and the U.S. with about 48 GW of wind. This is a very serious move by a country well able to afford this kind of investment, that till recently has lagged the rest of the MENA region in renewables trailing Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and the United Arab Emirates. Read more ..
Palestine and Israel
|Jonathan Schanzer||May 23rd 2012|
A war is brewing on Capitol Hill. And while wars tend to create refugees, this one may result in fewer of them.
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) is trying to get a handle on the real number of Palestinian refugees in the Middle East -- a move that could result in a change of status for millions of Palestinians. His proposed language for the 2013 foreign appropriations bill would require the U.S. government to confirm just how many Palestinians currently served by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) -- the body tasked with providing assistance, protection, and advocacy for Palestinian refugees -- are actually refugees. The bill, slated for markup on May 22, would challenge the status of the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of Palestinian refugees -- a great many of whom claim to be refugees despite the fact that they were never personally displaced in the 1948 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars.
The aim of this proposed legislation, Kirk's office explains, is not to deprive Palestinians who live in poverty of essential services, but to tackle one of the thorniest issues of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: the "right of return." The dominant Palestinian narrative is that all of the refugees of the Israeli-Palestinian wars have a right to go back, and that this right is not negotiable. But here's the rub: By UNRWA's own count, the number of Palestinians who describe themselves as refugees has skyrocketed from 750,000 in 1950 to 5 million today. As a result, the refugee issue has been an immovable obstacle in round after round of negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. Read more ..
The Economic Edge
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday that unless lawmakers act to prevent scheduled tax increases and spending cuts at the end of the year, a recession will likely result in early 2013. Early next year income taxes are set to go up when the Bush era tax rates expire. Automatic spending cuts triggered by last August’s debt ceiling deal to the tune of $109 billion are set to hit. Meanwhile, payments to physicians under Medicare will be slashed
CBO projects that these and other elements of the so-called “fiscal cliff” will cause the economy to contract as demand dries up. It projected in a Tuesday report that the gross domestic product (GDP) will contract by 1.3 percent in the first half of 2013 before growing 2.3 percent later in the year. Annualized, GDP would grow just 0.5 percent in 2013.
“Given the pattern of past recessions as identified by the National Bureau of Economic Research, such a contraction in output in the first half of 2013 would probably be judged to be a recession,” the report states. A recession is technically defined as two economic quarters of negative economic growth. If Congress and the White House turn off all the automatic cuts and tax increase, growth would rise to 4.4 percent, CBO predicted. The CBO projections appear to go farther in stating the economic risks of lawmakers failing to act than other policymakers have gone. Read more ..
The Defense Edge
|Jeffrey Smith||May 20th 2012|
The chairman of a House subcommittee that helps shape the nation’s nuclear arsenal, Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), has been scathing about the Obama administration’s consideration of new cuts in the arsenal’s size. A shift in U.S. targeting policy, now under White House review, “could border on disarmament and significantly diminish U.S. strength,” Turner complained in March. “Clearly, any further reductions will undermine the deterrent that has kept this country safe.”
Turner’s view has strong currency with Republicans in the House, and among some senior military officers at the Pentagon. But it got some politically interesting pushback this week from a former senior military officer, retired Marine Gen. James E. “Hoss” Cartwright. As head of the U.S. Strategic Command under President George W. Bush from 2004 to 2007, he oversaw the nuclear targeting plan and thousands of warheads atop missiles and inside long-range bombers.
Cartwright, who solidified a reputation for original thinking when he became vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007 to Aug. 2011, startled his former uniformed colleagues again by urging in a new report that the existing American arsenal of 5000 warheads be cut by 80 percent, in an effort meant to be matched by similar reductions in the Russian arsenal. Read more ..
From RFE and Agencies
A survey by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center says 63 percent of Americans would be in favor of taking military action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Majorities of those surveyed in Western Europe also expressed support for military action to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. The survey found widespread opposition to Iran obtaining nuclear weapons in 21 countries, including Russia, China, and Lebanon. According to the survey, released on May 18, in most countries there is majority support among opponents of a nuclear-armed Iran for international economic sanctions to try to stop Tehran's alleged weapons program. However, the Chinese and Russians who took part in the survey opposed tough sanctions on Iran and also military strikes.
Pew states: "Nine-in-ten people or more among the transatlantic E3+3 partners oppose Iran’s nuclear weapons aspiration. But just over half (54%) of Chinese agree. There are even greater differences among the negotiating partners over economic sanctions. Among those who oppose Tehran’s nuclear armaments program, about eight-in-ten Americans, Germans and British back sanctions, but only 38% of Chinese and 46% of Russians are in agreement. The military option is even more divisive among those who are against Iran’s nuclear weapons program. A solid majority (63%) of Americans would turn to military force to prevent Iran from going nuclear. Roughly half of Washington’s European allies would support such a move. And there is very little Chinese or Russian support for a military strike." Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|Martin Barillas||May 18th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
The Islamic Republic of Iran has been playing coy with the world’s oil markets, having been routinely switching off satellite tracking systems on oil tankers for more than a month. Iran began using the tactic in April 2012, which affects about one quarter of its fleet, according to the International Energy Agency. Currently, only 1 tanker out of 38 is now complying with satellite tracking. While it violates international maritime law, the practice serves to cloak the positions of the huge ships as they seek ports and buyers willing to violate sanctions on Iran. Without the tracking, the efficacy of oil sanctions on Iran is difficult to determine. Currently, Iran is also hobbled by sanctions on its bank transactions.
Dependent on petroleum for the bulk of its export income and government spending, Iran is in an increasingly perilous situation as it faces tightening restrictions imposed by the West. With its revenues sagging, Iran now faces a glut of oil that is being stored in land-based depots, and on its vessels at sea.
Sanctions have cut off Iranian shippers’ access to maritime insurance, mostly underwritten in Europe, and making Iran ever more dependent on its own fleet of 39 tankers, including 25 super-tankers, according to the IEA. After being pressured by the United States, Lloyd’s Register said last month that it is closing its office in Iran and stop certifying the safety of Iranian ships. Their certification is needed by ships seeking entry at most of the world’s ports. This steps up the pressure on Iran, which was already facing the end of its relationship with Norway’s Det Norske Veritas, another ship classification organization. Read more ..
|Zachary Lichaa||May 17th 2012|
Remarks made by Daniel Shapiro, the United States Ambassador to Israel, on Tuesday indicate that U.S. military forces have trained and are ready for a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. “It would be preferable to resolve this diplomatically, and through the use of pressure, than to use military force,” Shapiro said during a speech in Tel Aviv. “But that does not mean that option isn’t available. Not just available, it’s ready. The necessary planning has been done to ensure that it’s ready.”
The comments were not intended to become public but a newspaper reporter recorded them, according to Israel’s Channel 2.
Joint military exercises between the U.S. and Israel are scheduled to take place in the coming months, after being postponed earlier this year, and Channel 2 in Israel reported earlier this week that Israeli fighter jets will travel to the U.S. this summer to conduct joint exercises. Israeli jets have not engaged in joint exercises in American airspace for several years, adding to the speculation that the two countries are coordinating a possible strike on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Read more ..
The security breach at Newark Liberty International Airport reported on May 15, although troubling to many, was not the first serious lapse in aviation security and it probably won't be the last to occur in a multi-billion dollar government enterprise, according to security experts. They point to a government report that documents upwards of 25,000 breaches of airport security checkpoints since November 2001.
The Homeland Security Department had completed an initial study to validate the scientific basis of the Transportation Security Administration's Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program; however, additional work remains to fully validate the program, according to a report released by the Government Accountability Office in July. The House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations called a subsequent hearing to investigate airport security after reports showed there had been 25,000 breaches of security checkpoints since November 2001.
Subcommittee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a frequent critic of the TSA, complained about the security breaches and called them "unacceptable." “We appreciate TSA in tracking and providing that data, but obviously, those are the ones we know about,” Rep. Chaffetz said at the start of the May 16 hearings. “The deep concern is, what about the ones we don't know about?” Chaffetz added that he was concerned that the TSA had not conducted threat-vulnerability assessments of most U.S. airports. Only about 20 of the more than 450 airports for which the TSA is responsible for security have been reviewed by the Homeland Security Department. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Richard Hook||May 17th 2012|
European Southern Obervatory
|NGC 5128 aka Centaurus A (credit: ESO)|
Centaurus A, also known as NGC 5128, is a peculiar massive elliptical galaxy with a supermassive black hole at its heart. It lies about 12 million light-years away in the southern constellation of Centaurus (The Centaur) and has the distinction of being the most prominent radio galaxy in the sky. Astronomers think that the bright nucleus, strong radio emission, and jet features of Centaurus A are produced by a central black hole with a mass of about 100 million times that of the Sun. Matter from the dense central parts of the galaxy releases vast amounts of energy as it falls towards the black hole.
The galaxy was first documented by British astronomer James Dunlop at the Parramatta observatory in Australia on August 4, 1826, and is referred to as Centaurus A because it was the first major source of radio waves discovered in that constellation back in the 1950s.
This Wide Field Imager (WFI) picture allows us to appreciate the galaxy’s elliptical nature, which shows up as the elongated shape of the fainter outer parts. The glow that fills much of the picture comes from hundreds of billions of cooler and older stars. Unlike most elliptical galaxies, however, Centaurus A’s smooth shape is disturbed by a broad and patchy band of dark material that obscures the galaxy’s centre. Read more ..
The Enviornmental Edge
|Margaret Allen||May 16th 2012|
Today’s mega forest fires of the southwestern U.S. are truly unusual and exceptional in the long-term record, suggests a new study that examined hundreds of years of ancient tree ring and fire data from two distinct climate periods.
Researchers constructed and analyzed a statistical model that encompassed 1,500 years of climate and fire patterns to test, in part, whether today’s dry, hot climate alone is causing the megafires that routinely destroy millions of acres of forest according to fire anthropologist Christopher I. Roos, Southern Methodist University, Dallas. The researchers found that even when ancient climates varied from each other—one hotter and drier and the other cooler and wetter—the frequencies of year-to-year weather patterns that drive fire activity were similar. The findings suggest that today’s megafires, at least in the southwestern U.S., are atypical. Furthermore, the findings implicate as the cause not only modern climate change, but also human activity over the last century. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
Iran’s influence in Afghanistan is set in concrete: new roads crisscross the country, power grids supply remote cities with electricity, and planned railways form ties that bind. Tehran also leaves its mark in less obvious ways: its export of cultural and political views, strong media presence, and the funding of religious schools.
But even while welcoming the much-needed assistance, Kabul has always warily eyed Tehran’s advances. Now that caution has given way to tension, leading observers to warn that Tehran is poised to make Afghanistan an ideological battleground should Kabul not see things its way. The tipping point, says Najib Mahmoud, professor of political science at Kabul University, is the recent signing of a long-term strategic agreement between Afghanistan and the United States. “This agreement might make Iran feel like it is surrounded,” Mahmoud says. “Secondly, if the U.S. maintains control in Afghanistan, considering the state of relations between Iran and the U.S., Tehran will feel that Afghanistan could be a threat in the future. And this will create tension between the two countries.” Read more ..
|Anthony H. Cordesman||May 14th 2012|
Center for Strategic and International Studies
We badly need to rethink our approach to Iran’s nuclear programs. We are putting far too much emphasis on Iran’s nuclear efforts without considering how these programs fit into Iran’s over military and strategic objectives. At the same time, we are placing too much emphasis on whether Iran has revived its formal nuclear program and the current shape of its nuclear facilities. The ironic result is to put too much emphasis on both the wrong form of arms control negotiations and preventive military strikes.
To begin, it is essential to understand that Iran has moved far beyond the point where it lacked the technology base to produce nuclear weapons, or where searching through the statements of senior Iranian officials provides any meaningful picture of its progress and intentions. Iran has pursued every major area of nuclear weapons development, has carried out programs that have already given it every component of a weapon except fissile material, and there is strong evidence that it has carried out programs to integrate a nuclear warhead on to its missiles. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|J.J. Barrow and Trevor Aaronson||May 14th 2012|
Paz Oquendo, a worker at the U.S. Postal Service’s Orlando sorting facility, smelled the noxious odor first. It was Feb. 4, 2011, and the foul stench was coming from one of the large mailbags hanging near the package-conveyor belts. She ran over to Jeffrey A. Lill, the 44-year-old shift supervisor who was monitoring the sorting from a platform, and reported the smell. “I can’t breathe,” Oquendo told Lill.
Lill headed toward the center of the sorting floor—an area workers call “the belly”—to investigate the odor.
Then he smelled it—a strong chemical stench he couldn’t identify. It was coming from a bag wet with a brown viscous substance. Lill looked in the wet sack and saw a broken package with tubes and wires sticking out. He remembers reading the return address with surprise: Yemen. Four months earlier, two bombs from Yemen had been sent through FedEx and UPS, and the U.S. Postal Service had alerted everyone to be on the lookout for packages coming from the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Jonathan Spyer||May 13th 2012|
The port of Oktyabrsk is situated on the left bank of the Bug River, 58 km. north of the entry to the Black Sea. Close to the city of Nikolayev, this anonymous Ukrainian port could not seem further from the strife-torn Middle East. Yet in the last year, Oktyabrsk has played a key role in the international structure that enables the survival of the Assad dictatorship in Syria. It is the main point from which ships bearing the Russian arms that underwrite the Assad regime’s survival set off undisturbed on their journey to the Syrian coast.
Chartered by the state-owned Russian arms corporation Rosoboronexport, the ships make their way from Oktyabrsk to the Black Sea. They cross the Bosphorous Straits to Limassol in Cyprus and continue to the Russian deep sea port in Tartous, Syria. These shipments form a vital node in Moscow’s tireless effort to prevent revolution in Syria. They have received insufficient international attention. If Syria constitutes, as some believe, the central linchpin to understanding events in the Middle East, then the signs are not positive. Read more ..
Earth on Edge
|Pedro Teixeira||May 13th 2012|
Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology
|Eyjafjallajökull eruption, Apr 2010 (© 2010/credit: Marco Fulle)|
In May 2010, the ash cloud from the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull reached the Iberian Peninsula and brought airports to a halt all over Europe. At the time, scientists followed its paths using satellites, laser detectors, sun photometers, and other instruments. Two years later they have now presented the results and models that will help to prevent the consequences of such natural phenomena.
The eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in the south of Iceland began on 20 March 2010. On 14 April, it began to emit a cloud of ash that moved towards Northern and Central Europe, resulting in the closure of airspace. Hundreds of planes and millions of passengers were grounded. After a period of calm, volcanic activity intensified once again on 3 May. This time the winds transported the aerosols (a mixture of particles and gas) towards Spain and Portugal, where some airports had to close between 6 and 12 May. This was also a busy time for scientists, who took advantage of the situation to monitor the phenomenon. Read more ..
The Environmental Edge
|Mario Aguilera||May 13th 2012|
A 100-fold upsurge in human-produced plastic garbage in the ocean is altering habitats in the marine environment, according to a new study led by a graduate student researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. In 2009 an ambitious group of graduate students led the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition (SEAPLEX) to the North Pacific Ocean Subtropical Gyre aboard the Scripps research vessel New Horizon. During the voyage the researchers, who concentrated their studies a thousand miles west of California, documented an alarming amount of human-generated trash, mostly broken down bits of plastic the size of a fingernail floating across thousands of miles of open ocean.
At the time the researchers didn't have a clear idea of how such trash might be impacting the ocean environment, but a new study reveals that plastic debris in the area popularly known as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" has increased by 100 times over in the past 40 years, leading to changes in the natural habitat of animals such as the marine insect Halobates sericeus. These "sea skaters" or "water striders"—relatives of pond water skaters—inhabit water surfaces and lay their eggs on flotsam (floating objects). Read more ..
Broken Wall Street
|Peter Schroeder||May 12th 2012|
Democrats have been fighting a years-long uphill battle to protect the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. Now, thanks to JPMorgan Chase, they think they might have the edge back. When the banking titan announced Thursday evening that one of its traders’ moves had, in six weeks, lost the firm at least $2 billion, backers of the Wall Street overhaul could not have asked for a better example to make their case, or a better time. "It confirms our view that there needs to be regulation,” said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee. “It shows that if it can happen to them, it can happen to anybody.”
Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said the gigantic loss should be a wake-up call, after banks have been bringing pressure to bear for softer rules. “How many times do we have to be hit in the head with a financial sledgehammer to wake up and realize we’ve got to take action?” he said. “The big banks have been fighting Dodd-Frank tooth and nail. … Regrettably, the banks have largely been successful.”
When Dodd-Frank was signed into law nearly two years ago in the wake of the financial crisis, it was sold as one of the most sweeping overhauls of the financial industry in history. Read more ..
Greece on Edge
From RFE and Agencies
Greece's socialist leader, Evangelos Venizelos, says efforts to form a coalition government have failed. Venizelos, who was the last of three party leaders to try to reach an agreement, said he would hand the mandate back to President Carolos Papoulias on May 12. He made the comments after meeting with Alexis Tsipras, whose antiausterity Syriza party came second in last weekend's election. Tsipras said he would not join any government that intended to continue implementing the terms of Greece's international bailout agreement. The May 6 inconclusive elections have boosted the standing of antiausterity parties, which want to abolish Greece's bailout deal with the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Athens must pass new austerity measures worth 14.5 billion euros by June in order to qualify for the next installment of the bailout. New elections would have to be called in June. Read more ..
Russia on Edge
|Daisy Sindelar||May 11th 2012|
Authorities might have hoped that Moscow's tenacious protest movement would die down after hundreds of demonstrators were summarily arrested at a May 6 rally ahead of Vladimir Putin's presidential inauguration. But rather than giving up, protesters are adapting their tactics. This week has seen activists in the Russian capital gathering in public places for group strolls, sit-ins, and playful performances they say do not constitute political protests -- but still get the message across. At a series of "people's walks" this week, hundreds of Muscovites -- many dressed in white or wearing white ribbons, the symbolic color of the protest movement -- gathered in loose groups in central Moscow, singing, playing games, and listening to music.
Political slogans and speechifying were kept to a minimum, with most messages scrawled unobtrusively on skin or scribbled on the ground in chalk. One participant who brazenly displayed a political banner earned a chorus of boos from a group of peaceful participants including talk-show darling Ksenia Sobchak. "This isn't a protest, this is a walk," she scolded him. Read more ..
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