The Drug Wars
|Ben West||February 16th 2012|
Mexican authorities announced Feb. 8 the largest seizure of methamphetamine in Mexican history -- and possibly the largest ever anywhere -- on a ranch outside of Guadalajara. The total haul was 15 tons of pure methamphetamine along with a laboratory capable of producing all the methamphetamine seized. While authorities are not linking the methamphetamine to any specific criminal group, Guadalajara is a known stronghold of the Sinaloa Federation, and previous seizures there have been connected to the group.
Methamphetamine, a synthetic drug manufactured in personal labs for decades, is nothing new in Mexico or the United States. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has led numerous crusades against the drug, increasing regulations on its ingredients to try to keep it from gaining a foothold in the United States. While the DEA's efforts have succeeded in limiting production of the drug in the United States, consumption has risen steadily over the past two decades. The increasing DEA pressure on U.S. suppliers and the growing demand for methamphetamine have driven large-scale production of the drug outside the borders of the United States. Given Mexico's proximity and the pervasiveness of organized criminal elements seeking new markets, it makes sense that methamphetamine would be produced on an industrial scale there. Indeed, Mexico has provided an environment for a scale of production far greater than anything ever seen in the United States. Read more ..
The Edge of Climate Change
|Christina Coleman||February 13th 2012|
In the quiet after the storms, streets and cars had all but disappeared under piles of snow. The U.S. Postal Service suspended service for the first time in 30 years. Snow plows struggled to push the evidence off of major roads. Hundreds of thousands of Washington metropolitan residents grappled with the loss of electricity and heat for almost a week.
By February 10, 2010 the National Weather Service had reported that three storms spanning December to February in the winter of 2009-2010 had dumped a whopping 54.9 inches of snow on the Baltimore-Washington area. The snowfall broke a seasonal record first set in 1899. Snowmaggedon, or Snowpocalypse, as the winter was dubbed, entered the history books as the snowiest winter on record for the U.S. East Coast. Read more ..
America on Edge
|Susan Ferriss||February 12th 2012|
California, often a trendsetter, could make history if it approves Gov. Jerry Brown’s bid to close all state-run youth prisons and eliminate its state Division of Juvenile Justice. Much depends, though, on whether the state’s politically influential prison guards, probation officers and district attorneys can be convinced — or forced by legislators — to agree to Brown’s proposal. That won’t be an easy sell, due to both public-safety arguments and sure-to-surface haggling over just who pays to house juvenile offenders. owing to restructure government more efficiently, Brown, a Democrat, wants to close the last three of 11 youth prisons that have long been attacked by critics as “expensive failures.” If the state phases out the last three of its aging detention centers, all future young offenders would be held, schooled and treated by California’s 58 counties.
This is the second time since taking office last year that Brown has proposed closing the state juvenile division, which is part of its corrections system. The division’s responsibility has already been slashed dramatically from 10,000 wards in the mid-1990s to about 1,100 in state custody today. Their numbers may be few, but the cost for keeping those youth in state custody runs about $200,000-a-year for every ward. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Martin Barillas||February 10th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
Israel has sternly warned embattled Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad against transferring his stockpile of unconventional weapons, long-range missiles, and advanced anti-aircraft weapons to the Hezbollah terrorist organization. A transfer of chemical weapons would be tantamount to a declaration of war against Israel, declared a senior Israeli defense official on February 6 who averred that his country will not accept such a move and would act to prevent it.
Assad confronted political opponents and ordinary Syrians in a nearly 11-month standoff in which 5,000 people have been killed, according to the United Nations. Over the last ten days, Syrian rebels briefly controlled the eastern periphery of Damascus, the capital city, but were met with a brutal and swift response by Syrian forces loyal to the dictator. While the resistance was crushed, it is seen in the region as a dangerous development for the regime. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|Lenny Ben-David||February 10th 2012|
|The Strait of Hormuz|
Considerable attention is being given to Iranian threats to block the Strait of Hormuz, through which a large proportion of the world’s petroleum sails. The U.S Energy Information Administration estimates that “almost 17 million barrels in 2011, up from between 15.5-16.0 million bbl/d in 2009-2010,” sails past Iranian gun and missile emplacements along the coast, mine-laying ships, and Revolutionary Guard fast boats. In 2011, that amounted to “roughly 35 percent of all seaborne traded oil, or almost 20 percent of oil traded worldwide.”
Yet the recent visit of two Iranian naval vessels to the Saudi Red Sea port of Jeddah should draw attention to two more vital naval chokepoints—the Bab el Mandeb Strait at the southern tip of the Red Sea, and the Suez Canal located between the northern tip of the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. (See this map.) More than three million barrels of oil pass through the Bab el Mandeb every day on the way to the Suez Canal and the SUMED (Suez-Mediterranean) pipeline used by tankers that are too big to traverse the Canal. Closure of the Bab el Mandeb would force ships to travel around the southern tip of Africa. Read more ..
Edge of Environmental Health
|Jim Morris||February 6th 2012|
Publication of a landmark government study probing whether diesel engine exhaust causes lung cancer in miners — already 20 years in the making — has been delayed by industry and congressional insistence on seeing study data and documents before the public does. A federal judge has affirmed the right of an industry group and a House committee to review the materials and has held the Department of Health and Human Services in contempt for not producing all of them.
The much-anticipated study of 12,000 miners exposed to diesel fumes carries broad implications. If the research suggests a strong link between the fumes and cancer, regulation and litigation could ramp up — with consequences not only for underground mining, but also for industries such as trucking, rail and shipping. Exposure isn't limited to workers; people who live near ports, rail yards and highways also are subjected to diesel exhaust laced with carcinogens such as benzene, arsenic and formaldehyde. But for the time being, at least, the results of an $11.5 million investigation by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health are under lock and key. Read more ..
The Weather Edge
|Karin Kloosterman||February 5th 2012|
A NASA-funded joint research project between the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Maryland has helped connect the dots further between air pollution and climate change.The researchers believe air pollution is wreaking havoc on local weather systems and water distribution. This might explain freaky weather patterns and extreme tornadoes and flooding in the United States in recent years -- or the fog blanket covering Beijing on its off-the-chart polluted days when it's too dangerous to go outside.
As they described in a November article in the science journal Nature Geoscience, the bi-national team analyzed a 10-year dataset of atmospheric measurements taken by the US Southern Great Plains research facility in Oklahoma. This facility is run by the US Department of Energy's Atmospheric Radiation Measurement program. Read more ..
|Marc J. Rauch||February 2nd 2012|
The Auto Channel
British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement. Edwin Black. 2011. Dialog Press. 277 pages.
British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement: The West's Secret Pact to Get Mideast Oil is the third and latest entry in an series of books written by award-winning investigative journalist Edwin Black that tackles the issues surrounding automobiles, energy, and transportation. The previous two books are Internal Combustion and The Plan: How to Rescue Society the Day the Oil Stops. As with all of his other books, Black relies upon a crack research team to uncover and compile an exhaustive trove of heretofore unknown factual information and data.
Buy it here. See Book TV here.
To me, as a dedicated free-market capitalist and defender of American ideals, I would like to believe that the story of petroleum oil exploration should be one of entrepreneurial glory. Instead, the more I learn about the corruption and machinations employed by British Petroleum and its industry cohorts and competitors, the more I realize that we have been the victims of oil’s subjugation for well over 100 years.
With the rise of industrialization and the advent of the automobile and other forms of engine-powered transportation, the world needed a standardized source of fuel for the new machines. That fuel could easily have been a fuel produced by virtually anyone using organic materials. However, a fuel based on simple vegetation or human waste, and a common distillation process that couldn't be patented left little on the table for those who sought unbridled power and wealth. British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement reads like the most exciting Tom Clancy novel entwined with a devious international conspiracy worthy of Ian Fleming’s wildest James Bond adventure; although even for a 007 yarn it might run the risk of being considered too implausible a plot. Buy it here. Read more ..
Israel and Iran
|Juda Engelmayer||February 1st 2012|
The Cutting Edge News Contributor
|Palestine the Book, by Jonathan Bloomfield|
What would we do if we lived in a flood plain with no egress at all, or along a hurricane evacuation zone that just prolonged the inevitable without taking you out of the path? It is probably something few really consider until the storm is bearing down on them and reality is about hit hard. Living in the New York metropolitan area, having experienced hurricanes, nor'easters and blizzards that destroyed property, wiped out beaches, killed people and devastated lives and families, many of us can imagine the sense of urgency when an emergency is near.
Most recently, last April and May we watched the 24 hour news channels as large regions of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi were hit by the largest storms since the early 1900s, and the Morganza Spillway was intentionally opened, destroying nearly 5000 square miles of inhabited land to spare total destruction of Baton Rouge and New Orleans, on the heels of the 2005 hurricane that nearly wiped out the whole Gulf region. What if the people who lived there or were visiting the area then had no way to escape?
The prospect is frightening and for just about all of us, unimaginable. Now imagine the threat is not a tidal wave, rushing floodwaters, a violent tornado or some other natural disaster, and something that can wipe out life as we know it for years to come, destroying not just property, but everyone and everything in its wake. Imagine the threat is a nuclear explosion, the mushroom cloud in the distance, the flash of light and the torrent effect of the ripple that tears through everything in its path, leaving death and darkness then nothingness.
This is a fear that we face living in a nuclear world, but one that we here in the United States feel is either so remote or could hit elsewhere, but not in my backyard. However, in Israel, the fear is real. With the entire country being just 8,019 square miles; extending about 200 mi north to south and just 70 miles east to west; with its narrowest point being only 12 miles across, there is nowhere to go to outrun a nuclear attack, nowhere to hide and nothing to do but watch the end of the world take hold. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Peter H. Stone||February 1st 2012|
A handful of Democratic super PACs and nonprofits reported raising together just over $19 million last year, a paltry sum compared to the leading GOP groups.
The groups formed last year to help President Barack Obama win a second term and improve Democrats’ congressional fortunes,
The total is based on a joint press release the groups issued Tuesday evening and includes over $6.7 million for Priorities USA and Priorities USA Action, started in early 2011 by two former White House aides, Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney — a slow start toward their goal of roping in $100 million to spend this election year.
In the first half of last year, the two groups backing Obama raised over $5 million which underscores their lackluster results in the second half. Read more ..
Islam on Edge
|Martin Barillas||January 30th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
|Victim Zanaib Shafia|
Following a guilty verdict in Ontario in a first-degree murder case, the Muslim community of Canada reacted with apparent approval. Imam Sikander Hashmi of the Islamic Society of Kingston, of the city where the trial unfolded, said "The jurors and the court have done their job. Our job as community leaders and members of society is that we have to be very clear about our position on domestic violence and such crimes." The Muslim religious leader added, "We need to speak very strongly, and we need to take concrete action."
It was on Sunday, January 29, that a Kingston, Ont., court handed down a guilty verdict in what has been called an ‘honor killing.’ A jury found a Montreal couple and their son guilty of first-degree murder in the deaths of four family members. Mohammad Shafia (59), his wife Tooba Yahya (42) and their son Hamed (21), were each handed an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years. The trio was accused of drowning Hamed's three teenage sisters and his father's first wife in a polygamous marriage, in what prosecutors described as an attempt to restore the family's honor. The three girls were named Zainab, Sahar and Geeti Shafia, while Shafia’s first wife was Rona Amir Mohammad. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Martin Barillas||January 29th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
There has been much speculation, conjecture, outrage, and confusion over an announcement by Google, the famed Internet search engine, over the consolidation of its various services. In a message to Internet users who use Google’s services, the U.S. based company told customers in an email, “We’re getting rid of over 60 different privacy policies across Google and replacing them with one that’s a lot shorter and easier to read. Our new policy covers multiple products and features, reflecting our desire to create one beautifully simple and intuitive experience across Google.” The change is set for March 1.
The Arab Fall in Egypt
|Juda Engelmayer||January 27th 2012|
The Cutting Edge News Contributor
Ten Americans working for nongovernmental organizations in Egypt have been barred from leaving the country. Among them is is a son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Sam LaHood.
Mr. LaHood is director of the Washington-based International Republican Institute's Egyptian office, an organization that seeks to promote democracy in Egypt. Mr. LaHood reported that when he showed his passport to the immigration official at the airport on January 21, 2012, he was told to stand aside. He was then told that he could not leave the country, but was given no reason as to why.
Recently, Egypt's military council has been suggesting that the United States is trying to destabilize Egypt by non-profit human rights groups and these democracy-building agencies. Upon learning the news of the ban, Washington officials said that Egypt was "endangering American lives." Egypt referred to the travel ban as a "de facto detention."
In December, LaHood’s organizational office in Egypt was raided and police took everything: computers, documents, furniture, and the office was sealed and remains so for the past six weeks. Prior to this ban, the American Embassy had been working hard to get the property back, but nothing has been returned or explained. Lorne W. Craner, President of the International Republican Institute, said that the Egyptian government had promised to close the investigation and return the seized property, but nothing has happened. "Here we are all these weeks later and all these assurances later, and things are getting worse," Craner said.
Mr. LaHood reported that he complied with investigators, signed a statement on a copy of his passport and pledged to be available for his next “interrogation”. 17 members of LaHood’s staff had been interrogated and three called back for a second session. Read more ..
The Race for EV's
|Christoph Hammerschmidt||January 25th 2012|
The British government and a number of private-public initiatives are successfully building the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, says Frost & Sullivan. "London has over 500 public charging stations and is dynamically adding more to it", explains Research Associate Prajyot N. Sathe. “The launch of the Source London scheme is working towards getting 1.300 public charging stations by 2013.” By 2015, about 25.000 charging stations will be available in the greater London area. The North East England region also is pushing ahead electromobility infrastructure - the region recently has installed 300 charging stations; the goal is to get 1300 charging stations already in 2013. North East England has been included in the “Plugged-in places” project, that offers matched funding to business and public sectors to install charging stations. They have also been formulated to integrate residential charging stations with a provision for smart meters.
Nissan's strategic use of its Sunderland plant for developing Electric Vehicles (EVs) across Europe has accelerated the government’s vision to increase sustainable and 'green-collar’ jobs. The ambitious targets set by the government and heavy contracts secured by leading EV infrastructure providers are the major grounds for the impressive deployment of the EV charging stations network at strategic locations such as car parks, residential and commercial locations as well as leisure facilities. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Jude Freeman||January 24th 2012|
Cutting Edge Correspondent
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory witnessed an eruption early Monday morning and now astronomers are warning that the biggest geomagnetic storm since 2005 could cause considerable communication disruptions. A solar flare caused by an eruption of sunspot 1402, a region of the sun that has been highly active lately, has created a radiation storm that could effect power grids, satellites and even air travel. This particular eruption produced a M9 class solar flare, almost high enough to be rated as an X-flare, the most powerful of them all.
Solar flares occur when a build up of magnetic energy in the solar atmosphere is released suddenly, emitting radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum. The energy released is as powerful as the impact of an explosion of millions of hydrogen bombs detonating simultaneously. As magnetic energy is released, particles such as electrons, nuclei and protons are accelerated in the solar atmosphere. The first recorded solar flare was observed in 1859. Read more ..
Turkey's Genocide of Armenians
|Martin Barillas||January 24th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
|Armenian death march|
On January 23, the French Senate approved a bill which acknowledges that some 1.5 million Armenian Christians were slaughtered by Ottoman Turks during the First World War. The denial of this historical truth in France, under the legislation, will bring a year in prison or a fine of up to 45,000 euros (just over £40,000) for those convicted. The bill awaits the signature of President Nicolas Sarkozy. Turkey, an ally of both the United States and France, sees the measure as an insult to its national honor. The largely Muslim country has already suspended all military, economic and political ties with France.
Calling the legislation both "racist and discriminatory", Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Sarkozy not to sign the bill, offering unspecified “retaliatory measures” if he does. "For us it is null and void," said Erdogan, who leads an Islamist party. "We still have not lost our hope that it can be corrected." Turkey's Foreign Ministry also condemned the Senate vote in a statement, saying it should not be ratified so as “avoid this being recorded as part of France's political, legal and moral mistakes.” The statement added that “we will not hesitate to implement, as we deem appropriate, the measures that we have considered in advance." Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Dan Robinson||January 23rd 2012|
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address to the U.S. Congress. Obama provided a preview of the speech he will deliver in one of the most difficult economic and political environments any president has faced in decades. The economy will be front and center as the president makes the trip to Capitol Hill to address a joint session of Congress. Unemployment is falling, but not as quickly as Obama hoped. This threatens his re-election chances. But Congress has historically low approval ratings - polls show that more than 80 percent of Americans disapprove of the job it is doing.
In speeches across the country, Obama has targeted what he calls congressional dysfunction. On Saturday, the president issued a video message previewing broad themes of what he calls his blueprint for America's economy. He said it will be based on a speech he gave in Osawatomie, Kansas, last year in which he spoke about the importance of the middle class and fair play. "I talked in Osawatomie about - this is a make-or-break moment for the middle class and folks trying to work their way into the middle class," he said. "Because we can go in two directions. One is toward less opportunity and less fairness. Or we can fight for where I think we need to go: building an economy that works for everyone, not just a wealthy few." Read more ..
Edge on Books
|Sabine Guinsbourg||January 21st 2012|
British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement--The West’s Secret Pact to Get Mideast Oil. Edwin Black. 277 pages. 2011. Buy it here.
Bestselling historian author and investigative journalist Edwin Black appears in three broadcasts on Book-TV over the January 21-22 weekend and January 23. Black will speak on his book British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement—The West’s Secret Pact to Get Mideast Oil. His main themes will be the fraud, deception, and decades of war machinations of the company now known as BP, and how it shaped the Mideast as we now know it and helped addict the world to oil.
His dynamic presentations were made before an international audience assembled at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington D.C. sponsored by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement is only the latest of his several volumes on the geopolitics and diplomatic machinations that led to the carving up of the Mideast the creation of oil states following the fall of the Ottoman Empire nearly one hundred years ago-- and eventually to the two costly wars the United States fought in Iraq. Black is said to be the man who coined the term "petropolitics."
Some of his other widely-cited books on the topic, which have been well received by historians and analysts, are The Farhud, Banking on Baghdad, The Plan and Internal Combustion. These cover the intricate and deadly connections between backroom dealings by global powers such as British Petroleum and General Motors, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, as well as and their interveined relationship with America’s wars and oil addiction. Black is best known for his prize-winning volume, IBM and the Holocaust.
British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement has brought Black accolades from analysts who watch the Mideast and the current devolution of decades-old oil-sponsored dictatorships in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, and the possible rise of Islamist regimes. His work provides historical context to the troubles of the so-called Arab Spring that have led to the fall of Libya’s Muammar Gadhafi and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Read more ..
Edge of Terrorism
|Martin Barillas||January 21st 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
|Christmas Day, 2011, bombing in Abuja|
"I am trying to get in contact with Mgr. John Namanza Niyiring, Bishop of Kano but the lines do not work", reported Catholic Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama of Jos in central Nigeria. On the evening of January 20, in Kano, northern Nigeria's largest city, a series of coordinated bomb attacks and armed assaults hit several targets, among which where some police stations.
"Last night, I spoke with the pastor of the church of Our Lady of the Apostles who, over the phone, and told me he was forced to hide because he was under attack. But the information that we have so far are still fragmentary, and we are waiting for confirmation. Telephone lines are interrupted, I do not know if it is due to a technical problem or other causes. The situation is still confusing. We will see how the government reacts to this new attack", said the Archbishop of Jos.
A 24-hour curfew has been imposed in Nigeria's second-largest city, Kano, after a coordinated series of bomb attacks. Nigerian police say at least seven people have been killed in the bombings that targeted police and government offices in the northern city. The Islamic extremist group Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Jonathan Spyer ||January 20th 2012|
The emergent winner of the Arab upheavals of 2011 is Sunni Islamism. This is reflected most centrally in the election results in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood and the more extreme Salafi trend have won a landslide victory. Arab Sunni Islamist regimes are set to emerge in the period ahead as factors in the regional contest for power.
The emergence of regimes of this type is bad news for the West, but it also represents a setback for the main enemies of the West in the Mideast — namely, Iran and its allies. The rise of Sunni Islamism has implications in the Palestinian arena. Hamas is currently seeking to exit the Shia, Iran-led bloc in the direction of Sunni Islamist power. Meanwhile, Iran is focusing on its solid link with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement as an alternative to the dying alliance with Hamas. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|George Friedman||January 17th 2012|
The United States reportedly sent a letter to Iran via multiple intermediaries last week warning Tehran that any attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz constituted a red line for Washington. The same week, a chemist associated with Iran’s nuclear program was killed in Tehran. In Ankara, Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani met with Turkish officials and has been floating hints of flexibility in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.
This week, a routine rotation of U.S. aircraft carriers is taking place in the Middle East, with the potential for three carrier strike groups to be on station in the U.S. Fifth Fleet’s area of operations and a fourth carrier strike group based in Japan about a week’s transit from the region. Next week, Gen. Michael Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will travel to Israel to meet with senior Israeli officials. And Iran is scheduling another set of war games in the Persian Gulf for February that will focus on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ irregular tactics for closing the Strait of Hormuz. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Jude Freeman||January 16th 2012|
Cutting Edge Correspondent
A Los Angeles Times report has revealed that a virulent strain of tuberculosis is causing concern for officials in India. More than a dozen people have been infected with an antibiotic-resistant variant of the lung disease.
The December issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases highlighted four cases of the disease but the Indian media report that no fewer than twelve people have been affected. Epidemiologists are fearful that a larger number of cases may have gone undetected.
A co-author of the study, Zarir Udwadia of the Hinduja National Hospital and Medical Research Centre in Mumbai, told New Scientist "It's estimated that on average, a tuberculosis patient infects 10 to 20 contacts in a year, and there's no reason to suspect that this strain is any less transmissible," adding "Short of quarantining them in hospitals with isolation facilities till they become non-infectious—which is not practical or possible—there is nothing else one can do to prevent transmission." Read more ..
The Arab Fall in Egypt
|Eric Trager||January 16th 2012|
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Given the Muslim Brotherhood's anti-Western outlook, Washington must prepare for the strong possibility that it will hold only limited influence with Egypt's next government.
The FJP was licensed on April 30, 2011, making it the second new party to be recognized by the Egyptian government following Hosni Mubarak's February 11 ouster. Initially, it sought to assuage fears of a post-Mubarak Islamist takeover by promising to run for fewer than 50 percent of the seats. But after its electoral alliance with the Wafd Party broke down in late October, the FJP announced that it would contest 77 percent of the seats.
In the first round of the elections, which began on November 28, the FJP's coalition won an estimated 73 of 150 seats (48.7 percent), and in the second round, which began on December 14, an estimated 79 of 172 seats (45.9 percent). Its margin of victory is expected to increase in the third round, which is taking place in traditional Brotherhood strongholds such as the Gharbiyah and Daqahliyah governorates. Read more ..
The Edge of Justice
|Sarah Favot, Kirsten Berg, and Jenna Ebersole||January 16th 2012|
One 16-year-old went looking for pot at a Brookline High School graduation party, then shot the guest of honor in the chest when he got a racial slur instead. The other 16-year-old stabbed a man 23 times inside his Springfield apartment, returning the next day to steal things from the victim’s home while his body lay nearby. Both crimes were horrific, but the punishments were strikingly different. The murderer in Springfield, Edgardo Rodriguez, accepted a plea deal for the 2004 killing of Joel Rivera Delgado, allowing him to potentially walk free within the next decade. The other teen, Antonio Fernandez, took his 2002 case to trial and received the harshest juvenile sentence Massachusetts permits — the harshest in the country, in fact — for shooting Perry Hughes: life in prison without the possibility of parole. Until then, Fernandez had never been charged with anything worse than stealing video games. Now, he’s sentenced to die in prison.
The two cases illustrate the profound inequities that have grown up in the juvenile justice system in the wake of a 1996 law aimed at cracking down on juvenile “super predators,” by requiring them to be tried in adult court where they face the maximum adult penalty for first degree murder, an investigation by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting has found. Before the change, juvenile killers could only be sentenced to serve until age 21 unless their case was transferred to adult court. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Josh Israel and Aaron Mehta||January 16th 2012|
Rick Santorum the presidential candidate casts himself as a Washington outsider, “one of the most successful government reformers in our history,” according to his campaign bio, “taking on Washington's powerful special interests from the moment he arrived in our nation’s capital.” But Rick Santorum the House and Senate member received more than $11 million in contributions from corporate and other special interest political action committees (PACs) over his career, according to a Center for Public Integrity investigation.
Among the largest donors are giants from the telecommunications, tobacco, and banking industries, the analysis found. The Center examined contributions to the Pennsylvanian’s congressional, senatorial and 2012 presidential campaigns — as well as his “America’s Foundation” and “Fight PAC” leadership PACs, entities set up by Santorum to aid others in their political campaigns. Corporate PACs connected to telecommunications firms that became today’s AT&T Inc. poured more than $98,000 into Santorum’s campaign coffers, making the behemoth his top career patron. Those donations may have been rewarded with support for the industry; in 1996 Santorum was one of 91 Senators to approve the heavily lobbied rewrite of telecommunications law that deregulated the industry. Government watchdog group Common Cause decried the industry for “buying” the legislation. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Gertie Skaarup||January 14th 2012|
|ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile (credit: ESO/Z. Bardon)|
Six years of observations of millions of stars now show how common it is for stars to have planets in orbits around them. Using a method that is highly sensitive to planets that lie in a habitable zone around the host stars, astronomers, including members from the Niels Bohr Institute, have discovered that most of the Milky Way’s 100 billion stars have planets that are very similar to the Earth-like planets in our own solar system—Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, while planets like Jupiter and Saturn are more rare. The results are published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature.
“Our results show that planets orbiting around stars are more the rule than the exception. In a typical solar system approximately four planets have their orbits in the terrestrial zone, which is the distance from the star where you can find solid planets. On average, there are 1.6 planets in the area around the stars that corresponds to the area between Venus and Saturn,” explains astronomer Uffe Gråe Jørgensen, head of the research group Astrophysics and Planetary Science at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen. Read more ..
War on Terror
|Martin Barillas||January 14th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
|General Thomas Waldhauser|
The U.S. Marine Corps has laid the groundwork for deciding what disciplinary action will be taken in the case of an Internet video that appears to show Marine snipers urinating on dead bodies of suspected Afghan Taliban fighters. The top Marine officer, General James Amos, appointed three-star General Thomas Waldhauser to oversee the case. Waldhauser named another officer to do an internal Marine Corps investigation, which is in addition to a criminal probe under way by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
The Pentagon says two of the four Marines seen in the video have been identified, but has not released their names. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called for the U.S. government to conduct an independent investigation into the behavior of the soldiers in the video, which has stoked anger among many Afghans. U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta called the video “utterly deplorable” and ordered a high-level probe into the incident, which has been condemned by other White House officials and politicians. “Those found to have engaged in such conduct will be held accountable to the fullest extent,” said the Secretary of Defense, who advised the commander of western troops in Afghanistan to launch their own investigation. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed “total dismay” at the video, calling it “deplorable behavior” and “absolutely inconsistent with the standards of behavior that the vast majority of Marines hold themselves to.” Read more ..
The War on Terror
|Diego DiGhero||January 13th 2012|
U.S. investigators believe they have identified and questioned at least two of the four Marines seen on video urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters.
Senior Marine officials with knowledge of the investigation say the four were members of a 1,000-man battalion from Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. The battalion recently completed a combat tour in the southern Afghan province of Helmand, where it lost seven of its members during clashes with the Taliban.
The officials also say the four men appear to be part of the battalion's sniper team, based on their gear and weapons that they are carrying in the video. Top U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have condemned the video, Panetta calling it "utterly deplorable." Read more ..
The Edge of Debt
|Daniel Strauss||January 12th 2012|
Business mogul Warren Buffet is promising to match any donation Republican members make toward cutting the national deficit.
And he upped the ante when it came to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), saying he would match the leader's donations three-to-one.
His pledge comes after McConnell said that if Buffett is feeling guilty about not paying more in taxes, he should just send in a check.
"With regard to his tax rate, if he’s feeling guilty about it, I think he should send in a check," McConnell said on NBC's "Meet the Press" in September. Buffett told Time magazine: "It restores my faith in human nature to think that there are people who have been around Washington all this time and are not yet so cynical as to think that [the deficit] can’t be solved by voluntary contributions. And, I’ll even go three for one for McConnell."
The billionaire businessman had previously argued in a New York Times op-ed that the tax system is badly flawed and that the rich are paying far too little in taxes because investment gains are taxed at a lower level than are wages. The Obama administration touted the Buffett's call in its argument to raise taxes on millionaires, dubbing their proposal the "Buffett Rule." Read more ..
Inside the War on Terror
|Ron Synovitz||January 12th 2012|
The U.S. Marine Corps says it is investigating a video depicting what appears to be U.S. servicemen urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters. In a statement, the Marine Corps said it has not verified the origin or authenticity of the video, but it said the actions portrayed are not consistent with Marine values. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby called the video deeply troubling. "Whoever it is, and whatever the circumstances -- which we know is under investigation -- it is egregious behavior and unacceptable for a member of the military," Kirby said.
The video shows four men with U.S. military uniforms, military rifles, and Kevlar helmets. Speaking with American accents, they laugh as they urinate on the bodies of three bearded men stretched out on the ground near a mud-brick wall. One of the men laughs and says "in the heart" as he urinates on the chest of one of the corpses. "Have a great day, buddy," another says sarcastically. The identity of the man who shot the video, which was posted on YouTube and other websites, was not immediately clear. But the cameraman speaks with an American accent and is wearing a military glove like some of the others. The office of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is due to meet in Kabul this weekend with U.S. envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman, said in a statement that the Afghan government "is deeply disturbed" by the video. Read more ..
The Arab Fall in Libya
|Charles Recknagel||January 9th 2012|
It's been more than two months since antiregime fighters captured and killed former Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. But the National Transitional Council (NTC) that now rules Libya has yet to be able to consolidate its hold over the fractious militias that toppled the old regime. Just how restive conditions in Libya remain was highlighted this week when members of two militias fought over territory in Tripoli. The clash on January 3 reportedly left two dead as the gunmen battled using machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and antiaircraft guns in the heart of the capital.
The clash shocked the city's residents and signaled how far Libya still has to go to become peaceful again. "This happened after the revolution but not before," a relative of one of the men killed in the fighting said. "They said there will be a government and order. Twenty-three fighters came to claim territory and to kill young boys. They killed young boys for territory." But if ordinary residents of the city were worried by the clash, the government seemed even more so. Read more ..
South Africa on Edge
|Delia Robertson||January 8th 2012|
South Africa’s ruling African National Congress, the ANC, celebrates the centennial of its founding at Mangaung in the Free State province this weekend. The lavish festivities launch a yearlong celebration expected to cost $12.5 million.
The ANC was founded on January 8th, 1912, in the Wesleyan Church in Bloemfontein -- now Mangaung -- by a group of tribal chiefs and representatives of church and civil-society groups who were determined to build an organization that would fight for the rights of blacks. These rights included land rights, freedom of movement and employment, which were denied to black South Africans under the laws of the British colonial government in power at the time.
One-hundred years later, President Jacob Zuma will lead the anniversary celebrations at the same (recently refurbished) little church in the presence of the political elite and foreign guests. "We will have the president making a centenary statement about what it is that we have achieved, and what were the pains of the past 100 years, what were the glories and what it is that we are looking forward to in the next century," says ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu of Zuma’s address. Steven Friedman, head of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Johannesburg, says the most important of Zuma’s ANC “glories” will surely be easily to anticipate. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Julien Happich||January 6th 2012|
Nokia has completed a research project on phone charging using harvested solar energy. So can the sun be relied on to charge your phone? Nokia is searching for improved energy efficiency and more sustainable alternatives for mobile phone users. The solar energy project was designed to assess the viability and ease of solar charging for mobile phones. The idea was also to look at the possibilities for phone charging in conditions where it's not possible to plug in to recharge the phone, or where the electricity supply is uncertain.
Nokia began with developing a prototype phone for the project featuring a solar charging panel integrated in the back cover for harvesting solar energy. The phone was tested last summer by a team of five people in a range of different environments. Two of the phones were tested up north at the Arctic Circle, one in southern Sweden and one in Kenya, and the fifth member of the test team was sailing in the Baltic Sea. Read more ..
|Michael Hudson||January 6th 2012|
For General Electric Co., hawking subprime mortgages was a long way from making light bulbs and jet engines. That didn't stop the industrial giant from jumping into the subprime business in 2004, lending blue-chip respectability to the market for risky home loans by paying roughly half a billion dollars to buy California-based WMC Mortgage Corp.
What GE got in the bargain, former WMC employees say, was a place where erstwhile shoe salesmen, ex-strippers and even a former porn actress could sign on as sales reps and make big money pushing home loans. WMC's top salespeople earned a million dollars a year or more and lived fast, swigging $1,000 bottles of Cristal and wheeling around in $100,000 Ferraris and Bentleys. In pursuit of these riches and perks, several ex-employees claim, many WMC sales staffers embraced fraud as a tool for pushing through loans that borrowers couldn’t afford.
Dave Riedel, a former compliance manager at WMC, says sales reps intent on putting up big numbers used falsified paperwork, bogus income documentation and other tricks to get loans approved and sold off to Wall Street investors. One WMC official, Riedel claims, went so far as to declare: “Fraud pays.” Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Rick Pantaleo||January 5th 2012|
No human-made object is further out in space than NASA’s Voyager I, which is currently near the edge of our Solar System, more than 33 lighthours – the distance traveled by light in a vacuum in one hour – roundtrip light time from the sun. Its twin, Voyager II, is also headed toward the tip of the Solar System, but in another direction and it hasn’t journeyed as far.
The U.S. space agency announced this month that Voyager I entered a new region between our Solar System and interstellar space – areas of outer space within a galaxy, but not occupied by stars or their planetary systems. Recent data from Voyager I suggests this region is a kind of “cosmic purgatory.” In this region, solar wind from our sun has calmed, our Solar System’s magnetic field has intensified and high-energy particles from inside of our Solar System appear to be leaking out into interstellar space.
The finding highlights the fact that the Voyager spacecraft continue to send valuable information back to Earth more than 34 years since they were launched. Voyager’s original mission, consisting of two unmanned spacecraft called Voyager I and II, was to explore our Solar System’s great outer planets – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune – as well as their moons and the distinctive system of rings and magnetic fields those planets possess. Read more ..
|Edwin Black||January 4th 2012|
A giant of the Jewish community, Newt Becker, has passed away at age 83. His passing leaves an empty space that will probably never be filled by any single man. Known globally for his pivotal support of Jewish and Israeli causes, as well as his commitment to peace in the Mideast, the Los Angeles-based solar innovator, accounting pioneer, and philathropist passed today after a long illness. He is survived by his wife Rochelle, and his son David.
Called “the Father” of solar thermal electric generation, Becker became in 1980, the founding investor and Chairman of the Board of Luz International. Luz became the largest solar company in the world, building solar electric generating power plants featuring those iconic rows of mirrrors. An industry note states, “From 1984 to 1991, Luz built and sold nine plants with 350 MW of capacity, enough to supply the residential needs of 540,000 people in the Los Angeles area.”
Becker also funded and served as chairman of “Electric Fuel” during its start-up period 1993-95. Electric Fuel made Zinc Air Batteries for Electric Vehicles (about 400 miles for the EV1 and about 250 miles for a Mercedes Van) and could be refueled with new zinc plates in about 10 minutes. Diverse if anything, Becker also inaugurated a CPA review course for the staff of Price Waterhouse. That course quickly became the pre-eminent CPA review course in America. Today, the Becker CPA Review Course is available in more than 400 cities throughout the country and the world, with some 400,000 CPA alumni--constituting almost one-half of all CPA's in America.
Becker received his BS in Business Administration from Kent State University. He earned an MBA from Case Western Reserve University, and later received an honorary Doctorate from Kent State University in l984.
Beyond his professional and engineering accomplishments, Becker was known internationally for his support of many Jewish and Mideast peace causes. These include the Jewish Federation Council of Los Angeles, the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Zionst Organization of American, American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy on Middle East Reporting in America), the Zionist Organization of America, MEMRI, which translates Mideast media into English, and the campus-based group StandWithUs. There were dozens of other projects that spanned the realms of history, academics, and religious tolerance. Read more ..
America on Edge
|John Aloysius Farrell||January 3rd 2012|
Todd Dagres, a prominent venture capitalist and independent movie producer, earned $3.5 million in 2003, and paid not a cent in federal income tax.
The IRS challenged the math, and sent Dagres a bill for $981,980 in back taxes, plus $196,369 in penalties.
So Dagres lawyered up. His attorneys waived one lucrative tax break to exploit an even better one, and claimed victory in the case in March.
In the course of the dispute, Dagres offered five years of his tax returns as evidence in U.S. Tax Court. His testimony, tax forms and other documents offer a rare glimpse of how wealthy Americans work the angles to keep from paying taxes. Read more ..
Edge on Iran
|Diego DiGhero||January 3rd 2012|
Reports from Iran say the nation's currency has slumped to a record low against the U.S. dollar, two days after U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law new sanctions that could affect Iran's central bank and financial system.
Traders said on January 1 that the exchange rate dipped to around 17,000 rials to the U.S. dollar, which is about a 10 percent slide from exchange rate on December 29. Iranian consumers are finding banks and exchange houses closed as they scurry to exchange their devalued Iranian currency for dollars. Subsidized fuel and consumer goods are showing signs of a price hike, giving Iran the jitters before its March 2 elections.
The new U.S. sanctions will target financial institutions that deal with Iran's central bank, and if fully implemented could affect Iran's ability to sell oil on international markets. The step is part of a push to hamper Tehran's ability to finance its nuclear and missile programs.
The United States and the European Union contend Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons under the guise of its civilian nuclear program. Iran says its nuclear intentions are peaceful. Read more ..
American Economy on Edge
|Bernie Becker||January 1st 2012|
With demand for U.S. debt reaching record levels, analysts and officials say it’s tough to predict when Treasury securities might stop being attractive to investors. Observers cite low interest rates as one of the several reasons why Treasuries have been in high demand in 2011 despite the slow U.S. recovery. One of the biggest factors is the fiscal unrest in Europe, which shows no signs of easing.
The U.S. looks like a safe investment in comparison, analysts say, even though the nation suffered its first-ever credit downgrade from Standard & Poor's in August. “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king,” said Jim Kessler, a co-founder of Third Way, the centrist Democratic group.
Bloomberg reported this week that longer-run Treasuries had their best year since 1995, during President Clinton’s first term and Newt Gingrich’s first year as House Speaker. Treasury securities also continued a good year-end run on Friday, and turned out to be a better investment for 2011 than even gold or oil. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic Ocean, the spreading debt crisis is now threatening Italy, which has the world’s eighth-biggest economy. With all that in mind, Steve Bell of the Bipartisan Policy Center says the demand for U.S. debt could be elevated for another 18 months to two years. Read more ..
Oil Addiction Without a Plan
|Edwin Black||December 29th 2011|
This story is adapted from The Plan: How to Save America When the Oil Stops—or the Day Before (Dialog Press). Buy it here.
It will come as a shock to most Americans, but no presidential candidate -- nor any candidate, nor any local, state or federal government -- has developed a contingency plan in the event of a protracted oil cut-off. It is not even being discussed. Government has prepared for hurricanes, anthrax, terrorism, and every other disaster, but not the one threatened daily -- a protracted oil stoppage, whether caused by terrorism or Iranian intervention in the Persian Gulf.
It is like seeing a hurricane developing without a disaster plan or evacuation route. Our allies have oil shortage interruption contingency plans, but America does not.
The crude realities: America uses approximately 19 to 20 million barrels of oil per day, almost half of which is imported. If we lose just 1 million barrels per day, or suffer the type of damage sustained from Hurricane Katrina, the government will open the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which offers a mere 6 to 8 week supply of unrefined crude oil. If we lose 1.5 million barrels per day, or approximately 7.5 percent, we will ask our allies in the 28-member International Energy Agency to open their SPRs and otherwise assist. If we lose 2 million barrels per day, or ten percent for a protracted period of time, government crisis monitors say the chaos will be so catastrophic they cannot even model it. One government oil crisis source told me hours ago, "We cannot put a price tag on it. If it happens, just cash in your 401k."
Exactly how could America be subjected to a protracted oil interruption, that is, a 10 percent shortfall lasting longer than several weeks? It will not come from hurricane action in the Gulf of Mexico, or even major refinery accidents or other oil infrastructure damage. Such damage would be repaired within days and the temporary losses absorbed by the small half million barrel per day global cushion available. Read more ..
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