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The Arab Fall

The Arab Uprisings, One Year On

December 20th 2011

Yemen Topics - Yemen Crisis

It is now commonplace to note that, like 1948, 1967 and 1979, the year that was - 2011 - will go down as a year of seismic change in the Middle East. But what sort of change will it leave in its wake?

The term most often associated with the events of the last year - the "Arab Spring" - provides virtually no clue. That phrase, borrowed from a hopeful moment in Prague that was crushed by Soviet tanks more than a generation ago, was first used in the Middle East context in 2005. That was when the assassination of Rafik Hariri triggered an outpouring of Lebanese "people power" that drove Syrian troops out of that country and raised hopes of a truly new dawn in Lebanon after its bloody 30-year war.

In retrospect, its usage was tragically apt, in that Hezbollah - like the Soviets - eventually triumphed, putting off until another day the potential for truly positive change. One doubts that the Facebookers and Twitterati who celebrate the Arab Spring of 2011 recall this unhappy history.

"Arab Awakening" is the second term whose use is increasing - not least because commentators have been told that many Middle Eastern countries, especially Egypt, have only two real seasons, neither of which is spring. News outlets as disparate as The Economist and Al Jazeera have begun to use "Arab Awakening" to describe the volcanic eruptions across the region sparked by the iconic self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor last December. Read more ..


North Korea on Edge

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Il's Death

December 19th 2011

Korea Topics - Kim Jong-IL

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il died the morning of Dec. 17, according to an official North Korean News broadcast at noon Dec. 19. Initial reports say Kim died of a heart attack brought on by fatigue while on board a train. Kim is believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008, and his health has been in question since.

Kim’s death comes as North Korea was preparing for a live leadership transition in 2012, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim’s father and North Korea’s founding leader, Kim Il Sung, a transition that had been intended to avoid the three years of internal chaos the younger Kim faced after his father’s death in 1994. Kim Jong Il had delayed choosing a successor from among his sons to avoid allowing any one to build up their own support base independent of their father. His expected successor, son Kim Jong Un, was only designated as the heir apparent in 2010 after widespread rumors in 2009 and thus has had little experience and training to run North Korea and little time to solidify his own support base within the various North Korean leadership elements.

Now, it is likely that Kim Jong Un’s uncle, Jang Song Thaek, will rule behind the scenes as Kim Jong Un trains on the job. Like the transition from Kim Il Sung to Kim Jong Il, it is likely that North Korea will focus internally over the next few years as the country’s elite adjust to a new balance of power. In any transition, there are those who will gain and those who are likely to be disenfranchised, and this competition can lead to internal conflicts.

The immediate question is the status of the North Korean military. Kim Jong Un is officially the Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers Party of Korea and was recently made a four-star general, but he has no military experience. If the military remains committed to keeping the Kim family at the pinnacle of leadership, then things will likely hold, at least in the near term. There were no reports from South Korea that North Korea’s military had entered a state of heightened alert following Kim Jong Il’s death, suggesting that the military is on board with the transition for now. If that holds, the country likely will remain stable, if internally tense. Read more ..


American Economy on Edge

Senate Committee Finds Most 'Trapped' Offshore Income is Already in U.S.

December 18th 2011

Money - Money Money Money

A select group of U.S. multinational corporations have been furiously lobbying for a tax holiday, they say, to bring more than a trillion dollars in so-called “trapped” foreign earnings back home and invest it in the American economy.

But a Senate report released Thursday shows the money is anything but trapped. Some of the richest firms have already brought hundreds of billions of dollars back to America, without paying U.S. taxes, and invested it in US banks, bonds, stocks and other assets. The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations surveyed some of the best known U.S. multinationals and found that 27 of the cash-flush firms, including Apple, Google and Microsoft, had invested almost $250 billion in the United States. “Those foreign earnings are not trapped or locked offshore at all,” said Sen. Carl Levin, the Democrat from Michigan who chairs the subcommittee. “About half of the so-called offshore funds were actually onshore.” Read more ..


Nicaragua on Edge

Thousands of Sugar Cane Workers Die as Wealthy Nations Stall on Solutions

December 17th 2011

Nicaragua - cane_worker

Maudiel Martinez is 19 years old and has a shy smile, a tangle of curly black hair and a lean, muscular build shaped by years of work in the sugarcane fields. For most of his adolescence, he was healthy and strong and spent his days chopping tall stalks of cane with his machete.

Now Martinez is suffering from a deadly disease that is devastating his community along with scores of others in Central America, where it has decimated the ranks of sugarcane workers. The same illness killed his father and his grandfather and affects all three of his older brothers. “This disease eats our kidneys from inside us,” Martinez said. “We don’t want to die, and we feel grief because we already know that we’re hopeless.”

Martinez’ illness stands at the heart of a lethal mystery — and legacy of neglect by industry and governments, including the United States, which have resisted pleas for aggressive action to spotlight the malady and find a remedy. Wealthier nations are more focused on spurring biofuels production in the region’s sugarcane industry and keeping up the heavy flow of sugar to U.S. consumers and food manufacturers than the plight of those who harvest it. Read more ..


Japan After the Meltdown

Monkeys Fitted with Geiger Counters Will Track Fukushima Fallout

December 16th 2011

Animals - Macaque

Primates inhabiting forests near Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Plant will be fitted with radiation meters and GPS transmitters as Japanese scientists measure fallout from a nuclear accident in March when a tsunami caused extensive damage to the plant, according to the Daily Mail.

Professor Takayuki Takahashi and a team of scientists from Fukushima University will use almost a thousand monkeys to track radiation emissions and ascertain how far they have spread. Previously, helicopters fitted with testing devices were used to monitor radiation but Takahashi explained that whilst aerial monitoring can cover large areas, it can’t test particular movements on the ground. Telling ABC News, “The monkeys can help us get more accurate readings in areas that aren’t so accessible. We’ll get a better idea of how radiation is spread by rain, by plants, by rivers in the forest.” The scientists also intend to carry out similar tests using animals in the wild.

The Daily Mail reports that the city of Minamisoma, where half the population was evacuated over radiation concerns, will also partner with the project. A third of the city lies within the obligatory 12 mile exclusion zone set to safeguard residents against the emissions. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Beirut Bank in Hezbollah Money Laundering Operation

December 15th 2011

Terrorism - lebanese canadian bank

Ledgers from the Lebanese Canadian Bank have revealed the covert operations of terrorist organization Hezbollah, according to a New York Times article. In February, the Obama administration accused the notoriously secretive bank of laundering money on the behalf of an international cocaine ring linked to Shiite militants Hezbollah.

Investigations by the Drug Enforcement Administration have exposed a global operation to conceal the source of illegal gains, with the Lebanese Canadian Bank at the center of activities. The findings appear to confirm the suspicions of  international law enforcement agencies, who believe that Hezbollah’s terrorist operations are funded by overseas loyalists involved in drug trafficking and a range of criminal activities.

A recent announcement by Federal prosecutors in Virginia revealed that a key player in the Lebanese Canadian Bank case had been formally charged with trafficking drugs and laundering money for Columbian cartels and deadly Mexican gang Los Zetas. Read more ..


Edge of Space

Human-like Life Could Exist on Newly-discovered Planet

December 13th 2011

Science - kepler

A newly-discovered Earth-like planet could very well contain continental features where normal human-like life could exist. Or it  could be more of a water world with an ocean containing life forms similar to dolphins.

That’s according to Dr. Alan Boss, of the Carnegie Institution for Science, one of the researchers involved in  discovering the new planet. This past Monday, NASA announced that its Kepler space telescope confirmed the first planet orbiting a star in its “habitable zone,” the region where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface. Some scientists described this planet, known as Kepler 22B, as “Earth-like” with a star similar to our sun.

Located some 600 light-years away, Kepler 22B is about 2.4 times the radius of Earth.  And while scientists don’t yet exactly know if the planet is predominantly rocky, gaseous or liquid composition, its discovery has excited  scientists who now say we’re now one step closer to finding other Earth-like planets throughout the cosmos. If it is truly made of rock, as some speculate, Dr. Boss says it might look something like our own Earth with probably a fair amount of water on it as well. Read more ..


Mideast on Edge

Mideast Water Shortages Threaten Millions

December 12th 2011

Environment Topics - Arid Desert

At Cairo's posh Gazeera Club, workers leave the showers running as they sit nearby drinking tea and chatting. Large quantities of water pour down the drain as water pipes around the city and its suburbs run dry.

For inhabitants of Cairo’s poor neighborhoods, water only infrequently arrives via government pipes. In order to cook and stay hydrated, says resident Hossam Abdel Razaq, housewives trek to a local water dealer and buy the precious liquid for 25 cents. When water does briefly flow, he adds, kids run to the faucets to drink.

A regional problem

Due to increasing populations, climate change, poor infrastructure and inefficient use of resources, serious water shortages are threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions of people across the Middle East.

In Egypt, government statistics indicate the country uses 55 billion cubic meters of water per year, 87 percent of which comes from the River Nile. But conflict with neighboring states upriver, however, is creating tension and could exacerbate the crisis. Governments in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Southern Sudan argue that they should get a larger share of the Nile's waters, but Egypt and Sudan insist that a British colonial agreement gives them the right to use most of the Nile's waters.

Omar Ashour, who teaches political science at the University of Exeter in Britain, says Egypt is paying a price for years of benign neglect of southern neighbors. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Hamas Base Rocket Production Facility in Sinai

December 12th 2011

Terrorism - Hamas Rocket

Hamas has established forward bases and rocket production facilities in the Sinai Peninsula, according to The Jerusalem Post's veteran military affairs correspondent Yaakov Katz. 

Hamas believes that relations between Israel and Egypt will deter Israel from attacking the weapons facilities with air strikes.

Though the Israeli government have issued requests for order to be restored in Sinai, the Egyptian military have made no moves to dissemble Hamas infrastructure in the peninsula.

Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Yaakov Katz reports that under the terms of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, over a dozen Egyptian army battalions operate in Sinai but they have had little effect in preventing terrorist activity or the passage of arms bound for the Gaza Strip. Advanced weaponry stolen from the Libyan military and Russian-made shoulder-to-air missiles are amongst some of the munitions that have been smuggled into the Gaza Strip recently. Read more ..


America on Edge

An Epidemic of Expulsions

December 11th 2011

Education Topics - Education - Child at Blackboard

As he waited for his first disciplinary appeal hearing to begin this fall, the sixth-grade student began sobbing.

He was barely 11 years old. He had been expelled again—for the rest of the school year—from his Bakersfield elementary school district, this time for alleged sexual battery and obscenity.

The offense: “Slapping a girl on the buttock and running away laughing,” according to school documents.

The boy’s pro bono attorney, a retired FBI agent, was appalled.

“This, on his record, puts him right up there next to the kid who raped somebody behind the backstop,” said Tim McKinley, who spent 26 years in the bureau, much of it locking up murderous members of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang.

For the boy’s local school board in Kern County, the punishment fits the crime. It upheld a panel’s initial approval of expulsion.

For McKinley, the discipline is dramatic overkill sure to prove counter-productive for both the child and the community at large.

These days such disagreements are hardly unusual. In California’s southern Central Valley, Kern County is at the leading edge of a contentious debate over where to draw the line in exacting school discipline. Teachers want a safe environment in which to teach. Parents want to know their children are secure and not getting bullied. And no-nonsense school districts in this conservative oil and agribusiness region are suspending and expelling students for a broad range of indiscretions. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Google's War Against Small Businesses

December 11th 2011

Computer Topics - Google HQ

The secret behind Google’s profit growth has been revealed in a ZDNet report. The internet giant has launched an attack on smaller businesses who gain revenue from affiliate programs. 

By favoring larger brands in its search engine results, Google has increased revenue by billions but, according to ZDNet, such combative tactics are costing jobs as smaller firms that profit from affiliate marketing are displaced. While analysts and media are preoccupied by the publicity of Google’s non-revenue schemes, including G+ and driverless cars, the plan to position itself as the largest affiliate has, until now, gone undetected. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

The Covert Intelligence War Against Iran

December 8th 2011

Iran - Ahmadinejad at Iranian nuclear plant

There has been a lot of talk in the press lately about a “cold war” being waged by the United States, Israel and other U.S. allies against Iran. Such a struggle is certainly taking place, but in order to place recent developments in perspective, it is important to recognize that the covert intelligence war against Iran (and the Iranian response to this war) is clearly not a new phenomenon.

While the covert intelligence war has been under way for many years, the tempo of events that can readily be identified as part of it has been increasing over the past few months. It is important to note that many of these events are the result of hidden processes begun months or even years previously, so while visible events may indeed be increasing, the efforts responsible for many of them began to increase much earlier. What the activities of recent months do tell us is that the covert war between Iran and its enemies will not be diminishing anytime soon. If anything, with the current withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and Iranian nuclear efforts continuing, we likely will see the results of additional covert operations — and evidence of the clandestine activity required to support those operations. Read more ..


War Against the Weak

Investigative Author Edwin Black Testifies Before Congress on the Pseudo-Science of Eugenics

December 5th 2011

Contributors / Staff - Edwin Black

The Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives is holding hearings on December 6 on pending legislation, the Pre-natal Non-Discrimination Act (PRENDA), which addresses infanticide and gendercide. Millions of babies are aborted or murdered in their first moments of life because of their gender or racial make-up. The problem is acute among ethnic communities that value male children over females for cultural reasons, experts say. This practice is sometimes called "son preference."

Renowned investigate journalist and author Edwin Black has been called to testify at the hearing to provide background on the history of eugenics—the pseudo-science that provided the basis for laws that called for the sterilization of so-called “unfit” classes of Americans. Black’s book War Against the Weak details the collusion of government, scientists, and nonprofit institutions such as the Carnegie Foundation, in propagating master-race theory in America. The connections between American racial theorists, and the ultimate practice of genocidal and henious social enginerring conducted by Nazi Germany, is docuemented with crystal clarity in the award-winning book.

Known as PRENDA, the measure is intended to protect the unborn from discriminatory race and sex-selective abortions. It was re-introduced in the House on November 28. PRENDA would restrict “sex-selection abortion and race-selection abortion, and the coercion of a woman to obtain either. The woman seeking an abortion is exempted from prosecution, while abortion providers are held to account,” according to Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), leading sponsor of the bill. Women are frequently the targets of pressure or violence from family members to coerce the abortion of an unwanted daughter.

“Sex-selection abortion is happening in the United States,” wrote Franks in a letter to colleagues. He cited a 2008 scientific study based on U.S. Census data that showed that certain segments of the U.S. population—particularly those coming from countries that practice sex-selection abortion—have unnaturally skewed sex-ratios at birth caused by sex-selection ‘most likely at the prenatal stages.’” Read more ..


Earth on Edge

Magnetic Pole Reversal Happens All The (Geologic) Time

December 4th 2011

Science - Blue Planet

Scientists understand that Earth's magnetic field has flipped its polarity many times over the millennia. In other words, if you were alive about 800,000 years ago, and facing what we call north with a magnetic compass in your hand, the needle would point to 'south.' This is because a magnetic compass is calibrated based on Earth's poles. The N-S markings of a compass would be 180 degrees wrong if the polarity of today's magnetic field were reversed. Many doomsday theorists have tried to take this natural geological occurrence and suggest it could lead to Earth's destruction. But would there be any dramatic effects? The answer, from the geologic and fossil records we have from hundreds of past magnetic polarity reversals, seems to be 'no.'

Reversals are the rule, not the exception. Earth has settled in the last 20 million years into a pattern of a pole reversal about every 200,000 to 300,000 years, although it has been more than twice that long since the last reversal. A reversal happens over hundreds or thousands of years, and it is not exactly a clean back flip. Magnetic fields morph and push and pull at one another, with multiple poles emerging at odd latitudes throughout the process. Read more ..


War Against the Weak

Eugenics Justice Champion Larry Womble in the Fight of His Life

December 3rd 2011

North Carolina  - Larry Womble
North Carolina Rep. Larry Womble

The most important man in America for the cause of justice for victims of eugenics is fighting for his life. North Carolina State Rep. Larry Womble, in critical condition, has entered an hours- long surgery to save him following a mangling head-on car crash in Winston-Salem, the district he represents. The passionate 70-year-old nine-term Democrat was driving home Friday night at about 11 PM when his car collided with a vehicle driven by David Allen Carmichael, 54, of Winston-Salem. Carmichael died at the scene, according to authorities.

Womble was rushed to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center with massive injuries to his head and hip. He had lost a lot of blood. Once stable, a team of surgeons moved in to begin the long task of bring Womble back from the brink.

Womble achieved national and international recognition for his efforts to bring state compensation to victims of North Carolina’s decades-long campaign of eugenics. The fake science financed by the nation’s leading philanthropic organizations, and buttressed by fraudulent academic validation, ignited a campaign of forced surgical sterilization of the so-called “unfit.” After World War II, when the Hitler regime emulated America’s practices, eugenics receded from the American scene.

But in North Carolina, as a tool of racism and population control, the practice thrived. Womble has tirelessly led a decade of efforts to achieve recognition and compensation for the survivors. He was on the verge of a breakthrough with state legislators when he was stopped by a highway accident. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Christmas Burst Reveals Neutron Star Collision

December 3rd 2011

Science - Revolving galaxy

A strangely powerful, long-lasting gamma-ray burst on Christmas Day, 2010 has finally been analyzed to the satisfaction of a multinational research team. Called the Christmas Burst, GRB 101225A was freakishly lengthy and it produced radiation at unusually varying wavelengths. But by matching the data with a model developed in 1998, the team was able to characterize the star explosion as a neutron star spiraling into the heart of its companion star.

The paper, "The unusual gamma-ray burst GRB 101225A from a helium star/neutron star merger at redshift 0.33," appears in tomorrow's issue of the journal Nature. Christina Thöne of Spain’s Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía is the lead author, and Los Alamos computational scientist Chris Fryer is a contributor.

Fryer, of the Lab's Computer, Computational, and Statistical Sciences Division, realized that the peculiar evolution of the thermal emission (first showing X-rays with a characteristic radius of ~1011 cm followed by optical and infra-red emission at ~1014 cm) could be naturally explained by a model he and Stan Woosley of the University of California at Santa Cruz had developed in 1998. Read more ..


US and Pakistan

Pakistan, Russia, and the Threat to the Afghan War

November 30th 2011

PakistanTopics - Pakistani protest Nov 2011

Days after the Pakistanis closed their borders to the passage of fuel and supplies for the NATO-led war effort in Afghanistan, for very different reasons the Russians threatened to close the alternative Russia-controlled Northern Distribution Network (NDN). The dual threats are significant even if they don’t materialize. If both routes are cut, supplying Western forces operating in Afghanistan becomes impossible. Simply raising the possibility of cutting supply lines forces NATO and the United States to recalculate their position in Afghanistan.

The possibility of insufficient lines of supply puts NATO’s current course in Afghanistan in even more jeopardy. It also could make Western troops more vulnerable by possibly requiring significant alterations to operations in a supply-constrained scenario. While the supply lines in Pakistan most likely will reopen eventually and the NDN likely will remain open, the gap between likely and certain is vast. Read more ..


Broken Banking

DOJ Reviewing Banks for Breaking Antitrust Laws with Debit Card Fees

November 25th 2011

Economy - credit cards

The Department of Justice is reviewing the activity of major banks for possible antitrust law violations related to an attempt earlier this year to raise debit card fees.

The DOJ is looking to see if the financial institutions acted in concert as they tried — unsuccessfully — to impose the fees, according to a letter sent to Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) last week. 

"The Department of Justice is reviewing the statements and actions by banks and their trade associations regarding possible increases in consumer fees for using debit cards," Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote in a Nov. 16 letter. "Please be assured that if it finds that individuals, banks or other parties may have violated antitrust laws, the department will take appropriate action."

The DOJ letter is a response to a Welch letter from October that asked the attorney general to examine possible antitrust violations. Welch welcomed the letter as a hurdle that banks would face in raising fees on consumers, which he and many other Democrats opposed. Read more ..


The Arab Fall in Egypt

Egypt to Form New Government, Military to Transfer Power

November 22nd 2011

Egypt - Shouting Muslims in Cairo

Egypt's military rulers have agreed to form a new government and promise to transfer power to a civilian body by July.

Politicians say the agreement was made during a crisis meeting on Tuesday as tens of thousands of Egyptians protested in the streets against continuing military rule.  They say negotiators also agreed to start holding parliamentary elections on November 28, as scheduled, with a goal of holding a presidential election before the end of June 2012.

Word of the agreement was met with scattered displeasure in the crowd that packed Cairo's Tahrir Square. There are continued calls among protesters to see military rule end immediately.

The demonstrations are getting larger, and the calls for the military to step down now - not next year - louder.  Tuesday's crowd is the biggest to mass in Tahrir Square since the unrest began four days ago.  Men, women, young and old, are united in their demand that civilian rule begin now. "As you can see, not just one type of Egyptian here. All the Egyptian here: Islamic, liberal or communist. Everyone is here. Egyptian and Muslims and Christians. Everyone is here," one protester said.  Some believe the momentum of the unrest, sparked by a proposal that the military rulers prolong their political influence, will speak for itself. 

"A lot of the candidates for president or political parties, they are invited for a meeting today to interview the military council.  But they didn't hear [from] the people  We want the military to leave.  It's over.  No one can speak on behalf of the Egyptian people right now," said another protester. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Iranian Assistance Suspected in Secret Libyan Chemical Weapons Arsenal

November 21st 2011

Libya Topics - chemical weapons

The Obama administration is investigating whether Iran supplied the Libyan government of Moammar Gadhafi with hundreds of special artillery shells for chemical weapons that Libya kept secret for decades, U.S. officials said.

The shells, which Libya filled with highly toxic mustard agent, were uncovered in recent weeks by revolutionary fighters at two sites in central Libya. Both are under heavy guard and round-the-clock drone surveillance, U.S. and Libyan officials said.

The discovery of the shells has prompted a U.S. intelligence-led probe into how the Libyans obtained them, and several sources said early suspicion had fallen on Iran. “We are pretty sure we know” the shells were custom-designed and produced in Iran for Libya, said a senior U.S. official, one of several who spoke on condition of anonymity because the sensitivity of the accusation. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Cloud May Have Billion Dollar Impact on Ethernet

November 21st 2011

Computer Topics - Hand on Mouse

The Ethernet switch market is undergoing a technological transformation in the data center as virtualization changes where and how applications are connected to end users. New network topologies are driving entirely new switching platforms.

The Ethernet switch market is undergoing a technological transformation in the data center as virtualization changes where and how applications are connected to end users. New network topologies are driving entirely new switching platforms.

Over the next five years, vendors will expand and consolidate as the battle for supremacy in data center networking intensifies. The result is that there has never been a better time for new entrants or a better opportunity for existing vendors to gain share.

Two major trends will forever change the Ethernet switch market: a significant technology shift to 10 Gbit Ethernet for server access, and the emergence of powerful new cloud computing giants such as Google.

Until the past few years, almost all traffic flowed from server to user, commonly referred to as north/south traffic. Virtualized traffic and current applications now predominantly communicate server to server, commonly referred to as east/west traffic. The change in traffic patterns requires networks with fewer layers and higher bandwidth to handle east/west traffic flows. Read more ..


Poisoned Places

In Smelter Town, Decades of Dirty Air, Disease—and Bureaucratic Dawdling

November 21st 2011

Environment Topics - Asarco Copper plant, AZ
Asarco Plant (credit: Emma Schwartz/iWatch)

As Betty Amparano sees it, the failures that all but ruined her town—Hayden, Arizona—occurred on multiple levels.

A copper smelter failed to keep toxic air pollution in check. The state failed to lean on the smelter’s owner, Asarco. And the federal government failed, until days ago, to override the state.

“The bottom line is that the whole town is contaminated,” said Amparano, who was born in Hayden and has lived here most of her life.

Soil tainted by airborne metals has been excavated from hundreds of yards. In some families, generations claim to have suffered ill effects from bad air. Deaths from cancer are common. Regulators have done little; for people who live here, the sense of betrayal is profound.

On November 10, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency moved against Asarco for what the EPA describes as more than six years of illegal emissions of arsenic, lead, chromium and seven other dangerous compounds from the smelter. The agency issued an unpublicized administrative action that could result in millions of dollars in fines from Asarco for allegedly being in “continuous violation” of the Clean Air Act since June 2005. The action is a slap at both the company and the state—another measure of failure. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Leonardo DiCaprio Moves Into Israeli High-Tech

November 17th 2011

Film - Leonardo DiCaprio

Israeli startup Mobli enables users to see real-time events that others are watching. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio was so impressed he invested in the company.

Contrary to popular belief, celebrities aren't all "ditzy." If you've heard of them - and if they've made a fortune in movies or TV - chances are they are sophisticated, intelligent people who know how to market themselves. After all, there is a lot of competition out there. So when a celeb like Leonardo DiCaprio sinks a significant sum into the startup Israeli phone app/website Mobli, you have to figure he knows what he's doing.

Mobli offers a unique and exciting real-time take on mobile video and photography. When you install the app on your phone, or check out the website, you can actually see what someone else is looking at.

According to the company's website, it all started when founder Moshe ("Moshiko") Hogeg was at a concert and could barely see the stage because his view was blocked by everyone in better seats holding up their phones to film the show.

"How cool would it be if he could somehow see everyone else's video from all different angles of the same concert? Not only could he see better videos and photos from better seats, but he could see it from a bunch of different views as it happens!"

Hogeg has been in the social media business almost since its inception. Prior to founding Mobli, he was a social media manager at Nike. A serial entrepreneur, Hogeg also founded Web2sport, where he acquired a soccer team and developed an innovative system to crowd-source its management to fans, eventually selling the product to Israel's leading sports channel. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Credible Evidence Mounts of Iran's Continued Work on Nuclear Weaponization

November 16th 2011

Iran - Bushehr plant panoramic
Iran's Bushehr nuclear facility

The much-anticipated International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran was recently released with a damning indictment: "The Agency has serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear programme" and that credible information "indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device...and that some activities may still be continuing" (read a PDF of the report).

Of equal concern is the IAEA's judgment that Iran's work on its Shahab-3 missile "concluded that any payload option other than nuclear...could be ruled out." The report notes that when Iran was challenged on this, it dismissed the evidence as being "an animation game." Tehran has consistently denied that its nuclear program is intended for military purposes. The report should help Washington, using diplomatic and economic sanctions, to force Iran to fully explain its nuclear program and to curtail its military dimensions. Read more ..


Europe on Edge

Europe, the International System and a Generational Shift

November 13th 2011

Europe Topics - Europe night lights
Europe viewed from space

Change in the international system comes in large and small doses, but fundamental patterns generally stay consistent. From 1500 to 1991, for example, European global hegemony constituted the world’s operating principle. Within this overarching framework, however, the international system regularly reshuffles the deck in demoting and promoting powers, fragmenting some and empowering others, and so on. Sometimes this happens because of war, and sometimes because of economic and political forces. While the basic structure of the world stays intact, the precise way it works changes.

The fundamental patterns of European domination held for 500 years. That epoch of history ended in 1991, when the Soviet Union — the last of the great European empires — collapsed with global consequences. In China, Tiananmen Square defined China for a generation. China would continue its process of economic development, but the Chinese Communist Party would remain the dominant force. Read more ..


Edge of Outer Space

Hubble Directly Observes the Disc Around A Black Hole

November 10th 2011

Science - Water ring in space

An international team of astronomers has used a new technique to study the bright disc of matter surrounding a faraway black hole.

Using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, combined with the gravitational lensing effect of stars in a distant galaxy, the team measured the disc's size and studied the colours (and hence the temperatures) of different parts of the disc. These observations show a level of precision equivalent to spotting individual grains of sand on the surface of the Moon. While black holes themselves are invisible, the forces they unleash cause some of the brightest phenomena in the Universe. Quasars — short for quasi-stellar objects — are glowing discs of matter that orbit supermassive black holes, heating up and emitting extremely bright radiation as they do so. Read more ..


The Syrian Threat

A Syrian Nuclear Centrifuge Plant is a World-Wide Game Changer

November 8th 2011

Syrian Issues - Bashr al-Assad and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Pres. Bashr al-Assad of Syria and Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran

On November 1, the Associated Press reported that Syria at one point was building a centrifuge plant likely intended to manufacture nuclear weapons, reawakening concerns about the extent of the regime's nuclear ambitions and the proliferation of crucial technology by Pakistan. Previously, Syria's nascent nuclear weapons program was believed to be confined to a plutonium-producing reactor that was under construction with North Korean help before an Israeli air raid destroyed it in 2007. A centrifuge plant could have produced highly enriched uranium, an entirely different route to an atomic bomb.

The suspect building, now a textile plant, is in the northeastern Syrian town of Hasaka, about 100 miles from the site of the destroyed plutonium reactor. The layout of some of the buildings on the site matches almost exactly Libya's onetime plans for a centrifuge plant. Technology for that plant was supplied by Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan in what Islamabad says was a rogue operation -- although Khan says he had government approval. The Qadhafi regime gave up its nuclear ambitions in 2003 in return for U.S. and other international recognition. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Iran's Canadian Banker Exposed

November 2nd 2011

Iran - Mahmoud Reza Khavari
Mahmoud Reza Khavari

As details of the Iranian terror plot to blow up the Saudi Embassy in Washington DC become clearer, the U.S. and other Western allies will look to punish Iran. One of the most powerful ways to influence Iran is through the banking sector. Through an interesting turn of events, Canada is in a position to exert significant financial leverage through one individual in particular.

One of the world's most important international bankers is currently residing in Toronto after fleeing his country of origin. Mahmoud Reza Khavari was until recently the head of Iran's Bank Melli, an institution notorious for assisting in Iran's proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and financing of terrorism. Canadian authorities have yet to take action against Mr. Khavari, who represents a potential gold mine of information regarding how Iranian banks raise and move money around the globe. Read more ..


Honduras on Edge

No End of Impunity for Assassins of the Journalists of Honduras

October 31st 2011

Latin American Topics - Dead Journalists Society

As always, but with an unusual quota of aggression since 2010, freedom of speech and the personal security of Honduran journalists are under permanent attack from groups, gangs, and individuals who launch their strikes under a cloak of anonymity. The journalist Medardo Flores, a relentless supporter of former President Manuel Zelaya, is the latest victim of the wave of violence directed toward members of the Honduran working press. With all the disrespect attributable to the government of Porfirio Lobo, as demonstrated here, it is not unreasonable to presume that the perpetrators, along with their underlying political motives, want to silence such journalists at any cost.

“President Lobo, who is killing the journalists?” is the question that is being raised by various national and international bodies, though they are only answered with silence and impunity. This prolonged state of deeply disturbing uncertainty has all but eliminated freedom of expression and investigative journalism in the country, two concepts that Hondurans badly need to protect their fragile, budding democracy and extremely delicate human rights situation. The dark forces behind this wave of menacing injustice comprise a broad collection of foreboding tactics ranging from common violence to political violence to the activities of drug cartels, which have silenced journalists reporting on the subject of corruption and other crimes related to narco-trafficking out of fear of losing their lives. Read more ..


Edge on the Americas

Feminicide and Entry of Women into Narcotics Trade Opens a New Era of Drug Trafficking

October 30th 2011

Mexican Topics - Laura Zuniga Huizar
Former Miss Sinaloa Laura Zuniga Huizar

While men have predominantly run drug trafficking organizations (DTOs), women have participated in them since the 1920s. Their role may have appeared miniscule compared to that of their male counterparts, but they have played key roles such as drug mules and bosses. According to an interview with Howard Campbell, professor of anthropology at the University of Texas-El Paso, conducted by the Latin American Advisor, women, such as Ignacia Jasso de González (alias ‘La Nacha’) and María Dolores Estévez Zuleta (aka ‘Lola La Chata’) were prominent figures in drug dealing and trafficking in the 1920s and 1950s.

Although women have been active in DTOs for many years, even at times taking on dominant roles, only in the past ten years have they become increasingly visible in the media. The notion that women do not regularly participate and are not affected by DTOs is demonstrably obsolete. Women today are acting as equal partners in all aspects of drug trafficking, from running crews to laundering funds, resulting in the rise of incarcerated and violently treated women. A glance into women’s association with DTOs reveals an increased crime rate, as well as the adversities that drug trafficking predictably brings upon them, and a clear lack of solutions to these often dangerous conditions.

Direct Effects of Drug Trafficking

In this era, it comes as no surprise that women have become more involved in the drug business. In the past, women could be counted on to struggle for their right to be loosely a part of a male- dominated world, not only in Latin America, but also around the globe. Over time, women have tended to enter many industries that were previously appealing to men. The same is true with drug trafficking, a very profitable business, with between $18 and $35 billion in drug earnings per year, according to U.S. authorities. It is not surprising that women gradually have increased their degree of participation. Once men started recruiting women as paid mules, their involvement escalated, as did the degree of violence. Read more ..


Significant Events

Investigative Author Edwin Black Headlined Conference, Received First “Moral Courage” Award

October 30th 2011

Contributors / Staff - Edwin Black
Edwin Black

An extraordinary conference designed to recognize and promote “moral courage” convened in San Diego late in October. The Initiative for Moral Courage held its first annual conference on the campuses of San Diego State University and California State University at San Marcos. The conference topics of the inaugural session focused on various twentieth century genocides, authors who have exposed them, and individuals who stood up to them against the odds. Hence, the salute to moral courage, and the awards given to carefully selected recipients.

To salute brave survivors and chroniclers, this year’s conference featured presentations by award-winning author and investigative journalist Edwin Black on the connection between American and Nazi eugenics and Richard G. Hovannisian on the Armenian genocide orchestrated by the Turks. It also covered a host of other mass murders, from Bosnia-Herzegovina to Rwanda to Cambodia.

The first major event was on October 29 and included a graphic presentation of panels titled “The Rescuers.” This was an exhibition of photographs and extraordinary stories from the Holocaust, and the genocides that occurred in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, and Cambodia. Remarkable stories emerged of ordinary heroes who resisted overwhelming tides of prejudice and violence and risked their lives saving people from enemy groups. It helps to understand the presence of rescue behavior during genocide or mass violence. The exhibition’s rationale was to design ways to build in protective measures against this type of violence

Then, on October 30, an afternoon series explored “Genocides Past and Present.” Opening the day was award-winning investigative author Edwin Black, whose book War Against the Weak has changed the face and course of society’s understanding of the dark links between American and Nazi eugenics. Based on selective breeding of humans, eugenics began in laboratories in the U.S. but ended in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. War Against the Weak is described by the program as “the gripping chronicle documenting how American corporate philanthropies launched a national campaign of ethnic cleansing in the United States, and helped found and fund the Nazi eugenics of Hitler and Mengele. Winner of the Best Book of the Year, International Human Rights.” Black demonstrated moral courage in standing up to the power of the Carnegie Institution and Rockefeller Foundation, which funded, orchestrated, and inflicted both American and Nazi eugenics.

Author Black commented, “In an era of increasing focus on political expediency, the effort to revive and foster the notion of moral courage is sorely needed.” He credited the vision of organizer Jackie Gmach in bringing the effort to national attention. Read more ..


The Arab Fall

Islamist Victory in Tunisia Almost Certain

October 24th 2011

Arab Topics - Tunisia protest

"The situation is very calm. Last night, the campaign ended without any incidents and now we are living in the expectation of the vote" said Catholic Archbishop Maroun Elias Lahham of Tunis about the first free election in Tunisia since 1956.
On October 23, 11,000 candidates contended for 218 seats in the Constitutional Assembly that will have to write the new Constitution. There were 7 million registered voters and at least 80 percent of elegible voters participated in the ballot. A high number of parties entered the hustings, most of which were formed in the aftermath of the fall of Ben Ali's regime.

Early results suggest a victory for the Islamist Ennahada party. Radio Mosaique FM posted results from polling stations around the country, with many showing a commanding lead for Ennahda. Read more ..


Green Scandals

Energy’s Risky $1 Billion Bet on Two Politically-connected Electric Car Makers

October 24th 2011

Technology - Fisker Karma and Tesla Model S
Fisker Karma; Tesla Model S

Standing in a shuttered General Motors plant in Wilmington, Del., Vice President Joe Biden heralded a half-billion-dollar Department of Energy loan that would transform the idled site into a production line for electric cars.

“Folks, we’re making a bet,” Biden said on Oct. 27, 2009. “We’re making a bet in the future, we’re making a bet in the American people, we’re making a bet in the market, we’re making a bet in innovation.”

That loan is part of a $1 billion bet the Energy Department has made on two politically connected California electric carmakers producing sporty—and pricey—cutting-edge autos. One is Fisker Automotive, the project heralded by Biden and backed by a powerhouse venture capital firm whose partners include former Vice President Al Gore and a campaign donor to President Obama. The other is Tesla Motors, whose prime backers include a major fundraiser for Obama and Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Read more ..


The Saudi Succession Question

The Saudi Sucession: A Desert Legacy

October 22nd 2011

Arab Topics - Saudi princes

Editor’s note: This series was originally written in 2009; we re-publish it now in light of Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud’s recent death.

The modern state of Saudi Arabia was founded by King Abdulaziz (Ibn Saud) in 1932. From a Saudi perspective, however, the kingdom is far older—certainly older than the United States—despite occasional interruptions in Saudi rule and even though the Western notion of sovereign independence was not achieved by the Saudis until this century.

As founder of the modern Saudi state, Ibn Saud could trace his forebears to the middle of the fifteenth century, when they arrived in the center of Arabia from the Hasa region to the east. By the beginning of the seventeenth century, his ancestors had become local rulers of an area centered on the settlement of Dariyah, near modern-day Riyadh. The identified patriarch of the family was Saud bin Muhammad, who was succeeded as sheikh (local ruler) upon his death in 1725 by his son Muhammad, who is usually described as the first ruler of the al-Saud dynasty. (King Abdulaziz was given the name Ibn Saud by the British, recalling this ancestor, Muhammad bin Saud, or Ibn Saud) Read more ..


The Obama Edge

Study Suggests Forty Percent of Medicare Spending on Common Cancer Screenings Unnecessary

October 16th 2011

Health/Medicine - Mammogram Machine

Terry Waddell knew that her 87-year-old mother did not have long to live. The woman’s organs were shutting down because of old age, she said, and her arthritic body had withered to 80 pounds.

So, when Waddell received a call about her mother’s health, it was not what she expected. A visiting nurse had noticed a bit of blood between the frail woman’s legs and wanted her screened for cervical cancer.

Waddell, of Houston, regrets that she took her mother for the test. She refused to let doctor’s aides weigh her, she said, protesting that getting her mother out of her wheelchair was too arduous a process. Then came the actual exam, which she said “was painful to watch.” Her mother struggled to open her legs wide enough for the procedure and then lay there, quietly crying.

“I blame myself for not stopping this,” said Waddell, whose mother died two months later.“It was totally unnecessary.” Unnecessary, perhaps, but surprisingly common.

Cancer screening tests are vastly overused in the United States, with about 40 of Medicare spending on common preventive screenings regarded as medically unnecessary, an investigation reveals. Millions of Americans get such tests more frequently than medically recommended or at times when they cannot gain any proven medical benefit, extracting an enormous financial toll on the nation’s health care system. Doctors disregard scientific guidelines out of ignorance, fear of malpractice suits or for financial gain, as patients inundated by medical advertising clamor for extra tests. Read more ..


America’s Occupation Season

Singing “Occupy Wall Street” Protestors Arrested for Disrupting Court

October 14th 2011

Economy - Brooklyn Supreme Court building

As many as a dozen "Occupy Wall Street" protestors and their allies were arrested Thursday afternoon as they tried to stop a foreclosure auction inside a courthouse in Brooklyn, N.Y.

As the auctioneer called the proceeding to order, the protestors, who had been sitting quietly in the courtroom, broke into song. “Mrs. Auctioneer, all the people here are asking you to hold all the sales right now,” they sang, in surprising harmony. “We’re hoping to survive, but we don’t know how.”

Their voices filled the courtroom and, for a while at least, brought the proceedings to a halt. After a few minutes, a court security officer warned them to stop or face arrest, but he could barely be heard over the singing. The singing continued for about a half an hour until they were led off in plastic handcuffs, still singing.

The disruption coincided with a larger protest outside the state Supreme Court building in downtown Brooklyn, across the East River from Wall Street. Read more ..


The Solyndra Scandal

Fundraiser for Obama Urged Solyndra Deal from the Inside

October 12th 2011

Obama Admin Topics - Steven Spinner

An elite Obama fundraiser hired to help oversee the administration’s energy loan program pushed and prodded career Energy Department officials to move faster in approving a loan guarantee for Solyndra, even as his wife’s law firm was representing the California solar company, according to internal emails made public late Friday, October 7.

“How hard is this? What is he waiting for?” Steven J. Spinner, who worked in the Obama administration’s energy loan guarantee program, wrote in August 2009. “I have OVP [the Office of the Vice President] and WH [the White House] breathing down my neck on this.” Spinner, a high-tech consultant and energy investor who raised at least $500,000 for Obama’s campaign, joined the DOE in April 2009. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Israeli Prime Minister Explains Prospective Release of Abducted IDF Soldier Gilad Shalit

October 11th 2011

Israel Topics - Gilad Shalit

The following remarks were made by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of Israel concerning the expected release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was abducted on June 25, 2006 by Hamas terrorists:

Today, I bring a proposal to the Government for a deal that will bring Gilad Shalit home alive and well; bring him home to his parents Aviva and Noam, his brother Yoel, his sister Hadas, his grandfather Zvi, and the entire people of Israel. Two and a half years ago, when the government was formed, I took upon myself, as my first priority, to bring Gilad home to his people, to his family – to bring him home safe and sound.

At the time, Gilad was already held in captivity for two and a half years, with no visits from the Red Cross, with no visits at all, and we did not know what state he was in. The first step I took, and we approved it here in the Government, was to get a video recording of Gilad, and we all breathed a sigh of relief when we saw it. We saw that he was functioning, physically, mentally and cognitively. We saw that he was functioning well. We knew that he was healthy and that he was alive. I regarded that tape as an insurance policy, because it obliged the Hamas before the international community to safeguard him, to keep him alive and maintain his health. But that was obviously only the first step. Read more ..


Egypt After Mubarak

Dozens of Coptic Christians Die in Confrontation with Egyptian Military

October 10th 2011

Egypt - Dead Copts

Egypt’s prime minister, Essam Sharaf, said on October 10 that violent clashes between the army and protesters had "brought us back" to the early days of 2011 when similar protests brought down former dictator Hosni Mubarak. Speaking on television early in the morning, Sharaf said "Instead of going forward, we found ourselves scrambling for security," while averring that the clash had harvested "martyrs, both civilian and from the military." At least 12 troops were reportedly killed in the affray on October 9, while Sherif Doss – a leader of Egypt’s Coptic Christians – claimed that 17 civilians had died and 40 were injured. Other reports suggest that 48 Copts were killed in the clash and dozens injured. An army spokesman claimed that more than 50 troops were injured. Army trucks were set alight. This was the most violent clash in Egypt since January.

The violent protest and military counter attack came just a week after the burning of a Coptic Christian church in southern Egypt. The arson prompted the Sunday protest demanding equality and protection of Coptic churches and monasteries. Read more ..


Significant Lives

Apple's Steve Jobs Passes into History and so does an Era

October 6th 2011

Computer Topics - Steve Jobs 2

Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple and the holder of more than 300 technology patents, died on October 5. The eccentric entrepreneur who built Apple into the world’s leading technological company started in a prosaic garage in Silicon Valley. Having built one of the first personal computers marketed, Jobs led Apple to create wildly popular devices such as the iPhone. He was 56.

Sometimes accused of egocentricity, Jobs pioneered the concept of the personal computer and of navigating them by clicking onscreen images with a mouse, which he also developed. In more recent years, Jobs introduced the iPod portable music player, the iPhone and the iPad tablet, which changed how content is accessed and consume in the digital age. "Steve Jobs is one of the great innovators in the history of modern capitalism," New York Times columnist Joe Nocera said in August. "His intuition has been phenomenal over the years." Read more ..



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