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The Edge of Medicine

Drug Resistant Strain of Tuberculosis Causes Fear in India

January 16th 2012

Health/Medicine - TB Bacteria
Tuberculosis Culture

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

Inside The Muslim Brotherhood's Plan to Re-Invent Egypt

January 16th 2012

Egypt - Members of Muslim Brotherhood
Islamic Brotherhood

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

Our Youngest Killers

January 16th 2012

Crime Topics - Kids Jail

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

Outsider Rick Santorum and his Insider Corporate Money

January 16th 2012

Politics - Senator Santorum

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

A Wealth of Habitable Planets in the Milky Way

January 14th 2012

Science - ESO La Silla Obervatory
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

DoD names Marine General Waldhauser to Investigate Taliban Corpse Desecration Case

January 14th 2012

Military - marine general waldhauser
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

Defense Department may have Identified Marines in Controversial Video

January 13th 2012

Obama Admin Topics - Pentagon aerial shot

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

Warren Buffett takes GOP to Task Offering his own Cash to Pay Down U.S. Debt

January 12th 2012

Money - Money Money Money

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

Marine Corps Investigates Disturbing Video of Alleged Abuse of Taliban Corpses

January 12th 2012

Crime Topics - marines and corpse good

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

Is Libya Sliding Toward Civil War?

January 9th 2012

Libya - Libyan rebels

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

At 100, South Africa’s ANC Still Facing Hurdles

January 8th 2012

South Africa - Mandela

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

Phone Charging Using Harvested Solar Energy

January 6th 2012

Technology - Phone

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 ..


Broken Banking

Fraud and Folly at General Electric as Mortgage Bankers 'Lived it Up'

January 6th 2012

Business People - immelt
Jeffrey Immelt

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

NASA Voyager Boldly Goes where No Man (or Vehicle) has Gone Before

January 5th 2012

Science - voyager
Voyager spacecraft

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 ..


Significant Lives

A Giant of the Jewish Community Passes

January 4th 2012

Jewish Topics - Newt Becker
Newt Becker

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

Tax Gift to the Rich

January 3rd 2012

Politics - K Street NW

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

Iran's Currency Takes a Dive Following U.S. Sanctions

January 3rd 2012

Iran - iran bank notes

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

Record Demand for US Debt Leads Some to Call for More Government Borrowing

January 1st 2012

Money - Money Money Money

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

If Iran Moves, the USA Has No Plan for an Oil Interruption

December 29th 2011

Contributors / Staff - Edwin Black
Edwin Black

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 ..


The Edge of Physics

"God Particle" Higgs Boson Mystery Could Be Solved Soon

December 28th 2011

Science - cern-atlas nov 2006
ATLAS experiment under construction at CERN

A definitive answer on whether or not the so-called “God Particle” exists could come in 2012, according to a scientist involved in solving the mystery.

The search for the subatomic particle called the Higgs boson went into overdrive in 2008, when the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), in Switzerland, switched on its Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Results of two CERN experiments, known as ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS) and CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid), were announced recently at a seminar Rumor was that the Higgs boson had finally been found. Instead, the teams revealed they’d found tantalizing hints of where the Higgs boson may be found, if it exists at all.

Dr. Pierre Savard, associate professor of physics at the University of Toronto, is currently involved in the ATLAS experiments to track down the elusive particle. He says that before each experimental team revealed its findings, neither knew the other’s results. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Giant Methane Plumes Could Fast-Track Planetary Warming

December 25th 2011

Environment Topics - Siberian Glacier

Recent discoveries have confirmed scientists’ longstanding fears that global warming would catalyze the release of millions of tons of potential greenhouse gas emissions locked up in ice and permafrost in the great white north.

Layer after layer of plant debris that has not yet decomposed lies trapped in arctic and subarctic permafrost. As global temperatures rise and this perennial ice begins to melt, previously frozen organic matter will thaw out and decompose, releasing huge quantities of greenhouse gases into our already saturated atmosphere.

This may not seem like such an earth-shattering phenomenon, but scientists are deeply troubled since there’s a strong chance that methane (CH4) will be released—as it is in anaerobic wetland conditions—which does not bode well for planetary warming since it is 21 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide (CO2). Read more ..


The Armenian Genocide

France Defies Turkey with Vote to Criminalize Denial of Armenian Genocide

December 22nd 2011

Europe Topics - french of turkish descent protesing genocide bill

Turkey has reacted angrily to a vote in the lower house of the French parliament making it a crime to deny that the mass killings of Armenians nearly a century ago was genocide. By way of background, some 1.5 million Armenians were killed during World War I by troops of the Ottoman Empire—Turkey’s predecessor. Most historians say that this was one of the 20th century’s worst massacres. It led to the creation of the term genocide and its application to the Nazis for the Holocaust. The Ottoman Empire committed the genocide via death marches, railroad cars, mass shootings, hangings, and atrocities so heinous as to cement the image of “The Terrible Turk” in the western mind.

Turkey, while acknowledging the loss of Armenian lives, says the death toll has been exaggerated and does not amount to genocide. It says the deaths were the result of civil war.

France’s new legislation would make it a crime punishable by a fine of nearly €45,000 ($59,000) and up to a year in jail for genocide deniers. It won overwhelming approval in the lower house and now goes to the French Senate for consideration. Supporters hope it will become French law by the end of February ahead of next year’s presidential and and parliamentary elections. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Panetta Declares Iran Nuke within a Year--Warns: "If we Have to Do It, we will Deal with It."

December 20th 2011

Iran - iran-nuclear.jpg

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, has made it clear that the U.S will not allow Iran to assemble a nuclear bomb and declared that that any plans will be disrupted.

Speaking onboard a jet nicknamed ‘The Doomsday Plane,’ Panetta told Scott Pelley of CBS News, that Iran has the potential to realize nuclear weapons capability in less than a year. 

The 60 minute interview took place during Panetta’s return from an overseas trip, where he formally declared an end to the Iraq war and conducted a review of strategy for Afghanistan.  In a compartment of the jet, from which Panetta would execute the Commander in Chief’s orders in the event of a nuclear war, Panetta warned, “It would probably be about a year before they can do it. Perhaps a little less. But one proviso, Scott, is if they have a hidden facility somewhere in Iran that may be enriching fuel.” Read more ..


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 ..



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