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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 ..


Global Economy on Edge

Nearly €6 billion in Subsidies Fuels Spain’s Ravenous Fishing Fleet

October 5th 2011

Europe Topics - Akrana - fishing boat

Decades of overfishing have left Europe’s fish stocks in peril and its fishermen in poverty. It’s an impasse paid for by EU taxpayers. Yet a proposed revision of the EU’s fishing law, hailed as a sweeping reform, is rapidly losing momentum.

A look at the industry’s biggest player—Spain—shows what officials are up against. Billions of euros in subsidies built its bloated fleet and propped up a money-losing industry. All the while companies systematically flout the rules while officials overlook fraud and continue to fund offenders, an ICIJ investigation has found.

“Spain has earned its bad reputation,” said Ernesto Penas Lado, director of policy and enforcement at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. “The problem is others don’t have the reputation and deserve it just as much.” Read more ..


Egypt After Mubarak

Egypt's New Election Laws are yet another Setback for Democracy

October 3rd 2011

Egypt - Shouting Muslims in Cairo

Election laws that ensure a broadly representative parliament are vital to the legitimacy of Egypt's transition, but the newly announced system falls far short of this goal.

Egypt's complicated new parliamentary laws, which the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) endorsed today, represent the latest setback for the country's democratic prospects. By perpetuating the individual candidacy system for one-third of the parliament, the new laws virtually ensure that the former ruling party will be well represented in the next legislature. Meanwhile, the proportional representation voting system, which will determine the other two-thirds of the parliament, will likely include a provision for a "largest remainder system," making it virtually impossible for small parties to compete with larger, mostly illiberal parties.

Since 1976, Egypt has regularly held tightly controlled multiparty parliamentary elections. During the Mubarak era, these votes enabled the regime to create the impression of democratic legitimacy while it otherwise manipulated the system to ensure a parliamentary supermajority for the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). Read more ..


Edge on Terrorism

American Terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki may be Gone but Jihadists are Still in the Building

September 30th 2011

Terrorism - Arab terrorist
Anwar al Awlaki

Imam Anwar al Awlaki held two important positions in the cobweb of international Jihadi terror. First, he was one of the emerging younger leaders of al Qaeda after the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Out of Yemen, from which his family originates, he had built a network of recruits capable of performing missions in the Arabian Peninsula, but also communicating with the Shabab of Somalia and many cells inside the West. His reach in recruitment was as far as Jihadists have been indoctrinated. The Nigerian Abdelmutalib, known as the Christmas day bomber in the U.S., was also connected to the Yemeni-based cleric. In a sense, al Awlaki was one of the most effective al Qaeda international officers. His loss will undoubtedly be felt –at least for a while - within the ranks of the network. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

World Tensions Grow as Iran Sends Warships to America's East Coast

September 28th 2011

Iran - Iranian clerics and sailors

Iran has upped the ante in its perennial conflict with the West. On September 28, Iran’s Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi says the Islamic Republic has begun large-scale production of domestically-developed cruise missiles capable of destroying “giant warships” – according to Iran - and has a range of 124 miles (200 kilometres). Vahidi said an unspecified number of "Ghader," or "Capable" as the missile is called in Farsi, were delivered to the Revolutionary Guard's navy, which is assigned to protect Iran's sea borders in the Caspian Sea and the Gulf of Oman. This development, and the prospect of Iranian warships entering sea lanes near the United States, has raised concern. In addition, Iran also has short and medium range ballistic missiles capable of hitting Mideast targets such as Israel and U.S. military bases in the Persian Gulf. Read more ..


Economic Recovery on Edge

Countrywide Protected Fraudsters by Silencing Whistleblowers

September 27th 2011

Economy - Home Foreclosure

In the summer of 2007, a team of corporate investigators sifted through mounds of paper pulled from shred bins at Countrywide Financial Corp. mortgage shops in and around Boston.

By intercepting the documents before they were sliced by the shredder, the investigators were able to uncover what they believed was evidence that branch employees had used scissors, tape, and Wite-Out to create fake bank statements, inflated property appraisals and other phony paperwork. Inside the heaps of paper, for example, they found mock-ups that indicated to investigators that workers had, as a matter of routine, literally cut and pasted the address for one home onto an appraisal for a completely different piece of property.

Eileen Foster, the company’s new fraud investigations chief, had seen a lot of slippery behavior in her two-plus decades in the banking business. But she’d never seen anything like this. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Billionaire Buffett replaces Plutocrat Soros as GOP Boogeyman

September 26th 2011

Economy - Warren Buffett

Exit: George Soros. Enter: Warren Buffett, stage left.

Buffett, the investment mogul and Berkshire Hathaway CEO, is slowly drifting into the role Soros played during the first decade of this century: billionaire boogeyman to the right, and go-to example cited by the left to show that one can support Democrats’ economic policies and still be pro-business.

A frequent spot holder on Forbes’s list of the world’s wealthiest individuals, Buffett endorsed President Obama in 2008, but has not historically been an overly political figure – until now. In August, he penned an op-ed in the New York Times asking policymakers to raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires like himself. He has claimed he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary, thanks to a tax structure that favors those whose income comes from investments. Read more ..


Edge on Space

Scientists Discover One Planet Orbiting Two Stars

September 23rd 2011

Science - Kepler 16-B
Artist’s conception of planet (dark circle) orbiting two suns. (credit: NASA)

Astronomers say they have discovered a planet that orbits around a pair of stars. It is the first time a so-called circumbinary system has been detected.

Movie fans might be familiar with “Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope,” the blockbuster movie from 1977. Luke Skywalker stands on his stark home planet Tatooine. As he gazes pensively into the distance toward a pinkish sky, an orange sun descends toward the horizon, with a smaller white sun following close behind.

Well, move over, Tatooine, says John Knoll of Industrial Light and Magic, which created the special effects for the Star Wars films.

“Again and again we see that the science is stranger and cooler than the fiction,” Knoll said.

Tatooine now has to make way for reality: Kepler-16b, the first planet known to definitively orbit two stars—a circumbinary planet. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Obama’s Dilemma: U.S. Foreign Policy and Electoral Realities

September 23rd 2011

Obama Admin Topics - Obama in deep thought

The United States is moving into an election cycle, which will affect American international behavior and therefore the international system.

The United States remains the center of gravity of the international system. The sheer size of its economy (regardless of its growth rate) and the power of its military (regardless of its current problems) make the United States unique. Even more important, no single leader of the world is as significant, for good or bad, as the American president. That makes the American presidency, in its broadest sense, a matter that cannot be ignored in studying the international system.

The American system was designed to be a phased process. By separating the selection of the legislature from the selection of the president, the founders created a system that did not allow for sudden shifts in personnel. Unlike parliamentary systems, in which the legislature and the leadership are intimately linked, the institutional and temporal uncoupling of the system in the United States was intended to control the passing passions by leaving about two-thirds of the U.S. Senate unchanged even in a presidential election year, which always coincides with the election of the House of Representatives. Coupled with senatorial rules, this makes it difficult for the president to govern on domestic affairs. Changes in the ideological tenor of the system are years in coming, and when they come they stay a long time. Mostly, however, the system is in gridlock. Thomas Jefferson said that a government that governs least is the best. Read more ..


Iran’s Nukes

Religious Ideologies, Political Doctrines, and Iran’s Nuclear Decisionmaking, Part 1

September 19th 2011

Iran - Khameni and Khomeini

Because the Islamic Republic of Iran is a theocracy, religion plays a central role in its politics. Understanding this is fundamental to assessing Iranian intentions, anticipating future Iranian moves, and formulating an effective policy for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. Most analyses, however, pay insufficient attention to the role of religion in Iranian decisionmaking.

Thus, while several recent U.S. intelligence assessments state that Tehran’s nuclear decisionmaking is guided by a “cost-benefit approach,” they fail to address the values and beliefs that inform this calculus.

Likewise, a review of several recent works on Iran’s nuclear program reveals that they generally avoided touching on the role of religion, emphasizing instead a variety of other domestic and external considerations.

These analyses overlook the very factor that is most important to understanding contemporary Iranian politics. Any attempt to assess the implications of Iran’s nuclear program must examine the religious values, beliefs, and doctrines that inform and shape politics in the Islamic Republic, and that are likely to decisively influence Iranian nuclear decisionmaking. Read more ..


Turkey and Israel

Turkey’s Threat to Israel’s New Gas Riches

September 14th 2011

Israel Topics - Leviathan Oil field

Ankara warns that Turkey will stop Israel from unilaterally exploiting gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean—and directly challenges U.S. policy.

On September 8, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Aljazeera that his government had taken steps to prevent Israel from unilaterally exploiting natural resources in the Mediterranean Sea. “Israel has begun to declare that it has the right to act in exclusive economic areas in the Mediterranean,” he stated, apparently citing Israeli plans to tap newly discovered offshore gas reserves. Israel “will not be the owner of this right,” he warned.

In other remarks, Erdogan declared that the Turkish navy would protect future aid ships bound for Gaza in order to prevent a repetition of the 2010 flotilla incident, in which Israeli commandos killed nine activists attempting to break the blockade. These comments came just days after the release of a UN report condemning the deaths but justifying Israel’s blockade—a judgment that prompted Ankara to drastically reduce diplomatic relations between the two countries and freeze their substantial military cooperation and trade. Read more ..


Remembering 9/11

Jihadists Today Stronger Than on 9/11

September 11th 2011

Contributors / Staff - Walid Phares new

A decade after the strikes against America’s military and financial centers at the hands of al-Qaida jihadi, the question remains: Have we won the war?

In the ongoing, debate, we see two camps. One stating that we were defeating the enemy until Washington changed direction three years ago, and another boasting that America was losing the war until three years ago when a change of direction brought victory in sight.

Some really believed that the years following the attacks have brought the free world and democracy to an inch from victory. Others among us believe that thanks to today’s policies we are finally better than ever before.

It is sad to say at this anniversary, but both views are wrong. We weren’t close to strategic victories some five years ago and we are far from defeating the jihadists today. This sober assessment isn’t for domestic politics consumers, far from it.

Here are some realities:

Afghanistan: Bringing down the Taliban regime was a smashing victory for the U.S., NATO and the Afghan people particularly for women and minorities.

Defending the country against the return of the jihadi militias and containing their incursions from inside Pakistan’s enclaves were the right strategic choices. But the U.S. and NATO failed to engage civil society groups, women, and secular wings to help launch a democratic revolution in the country instead of spending billions on asphalt, construction, and futile unproductive projects.

We surged against the Taliban but we didn’t help the people surge politically via massive education efforts. Now we are doing the unthinkable: negotiating with the Taliban for Afghanistan’s future. Read more ..


Washington on Edge

As 9-11 Nears, Pro-Palestinian Agitators Shut Down D.C. Museum Ceremony

September 9th 2011

Contributors / Staff - Edwin Black

With Homeland Security edgy about 9-11 disruptions, pro-Palestinian agitators have successfully shut down a planned public ceremony by a Washington, D.C. museum over safety concerns.

The National Building Museum was slated to grant its prestigious Henry C. Turner Prize for Innovation in Construction Technology during a public ceremony September 14, 2011. The five-person Turner Prize jury unanimously chose Caterpillar Inc. for its global record of innovation within the construction industry. But the company has also been the victim of repeated disruptions by a coalition of anti-Israeli boycott groups, including the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace & Justice, and supported by the so-called Jewish Voice for Peace, Code Pink, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and the Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace. The Washington Interfaith Alliance was one of many that posted Internet calls for protests at the museum on September 14.

Caterpillar has been under attack for supplying combat bulldozers to Israeli military engineers. The Illinois-based Caterpillar company also provides construction machines to a gamut of third-world and developing nations for relief and reconstruction, which was the basis for the prize.

The behemoth civil-war era National Building Museum, known for creating the concept of “red tape,” when it connected the long strings of nineteenth-century bureaucratic pension forms with red tape, is considered a national treasure. The seemingly innocuous August 18, 2011 announcement of the engineering award brought a storm of threats of public protest and other disruption that the architecture-based museum staff found overwhelming, according to museum sources. “We made the decision out of concern for the safety of our staff,” stated the source, adding that federal security offices were notified. Read more ..


Saudi Arabia on Edge

The Oil Kingdom Faces 'Peak Water' Crisis while Draining Unrenewable Fossil Water Sources

September 9th 2011

Energy / Environment - Unsustainable water

With just 4 inches of rain a year, Saudi Arabia is already one of the driest places on earth. But unlike neighboring Israel, conservation is not part of the culture. Saudi water use is profligate, almost twice the world average of 500 cubic meters per capita annually.

But it’s not that cliche of oil-rich extravagance you might imagine (“Dubai Gets Frozen Air From Europe!“) It is just that almost everything takes more water in the desert, from growing food to harvesting oil wealth – in order to desalinate enough water – for a rapidly growing population. Saudi women, with little else to do, produce large families. So the Kingdom gets through 950 cubic meters of water per person per year. It now faces “peak water”, a far more serious threat to its economy than peak oil.

Already, the kingdom has made tough decisions. Like parts of Australia, that made a decision to stop growing food as water supplies crashed during its long years of droughts, Riyadh is now ending domestic wheat farming. Read more ..


Somalia on Edge

Theft of Food Aid to Stricken Somalia Deserves Congressional Oversight

September 7th 2011

Africa Topics - Hungry Somalia

This summer, the Horn of Africa confronted its worst drought in decades. Estimates indicate that more than 12 million people across the region are vulnerable to starvation. Somalia, lacking a credible government and beset by internal instability and conflict, has been particularly hard hit, and the United Nations has formally declared that a famine exists in six regions of southern and central Somalia, including the region surrounding the capital of Mogadishu. It is believed that more than 4 million Somalis are at risk of starvation, and the U.N. has called on governments to provide more than $1 billion to address the situation. Read more ..


The Obama Edge

State Department Spends Emergency Dollars on Parties

August 30th 2011

Politics - Truman Bldg/State Dept HQ

Money from a State Department fund meant for urgent needs—such as evacuating diplomats from posts in Egypt or Libya—has been spent on a kitchen renovation, holiday and retirement parties, and on white suits for President Obama’s inauguration.

An audit by the department’s inspector general raises questions about whether State Department officials have gone beyond the purpose of a law allowing U.S. diplomatic officials to tap into a so-called “K Fund.” The money is set aside for “unforeseen emergencies arising in the diplomatic and consular service,” such as moving personnel out of suddenly unstable regimes, rewarding tipsters for information about terrorist activities, and defraying the unexpected costs of visiting officials. Read more ..


The Race for Nuclear

East Coast Earthquake Shakes up Debate over Nuclear Power

August 25th 2011

Energy Topics - Nukuler plants in Amerika

Virginia's largest earthquake in more than a century shook the East Coast on August 23 and is likely to revive a long-standing debate about the safety of the country's nuclear power plants.

The 5.8 magnitude earthquake caused the shutdown of two nuclear reactors at the North Anna Power Station in Louisa County, Va. The plant, which is located less than 20 miles from the epicenter of the quake, lost offsite power and was running its cooling systems on diesel generators on August 23. Dominion said it was able to restore offsite power to the reactors late evening August 23.

While there were no reports of damage at the North Anna reactors and plant operator Dominion said the cooling systems were working properly, nuclear opponents quickly pounced on the incident August 23.

They say the incident shows that U.S. nuclear reactors are vulnerable to major natural disasters and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should move quickly to implement a series of sweeping regulatory changes recommended by a federal task force last month. Read more ..


The Arab-Israeli Fall

Israeli-Arab Crisis Approaching

August 25th 2011

Israel Topics - Jerusalem-Temple and Wall
Credit: NASA

In September, the U.N. General Assembly will vote on whether to recognize Palestine as an independent and sovereign state with full rights in the United Nations. In many ways, this would appear to be a reasonable and logical step. Whatever the Palestinians once were, they are clearly a nation in the simplest and most important sense—namely, they think of themselves as a nation. Nations are created by historical circumstances, and those circumstances have given rise to a Palestinian nation. Under the principle of the United Nations and the theory of the right to national self-determination, which is the moral foundation of the modern theory of nationalism, a nation has a right to a state, and that state has a place in the family of nations. In this sense, the U.N. vote will be unexceptional.

However, when the United Nations votes on Palestinian statehood, it will intersect with other realities and other historical processes. First, it is one thing to declare a Palestinian state; it is quite another thing to create one. The Palestinians are deeply divided between two views of what the Palestinian nation ought to be, a division not easily overcome. Second, this vote will come at a time when two of Israel’s neighbors are coping with their own internal issues. Read more ..



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