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The Battle for Libya

The Port of Misurata is the Key to Regime Change in Libya

April 25th 2011

Libya - Libyan rebels

The Libyan city of Misurata is the last remaining major rebel outpost in western Libya. Misurata’s access to the sea has enabled regular shipments of food, weapons, medicine and ammunition to sustain the resistance in the face of daily attacks by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Gadhafi’s forces are intent on retaking the port at Misurata, while the Libyan rebels based in Benghazi hope the looming humanitarian crisis in Misurata will persuade the European coalition leading the mission in Libya to deploy ground troops to assist the rebels. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Iran Power Struggles Pits Clerics Against Ahmadinejad

April 25th 2011

Iran - Iranian clerics

The power struggle between Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues. Signs of deep fissures in the conservative camp are emerging just as the Islamic Republic prepares for parliamentary elections next year, the first countrywide polls since the disputed June 2009 presidential election. These divisions, rather than the struggling economy or the nuclear issue, are the top concern for Iranian leaders.

Moslehi Is Out, Then Back In

On April 16, Ahmadinejad announced he was accepting the resignation of Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi, who reportedly tendered it under pressure. The move followed Moslehi's decision to replace his deputy on legal and parliamentary affairs. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Newt Gingrich Faces Questions about Consulting Job and Support for Biofuels

April 25th 2011

Politics - Newt Gingrich 4_2011
Newt Gingrich

“I am not a lobbyist for ethanol,” Newt Gingrich declared in a mid-winter spat with the editors of The Wall Street Journal over his support for government subsidies for alternative fuel.

But Gingrich was a hired consultant to a major ethanol lobbying group—at more than $300,000 a year.

According to IRS records, the ethanol group Growth Energy paid Gingrich’s consulting firm $312,500 in 2009.The former House Speaker was the organization’s top-paid consultant, according to the records. His pay was one of the group’s largest single expenditures, as it took in and spent about $11 million to promote ethanol and to lobby for federal incentives for its use.

In a Growth Energy publication, Gingrich was listed as a consultant who offered advice on “strategy and communication issues” and who “will speak positively on ethanol related topics to media.” Read more ..

The Transportation Edge

DOT Criticized for Vagueness on $9.5 Billion in Project Funding

April 18th 2011

Transportation Topics - Acela

Billions of dollars handed out to massive transportation projects under the stimulus bill were not vetted with clearly documented rationales, according to the government’s watchdog.

The results of two General Accountability Office studies mirror concerns from a story published last year.

The first report from GAO focuses on how the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) gave out $8 billion in funds for high speed rail, which was highly touted by the Obama administration at the time the stimulus was passed. Read more ..

Hawaii on Edge

Sustained Drop in Japanese Visitors Has Befuddled Hawaiian Tourism Officials At a Loss

April 18th 2011

Travel - Hawaii bay

Emerging markets in Asia and elsewhere, as well as more Mainland U.S. visitors will be needed if Hawaii expects to recover from the tectonic drop in tourism from Japan. But befuddled tourism officials in Hawaii, unaccustomed to fast turnarounds and sharp rebounds, seem to be at a loss. 

Following the devastating March 11 tremor, tsunami and nuclear power plant meltdown in Japan, Hawaii saw a drop of nearly 25 percent in the number of Japanese visitors, compared to a year ago. The drop followed a 28 percent increase in Japanese tourists from January 1 through late February from a year ago, says the state agency. With hotels reporting cancellations of future bookings as high as 45 percent, the Aloha State is braced for a significant economic impact. Hawaii’s state government predicts that the decline in Japanese visitors could reduce the state's projected 3.2 percent rise in gross domestic product by as much as a percentage point. The state estimates that Hawaii’s tsunami damage totaled $30.6 million. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

White House Visitor Logs Riddled with Holes

April 18th 2011

Presidential - White House gate
Credit: Emma Schwartz

A foot of snow couldn’t keep Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Jennifer Hudson and other celebrities away from a star-studded celebration of civil rights era music hosted by President Barack Obama and the First Lady at the White House on Feb. 9, 2010.

Dylan’s haunting rendition of “The Times They are A-Changin” was a highlight of the dazzling evening. The digitally friendly White House even posted the video of his performance on its website.

But you won’t find Dylan (or Robert Zimmerman, his birth name) listed in the White House visitor logs—the official record of who comes to call at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, maintained by the Secret Service. Ditto Joan Baez. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Koch’s Web of Influence

April 18th 2011

Politics - Koch Industries building

At an EPA hearing last summer, representatives from Koch Industries argued that moderate levels of the toxic chemical dioxin should not be designated as a cancer risk for humans.

When members of Congress sought higher security at chemical plants to guard against terrorist attacks, Koch Industries lobbyists prowled Capitol Hill to voice their opposition.

And when Congress moved to strengthen regulation of the financial markets after recent collapses, Koch Industries—a major commodities and derivatives trader—deployed a phalanx of lobbyists to resist proposed changes. Read more ..

Economic Recovery on Edge

Car Buyers Beware of a Sub-Prime Crisis

April 18th 2011

Economy - car keys and cash

After the financial crisis exposed the devastation caused by predatory lending, state and federal authorities vowed to protect consumers from practices that lured them into debt they couldn’t afford.

But Congress kept most auto loans—the second largest source of debt for Americans—out of the reach of the fledgling U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And now many of the same tactics that led to the mortgage meltdown—like fudging facts on the loan application or charging consumers hidden fees—continue to plague auto loans, an investigation found.

The politically powerful industry has also mastered a few high-pressure tactics of its own. Chief among them is the “yo-yo,” where dealers let buyers drive a new car home in hopes of locking them into a deal and later tell them their financing fell through. The tactic can lure buyers to accept a higher interest rate. Read more ..

The Arab Awakening

The Arab Risings, Israel and Hamas

April 13th 2011

Gaza Topics - Hamas+Guns

There was one striking thing missing from the events in the Middle East in past months: Israel. While certainly mentioned and condemned, none of the demonstrations centered on the issue of Israel. Israel was a side issue for the demonstrators, with the focus being on replacing unpopular rulers.

This is odd. Since even before the creation of the state of Israel, anti-Zionism has been a driving force among the Arab public, perhaps more than it has been with Arab governments. While a few have been willing to develop open diplomatic relations with Israel, many more have maintained informal relations: Numerous Arab governments have been willing to maintain covert relations with Israel, with extensive cooperation on intelligence and related matters. They have been unwilling to incur the displeasure of the Arab masses through open cooperation, however. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

A White House Divided on Syria

April 11th 2011

Syrian Issues - Syrian Protests March 2011

More so than the conflicts in Tunisia, Libya, and Bahrain, and perhaps even more than the fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, the recent violence in Syria has posed a challenge to the Obama administration’s strategy in the Middle East. The conflicting impulses within the administration can be seen in recent statements made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; days ago, she described Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a “reformer”; in London on March 29, she issued a “strong condemnation of the Syrian government’s brutal repression of demonstrators.” Which view of Assad prevails, and how the United States responds to events in Syria, will go a long way toward determining how deeply U.S. policy in the Middle East is altered by the recent turmoil there. Read more ..

Palestinian Terror

The Fogel Murders: A Call to Combat Incitement

April 11th 2011

Israel Topics - Fogel Family
Murdered Fogel Family

Incitement to violence, long a secondary issue in Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, has returned to the front burner. About a year ago, the Israeli government began publishing an “incitement index” that tracked Palestinian Authority (PA) statements and publications. Then, on March 11 of this year, the Fogel family was massacred in the West Bank settlement of Itamar, prompting large numbers of U.S. senators and congressmen to press senior U.S. officials to take steps to end incitement. Contentious as this issue may be, recent developments suggest the possibility of a modest path forward—and one that could provide a bridge to broader bilateral negotiations.

The PA and Israeli Positions

Palestinian officials do not deny that incitement is real and problematic. They do, however, argue that the Israeli side engages in its own incitement. For example, the Palestine News and Information Agency (WAFA), in an apparent response to concerns sparked by the Itamar murders, published its own list of Israeli acts of “incitement and racism against the Palestinians and Arabs published by the Israeli media between March 11 and 17.” Featured on the list are calls by a rabbi and several journalists for a response to or revenge for the Itamar murders. But the list lacks examples of any Israeli leader, government official, or government-sponsored publication advocating or condoning violence against Palestinians. Such a distinction reveals an attempt to widen the definition of “incitement” to include opinions and expressions by any individual, rather than limiting it to declarations by officials and state-run media. Read more ..

Energy vs Environment

Defiant Ethiopia To Proceed With Massive Dam On The Nile River

April 11th 2011

Africa Topics - Blue Nile in Ethiopia
Blue Nile in Ethopia (Credit: Giustino)

Defiant of Egypt’s historic monopoly over its flow, Ethiopia is pushing ahead with a controversial plan to build a massive dam on the Nile river. Egypt and Sudan have maintained control of the Nile through a series of laws originally brokered by colonial powers in 1929.

But last May, six upstream countries signed a legally binding document that dispossessed Egypt of its right to veto decisions regarding the Nile’s distribution. Buoyed by President Hosni Mubarak’s recent ouster, and undaunted by criticism, Ethiopia insists that it will proceed with its plan even without international support. Read more ..

Arab World Unrest

Qatar's Quest to Become the Leading Arab State

April 4th 2011

Qatar Topics - Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani
Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani

The small Persian Gulf state of Qatar is emerging as a significant international player in the Libyan crisis and a crucial supporter of U.S. policy. But its relationship with the United States has often been difficult, and its standing in the rest of the Arab world is questionable. For Washington, the challenge is to achieve balance between U.S. expectations, Qatar's own regional ambitions, and the need to minimize any adverse impact on U.S. ties with other Arab allies.

The Qatari peninsula is about the size of Connecticut, but most of its population -- around 200,000 citizens and 600,000 expatriate workers -- lives in and around the capital, Doha. A member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the emirate produces relatively little oil. Instead, its growing wealth is the result of having the third-largest natural gas reserves in the world (after Russia and Iran). Qatar is now the world's top exporter of liquefied natural gas, with Asia particularly reliant on its supplies. Revenue from these sales has given Qataris the highest per capita gross domestic product ($88,000) in the world, almost twice the figure for Americans. Read more ..

Japan after the Quake

Manufacturers Worldwide Brace for Semiconductor Shortage

April 4th 2011

Technology - Computer Chips

Technology prices are set to rise after a chemical plant damaged by the Tsunami has been highlighted as a core producer of a unique resin used by nearly half of the world's semiconductor manufacturers

Semiconductors are used to manufacture a broad variety of complex technology based components used in everything from cars to LCDs. And the resulting global shortage of this unique resin will drive semi-conductor manufacturing delays and costs up, which will be passed through the supply chain to end user prices. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Global Revenues for Power Back-up Spike as World Uneasy About Electricity

April 4th 2011

Energy Topics - Battery

Global revenues for UPS sales pass $7 billion Data from market analyst, IMS Research, shows the global market for Uninterruptable Power Supplies (UPS) grew twice as fast in the second half of 2010 compared with the first half of that year. The growth helped to push the total annual value past $7 billion. IMS Research predicts demand for UPS to return to pre-recessionary levels by 2012. 

The global UPS market continues to recover swiftly from the economic downturn with revenues in Q4 2010 being 10.8% higher than the same period in 2009.

Jason dePreaux, a Senior Analyst with IMS Research, is cautiously optimistic that a sustained recovery has taken hold. “Spending on critical power upgrades such as UPS has come back, notably in the small and medium business segment where power requirements are lower and projects are less capital intensive,” said dePreaux. “Big data-center jobs also appear to be coming back; though this sector is highly dependent on the availability of credit to move forward with major upgrades or new construction.” Read more ..

Hotel Review

A Paramount Hotel in Manhattan

April 1st 2011

Hotels - Paramount lobby

For decades, the Paramount Hotel, just steps from Times Square, has been a major address for travelers to New York. Certainly, the hotel has always been known for its avant-garde, architectonic lobby, which creates its own energy; where chairs crafted from logs are stationed beneath the hubbub of busy mezzanine corridors. Of course, the Paramount has also been known as the small wonder of New York since the rooms have been traditionally considered “not even large enough to change your mind.” The theory was always that no one came to New York to spend time in their room—which is good, because there is virtually no room in the room—and that everyone came to New York to explore the city.

Exploration from the Paramount is supremely enabled from the hotel's prime location inches from Broadway, around the corner from Hell's Kitchen, a short walk from the best shopping, an easy stroll from a dozen great restaurants, and more or less in the middle of everything. Read more ..

Internet Hate

Facebook and Zuckerberg Do an About-Face and Delete Palestinian Page Calling for a Third Intifada and Mass Killing of Jews and Israelis

March 29th 2011

Arab Topics - Facebook intifada 2

Following widespread criticism, a Facebook page calling for a third Palestinian intifada against Israel was removed on March 29. On the Facebook page, Palestinians were urged  to launch street protests following Friday May 15 and begin an uprising as modelled by similar uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, and Jordan. Killing Jews en masse was emphasized.

According to the Facebook page, "Judgment Day will be brought upon us only once the Muslims have killed all of the Jews." The page had more than 340,000 fans. However, even while the page was removed, a new page now exists in its place with the same name,  "Third Palestinian Intifada."

"As recently demonstrated, social networks can be used to overthrow governments, for good or bad, and even destabilize entire regions. Prominent social networks like Facebook can no longer afford to remain neutral as it relates to Israel's right to exist. Therefore I appreciate their stand against violent and growing anti-Semitism," Dave McQuade, founder of MediaReallyMatters.com, said. 

Abraham Foxman, National Director for the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement, "Facebook’s decision to remove the cause page calling for a “Third Palestinian Intifada” is a welcome development. We applaud Facebook’s willingness to continue to engage and consider this important question and we deeply appreciate their responsiveness. 

By taking this action, Facebook has now recognized an important standard to be applied when evaluating issues of non-compliance with its terms of service involving distinctions between incitement to violence and legitimate calls for collective expressions of opinion and action. As it continues to monitor its pages, Facebook should be able to apply this standard in response to complaints about other pages with similar content. We hope that they will continue to vigilantly monitor their pages for other groups that call for violence or terrorism against Jews and Israel." Read more ..

The Military Edge

JIEDDO: The Manhattan Project that Bombed

March 28th 2011

Military - US Military Explosives-detecting Dog
U.S. Military Working Dog (credit: PO2 Brian L. Short)

As the invasion of Iraq turned into an occupation, a new and deadly threat to U.S. troops emerged, one for which the U.S. was ill prepared: the roadside bomb.

So in February 2006, with casualties mounting, the Pentagon responded by creating a new agency designed to attack the problem by harnessing the full might of America’s technology community. The new organization was dubbed the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, or JIEDDO, and a retired four-star general was tasked to run it.

The launch of JIEDDO eventually turned what had been a 12-person Army anti-homemade bomb task force into a 1,900 person behemoth with nearly $21 billion to spend.  Read more ..

Economic Recovery on Edge

SEC Extracts Fines—But Not Confessions

March 28th 2011

Economy - Michael Dell
Michael Dell

Companies and executives who settled civil lawsuits brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2010 sometimes paid millions of dollars in fines, but in one key respect they can still hold their heads high.

They didn’t have to admit to doing anything wrong.

A review of more than 100 of the SEC’s 694 settlement agreements from 2010 showed that in every instance, defendants ended the lawsuit without admitting or denying charges.

Earlier this week, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in New York slammed the SEC for not being more muscular with defendants, in an opinion involving a settlement with a semiconductor company and its executives. Read more ..

Arab Terror and Israel

Israeli-Palestinian Tensions Escalating

March 23rd 2011

Israel Topics - Terror Bomb J'lem March 23 2011

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly delayed his March 23 trip to Moscow following a bombing at bus stop in central Jerusalem that injured as many as 34 people. The bombing follows a series of recent mortar and rocket attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip reaching as far as the outskirts of Ashdod and Beersheba, as well as the March 11 massacre of an Israeli family in the West Bank settlement of Itamar.

Netanyahu, already facing a political crisis at home in trying to hold his fragile coalition government together, now faces a serious dilemma. There were strong hints that Netanyahu may hold a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Moscow to restart the peace process and avoid becoming entrapped in another military campaign in the Palestinian territories, but that plan is now effectively derailed. Though the precise perpetrators and their backers remain unclear, a Palestinian faction or factions appear to be deliberately escalating the crisis and thus raising the potential for Israel to mount another military operation in the Palestinian territories. Read more ..

Japan After the Quake

Shocked Hawaii Tourism Reps Scramble As Japanese Visits Drop Sharply

March 21st 2011

Travel - Hawaii bay

Fears emerged in tourist-dependent Hawaii following the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11. Just hours after the monumental quake in Japan, tens of millions of additional dollars in damage to homes, businesses and boats crashed onto the national economy after a tsunami roared ashore last week. Tourism is the single biggest industry in the Hawaiian archipelago, and hotels, restaurants, tour operators and other businesses dependent on Japanese tourism were concerned that the devastation in Japan would also strike their pocketbooks.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie predicted the economic consequences would be severe for Hawaii, which is already dealing with a projected shortfall of nearly $1 billion over the next two years due to a bearish economy in the US generally. "It's going to be terrible. It's going to be rough," he said following the quake. "It's something that we have to come to grips with."

Some Hawaiian tourism representatives contacted by The Cutting Edge News seem ill-prepared and ill-equipped for the unexpected drop-off. A few were unable to even respond to inquiries. Read more ..

Edge on Health Care

Death Panels—Fact and Fiction

March 21st 2011

Health/Medicine - nurse w/stethoscope

“Death panels” are back in the news and Congress is turning its attention to them once again. The problem is, lawmakers are looking in all the wrong places.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, now headed by Republicans, sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last week demanding to know how a controversial provision that was excised from last year’s health reform bill wound up—briefly—in a government “rule” on physician reimbursement.

The proposed provision would have allowed Medicare to pay doctors to counsel patients about their end-of-life medical wishes. That idea originally had bipartisan support, but when the provision was brought to Sarah Palin’s attention, she accused Democrats of wanting to create “death panels” that would decide when to pull the plug on granny and grandpa. Read more ..

The Battle for Libya

Libya’s Opposition Leadership Slowly Comes into Focus

March 21st 2011

Libya Topics - Libya Rebel

Libya has descended to a situation tantamount to civil war, with forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi in the west pitted against rebels from the east. One of the biggest problems faced by Western governments has been identifying exactly who the rebels are. Many of them, including former Libyan Justice Minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil and former Interior Minister Gen. Abdel Fattah Younis, defected early on from the Gadhafi regime and represent part of the leadership of the National Transitional Council, which lobbied Western governments for support soon after its formation. Challenges posed by geography and lack of military capabilities remain, however, meaning that even with the aid of foreign airstrikes against Gadhafi’s forces, the rebel council will struggle to achieve its stated goal of militarily toppling Gadhafi and unifying the country under its leadership. Read more ..

Japan’s Nuclear Crisis

Reactor Design at Heart of Japanese Nuclear Crisis Raised Concerns as Early as 1972

March 21st 2011

Energy / Environment - BW Reactor Diagram
Boiling Water Reactor diagram

Long before Japan’s nuclear crisis or even the 1979 Three Mile Island accident, U.S. regulators had strong reservations about the design of boiling water reactors and considered banning such units over fears about their vulnerability to radioactive leaks, documents show. An industry study also noted that the reactors had less ability to withstand earthquakes than other models.

In the early 1970s, just as a number of reactors were about to be licensed, Stephen Hanauer, a senior member of the Atomic Energy Commission staff, suggested banning “pressure suppression” methods to contain radiation in the event of a meltdown—methods built into General Electric’s Mark I and Mark II containment designs as well as Westinghouse’s ice condenser design. The advice was considered and disregarded.

“Steve’s idea to ban pressure suppression containment schemes is an attractive one in some ways,” Joseph Hendrie, then a deputy director with the AEC, wrote in a Sept. 25, 1972, memo. Hendrie acknowledged that alternative, “dry” containments—featuring the towers or domes commonly associated with nuclear plants—had the “notable advantage of brute simplicity in dealing with a primary blowdown, and are thereby free of the perils of bypass leakage.” Read more ..

The Battle for Bahrain

Saudi Arabian Intervention in Bahrain

March 14th 2011

Arab Topics - King Abdullah and sword 2
Saudi King Abdullah

Reports emerged on March 14 that forces from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries will enter Bahrain to help the Bahraini regime quell unrest.

The report was published by Bahraini Alyam Newspaper (known for its close links with the ruling al-Khalifa family), and came one day after clashes occurred between Shiite protesters and police in the capital, Manama. Troops from United Arab Emirates are reportedly expected to arrive in Bahrain March 14. Al Arabiya reported that Saudi forces have already entered Bahrain, but these claims have yet to be officially confirmed by the Bahraini regime. The only announcement so far came from Nabil al-Hamar, the former information minister and adviser to the royal family, who has written on Twitter that the Arab forces arrived in Bahrain. An unnamed Saudi official also said on March 14 that more than 1,000 Saudi troops from the Shield of Island entered Bahrain on late March 13, al-Quds reported, citing AFP. Meanwhile, Bahraini State News Agency reported that The Independent Bloc (a parliamentary bloc of the Bahraini parliament) asked Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa to enforce martial law to contain the unrest. Read more ..

Edge of Terror

Israel Mourns Innocent Family Brutally Massacred in Their Beds by Palestinian Terrorists

March 14th 2011

Israel Topics - Fogel Family
The Murdered Fogel Family

During the night hours of March 11,  Palestinians terrorists crept into the home of an Israeli rabbi and his sleeping family and slayed them. Rabbi Udi Fogel (36), his wife Ruth (34), 11-year-old Yoav, four-year-old Elad and three-month-old Hadas were stabbed to death in their home in the middle of night of in the Jewish settlement of Itamar; their two other children survived.  The Fogel’s two surviving sons, Ro’i, 8 and Shai, 2, were sleeping and went miraculously unnoticed by the terrorists. A daughter, Tamar, 12, was out at the time at a day camp, and discovered the murders upon her return at 12:30 a.m. It is believed that the perpetrator or perpetrators of the crime entered the Fogel home at approximately 10:30 pm following the family’s observance of the Sabbath meal.

The Palestinian terrorist group Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades has reportedly claimed responsibility for the murders. A video circulating on the Web showed still photos of the Fogel family paired by crime scene shots of their bloody, ravaged bodies. The video notes that in 2002, Palestinian terrorists crept into the Itamar settlement and murdered Rachel Shevo and three of her children. Two other children were wounded in that assault. Read more ..

Japan After the Quake

Japan Races to Avert Meltdown at Devastated Nuclear Power Plant

March 12th 2011

Energy / Environment - Fukushima meltdown

Japanese officials confirmed on March 12 that radioactive materials were indeed released in a plume that emerged from the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant. An explosion at the plant 160 miles from Tokyo destroyed walls protecting the radioactive core, spurring fears of a possible meltdown of the fissile materials held in metal rods that require cooling in order to prevent overheating. A fire at the reactor following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami apparently caused a failure of the failsafe cooling system.

Television coverage showed a large cloud of smoke billowing out of the plant as large bits of debris were also flung hundreds of feet away from the building. Japan's NHK TV showed before and after pictures of the plant. They appeared to show that the outer structure of one of four buildings at the plant had collapsed after the explosion. The Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) said four workers had been injured. It is not yet clear in exactly what part of the plant the explosion occurred or what caused it. Read more ..

Battle for Libya

As Obama Considers a Libyan No-Fly-Zone, A Back Fire Looms

March 9th 2011

Military - F-15E Refuels

Calls are growing for a no-fly zone over Libya, but a power or coalition of powers willing to enforce one remains elusive.

In evaluating such calls, it is useful to remember that in war, Murphy’s Law always lurks. What can go wrong will go wrong, in Libya as in Iraq or Afghanistan.

It has been pointed out that a no-fly zone is not an antiseptic act. In order to protect the aircraft enforcing the no-fly zone, one must begin by suppressing enemy air defenses. This in turn poses an intelligence problem. Precisely what are Libyan air defenses and where are they located? It is possible to assert that Libya has no effective air defenses and that an SEAD (suppression of enemy air defenses) attack is therefore unnecessary. But that makes assumptions that cannot be demonstrated without testing, and the test is dangerous. Read more ..

Pakistan on Edge

Pakistani Intelligence and the CIA: Mutual Distrust and Suspicion

March 7th 2011

PakistanTopics - Pakistan Spies

On March 1, U.S. diplomatic sources reportedly told Dawn News that a proposed exchange with the Pakistani government of U.S. citizen Raymond Davis for Pakistani citizen Aafia Siddiqui was not going to happen. Davis is a contract security officer working for the CIA who was arrested by Pakistani police on Jan. 27 following an incident in which he shot two men who reportedly pointed a pistol at him in an apparent robbery attempt. Siddiqui was arrested by the Afghan National Police in Afghanistan in 2008 on suspicion of being linked to al Qaeda.

During Siddiqui’s interrogation at a police station, she reportedly grabbed a weapon from one of her interrogators and opened fire on the American team sent to debrief her. Siddiqui was wounded in the exchange of fire and taken to Bagram air base for treatment. After her recovery, she was transported to the United States and charged in U.S. District Court in New York with armed assault and the attempted murder of U.S. government employees. Siddiqui was convicted in February 2010 and sentenced in September 2010 to 86 years in prison. Read more ..

Political Edge

PACs Move to the Right

March 7th 2011

Politics - John Boehner smiling

Roy DeLoach, CEO of the National Association of Mortgage Brokers, tried to keep an even hand as the group’s political action committee distributed campaign contributions. But the Texas-based organization’s supporters grew increasingly restive about the Democrats’ legislative agenda in 2009 and 2010.

As the last Congress approved landmark financial sector and health care reform bills that they felt hurt their industry, many small business owners in NAMB questioned why they should continue to give money to Democrats, DeLoach said.

“The leadership at the association’s tone was, ‘Roy, why would we want to give to someone that’s killing small business off?’” when Democratic fundraising requests came in, DeLoach recalled in an interview. “‘Are we out of our mind to give to someone that’s trying to put us out of business?’” Read more ..

Unions on Edge

Scores of Union Leaders Earn Six-Figure Salaries

March 7th 2011

Politics - richard trumka, AFL-CIO
Richard Trumka

On the surface, the fight between the governor of Wisconsin and organized labor is about balancing state budgets and collective bargaining rights. Behind the scenes, hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation to top labor leaders as well as campaign contributions to Democrats could be in jeopardy if workers lose.

The trickle-up effect of the standoff in Wisconsin and other states could irreparably damage the corporate-like compensation structures that the Top 10 labor unions have built over decades.

Union treasuries—filled by dues paid by union members—not only fund programs benefiting union members and their families. The money also pays six-figure salaries and benefits for labor leaders and their top staffs and provides tens of millions of dollars for Democratic causes and candidates. Read more ..

Border Wars

ATF Let Hundreds of Weapons Fall into Hands of Suspected Mexican Gunrunners

March 7th 2011

Politics - Mexican guns

Hoping to score a major prosecution of Mexican drug lords, federal prosecutors and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives permitted hundreds of guns to be purchased and retained by suspected straw buyers with the expectation they might cross the border and even be used in crimes while the case was being built, according to documents and interviews.

The decision—part of a Phoenix-based operation code named “Fast and Furious”—was met by strong objections from some front-line agents who feared they were allowing weapons like AK-47s to “walk” into the hands of drug lords and gun runners, internal agency memos show. Indeed, scores of the weapons came back quickly traced to criminal activity. Read more ..

The Battle for Libya

Slippery Slope: Libya and the Lessons of Previous No-Fly Zones

February 28th 2011

Military - USAF Desert Storm

Twenty years ago, at the close of the 1991 Gulf War, the imposition of a UN-mandated no-fly zone contributed to the formation of a safe haven for Iraqi Kurds, resulting in the liberation of nearly three million people from Baathist dictatorship a full decade before the rest of Iraq. In 1992, new UN-mandated no-fly and no-drive zones were established in southern Iraq and the Balkans to contain rogue regimes and protect civilians from government repression. Given the current developments in Libya, it is natural to consider employing such options once again. Yet history shows that exclusion zones are particularly tricky operations. If not configured properly, they can be worse than useless, signaling fecklessness instead of resolve while providing little real protective value to civilians. Read more ..

Oil on Edge

Regulatory Flaws, Repeated Violations Put Oil Refinery Workers at Risk

February 28th 2011

Energy / Environment - tesoro refinery
Tesoro Refinery. Credit: Emma Schwartz/The Center for Public Integrity

One evening last April at the Tesoro Corp.’s refinery in Anacortes, Washington, Matt Gumbel and six co-workers cautiously returned to service a stack of giant, radiator-like tubes filled with volatile hydrocarbons. The tubes, known as heat exchangers, tended to leak, especially during start-up, and workers sometimes armed themselves with long, steam-spewing lances to keep any escaping vapors from igniting.

Nearby, another stack of exchangers droned at full temperature and pressure.

Away from work, Gumbel, 34, enjoyed off-trail snowboarding and driving his turbocharged sports compact. On the job, he had a reputation as a meticulous worker. One has to be. Gasoline and other fuels are made from hot, sometimes barely contained brews of combustible substances. Gumbel knew the hazards intimately; he’d followed his father’s footsteps into a job at the refinery. Read more ..

Islam on Edge

Much to Fear in Continued Instability Caused by the Islamic Revolution

February 28th 2011

Islamic Topics - Muslim brotherhood

The Muslim world, from North Africa to Iran, has experienced a wave of instability in the last few weeks. No regimes have been overthrown yet, although as of this writing, Libya was teetering on the brink.

There have been moments in history where revolution spread in a region or around the world as if it were a wildfire. These moments do not come often. Those that come to mind include 1848, where a rising in France engulfed Europe. There was also 1968, where the demonstrations of what we might call the New Left swept the world: Mexico City, Paris, New York and hundreds of other towns saw anti-war revolutions staged by Marxists and other radicals. Prague saw the Soviets smash a New Leftist government. Even China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution could, by a stretch, be included. In 1989, a wave of unrest, triggered by East Germans wanting to get to the West, generated an uprising in Eastern Europe that overthrew Soviet rule.

Each had a basic theme. The 1848 uprisings attempted to establish liberal democracies in nations that had been submerged in the reaction to Napoleon. 1968 was about radical reform in capitalist society. 1989 was about the overthrow of communism. They were all more complex than that, varying from country to country. But in the end, the reasons behind them could reasonably be condensed into a sentence or two. Read more ..

The Toxic Edge

Use of Toxic Acid Puts Millions at Risk

February 28th 2011

Energy / Environment - BP Refinery Explosion

It was a disturbingly close call, closer than it appeared at the time. On July 19, 2009, an explosion rocked an oil refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas, critically injuring a worker and spawning a fire that burned for more than two days. The blast at the Citgo East refinery unleashed a chemical unknown to many Americans, though it is capable of sweeping into dozens of communities, sickening or even killing as it moves.

Hydrofluoric acid, known for its ability to quickly travel long distances in a cloud, is extremely toxic. It causes lung congestion, inflammation and severe burns of the skin and digestive tract. It attacks the eyes and bones. Experiments in 1986 detected the acid at potentially deadly levels almost two miles from the point of release. Read more ..

The Battle for Libya

Libya on the Brink: Qaddafi Sends his Son to tell the World to Back Down

February 21st 2011

Arab Topics - Muammar Qaddafi

Moammar Qaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam proclaimed that his father remained in charge and has the army’s support. He said that they will “fight until the last man, the last woman, the last bullet.” During the first comments following six days of demonstrations, he acknowledged that the Libyan army made mistakes during protests because troops were not prepared to battle demonstrators. Juda S. Engelmayer 

After 41 years of authoritarian rule, Moammar Qaddafi has been frustrated by the wave of unrest that is sweeping the country, with mass demonstrations in the capitol city, Tripoli and Benghazi, the second-largest city, Qaddafi’s son said “There has to be a firm stand…This is not the Tunisian or Egyptian army,” as he threatened to “eradicate the pockets of sedition.” Read more ..

Edge on Health Care

Medicare Can’t Identify Top Prescribers of Addictive Drugs

February 21st 2011

Health/Medicine - StethoscopeAndKeyboard

In early 2010, Medicare paid $135,000 to a discount pharmacy in Hialeah, Fla. for drug prescriptions written by four doctors.

There were only a few problems. First, two of the doctors were dead. A third doctor was alive, living in Portland, Ore., but he never wrote the prescriptions. The fourth doctor was a few months into a three-year prison sentence, according to federal court records, for conspiracy to commit Medicare fraud.

In October, Renier Vicente Rodriguez Fleitas, 60, owner of Pirifer Phamacy and Discount and a former lieutenant colonel in the Cuban military, pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit health care fraud. He is currently serving a 37-month sentence. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Obama Administration Vetoes Controversial Israel Resolution Only after Congressional Pressure

February 18th 2011

Israel Topics - Obama Netanyahu Abbas1

The U.S. vetoed a controversial Palestinian Authority resolution at the United Nations Security Council as pressure on the administration mounted in the House of Representatives. A letter urging Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to stand up against the resolution condemning Israel quickly racked up signatures in the House on February 19.

Reps. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) and Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) circulated the letter, which had been signed by at least 110 members, making the rounds beginning on the afternoon of February 18 and again later on February 19. The members responded to reports that a presidential statement condemning Israeli settlements could be issued in response to a resolution that would declare any post-1967 Israeli settlements, including East Jerusalem, illegal. Read more ..

The Battle for Bahrain

Enraged Shiite Protesters Vow to Return despite Violent Crackdown in Bahrain

February 17th 2011

Arab Topics - Bahrain dead protester

The government of Bahrain declared a state of emergency on February 17 for the entire country in an attempt to quell violent demonstrations by the Shiite Muslim community that, over the last four days, has taken to the streets demanding democratic reforms. The oil emirate’s national security council held an emergency meeting this morning, just hours after the army and police resorted to firing live rounds at protesters. According to reports, more than 60 persons are now reported missing, while the number of the dead continues to rise.

Wounded protesters were being brought to hospitals in Manama throughout the night, while some appeared to have died just before reaching emergency medical help. There are at least 300 wounded, following the affray between demonstrators and security forces. There are at least four persons known to have died, added to two other victims earlier in the week. Read more ..

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