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Broken Business

Faltering Barnes and Noble Gets Battered in Media Due to Dismal Nook and Book Sales

January 6th 2013

Barnes and Noble store

Battered Barnes and Noble, limping over huge reductions in its store and web sales, both for books and ebook reader called The Nook, is taking a beating in the media over its poor performance. An astonishing drop in store sales, almost 11 percent, and an equal drop in both Nook sales and BN.com orders, is speeding BN to a fiery crash in the media and perhaps in the real consumer world, its seems.

Propelling the critical charge is media dismay over a shrinking Nook business, with shrinkage so severe the device is now approaching digital irrelvance. This tumble occurs in an era of massive digital growth in publishing, hence it appears to be a trebly bad omen for the faltering retailer. The chorus of doom sayers on Nook are joining the those stunned over the continuing closures of some of Barnes' most important street sores.

The New York Times headline proclaimed, "Barnes & Noble Faces Steep Challenge as Holiday Nook Sales Decline." The paper lead with: "After a year spent signaling its commitment to build its business through its Nook division, Barnes & Noble on Thursday announced disappointing holiday sales figures, with steep declines that underscored the challenge it faces in transforming from its traditional retail format. Retail sales from the company’s bookstores and its Web site, BN.com, decreased 10.9 percent from the comparable nine-week holiday period a year earlier, to $1.2 billion, the company reported. More worrisome for the long-term future of the company, sales in the Nook unit that includes e-readers, tablets, digital content and accessories decreased 12.6 percent over the same period, to $311 million." Read more ..


Inside Washington

Frank Would Likely Be Active And Vocal During A Short Stint In The Senate

January 6th 2013

Barney Frank headshot
Retired U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass)

If former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) gets his way, he’ll be serving in the Senate just as the upper chamber takes up legislation concerning the budget, the debt ceiling and sequestration. 

They are all fights Frank would relish. Frank told MSNBC on Friday that he wants to be appointed interim senator if Sen. John Kerry (D) is confirmed as secretary of State, and revealed he has already been in touch with Gov. Deval Patrick (D) about the seat.

His appointment is by no means assured. Patrick gave no indication of his preference during a press conference later that day. He offered only generic praise for Frank, calling him “a really gifted legislator, and he’d be a great senator.” 

He dodged the question of a possible Frank appointment. “I have a lot of factors I’m considering and he’s definitely on the list,” Patrick said. Read more ..


Broken Banking

Payday Lenders Agree To Stop 'Deceptive And Illegal' Practices

January 5th 2013

Controversial lenders that claim to be owned by Indian tribes and offer payday loans over the Internet have agreed to stop practices that federal authorities say deceive borrowers and violate federal laws. The agreement, filed in federal court, could save borrowers hundreds of dollars on each payday loan. The Federal Trade Commission last year sued an Overland Park, Kan., company, AMG Services, to recover millions of dollars in revenues, alleging that borrowers were illegally deceived. The business was founded and is still managed by Scott Tucker, best known as an endurance race-car driver who recently won the Baltimore Grand Prix. Tucker’s case awaits trial. But the FTC argued that AMG Services was continuing to mislead thousands of new borrowers. Tucker and the representatives from the Indian tribes last month agreed to change the practices that the FTC said were illegal.

Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

'Tsunami Bomb' Tested Off New Zealand Coast

January 4th 2013

Stormy Seas

The United States and New Zealand conducted secret tests of a "tsunami bomb" designed to destroy coastal cities by using underwater blasts to trigger massive tidal waves. The tests were carried out in waters around New Caledonia and Auckland during the Second World War and showed that the weapon was feasible and a series of 10 large offshore blasts could potentially create a 33-foot tsunami capable of inundating a small city. The top secret operation, code-named "Project Seal", tested the doomsday device as a possible rival to the nuclear bomb. About 3,700 bombs were exploded during the tests, first in New Caledonia and later at Whangaparaoa Peninsula, near Auckland.

The plans came to light during research by a New Zealand author and film-maker, Ray Waru, who examined military files buried in the national archives. "Presumably if the atomic bomb had not worked as well as it did, we might have been tsunami-ing people," said Mr. Waru. Read more ..


America on Edge

Were New Mexico's Border Counties Shortchanged by Obama's Stimulus?

January 4th 2013

Click to select Image
El Vado, New Mexico

Historically, New Mexico’s three counties sharing a border with Mexico have shown higher-than-normal rates of poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment. In the late 20th century, an absence of affordable housing for low-income workers coupled with rising real estate prices pushed the growth of colonias, the rural and peri-urban settlements lacking in paved roads, utility services, adequate storm water drainage and wastewater treatment.

As jobs became scarce and state funding grew austere after the Great Recession hit in 2008, historic problems of employment and access to services deepened for many people in New Mexico’s border region.

Arguably, the economic whammy would have been much worse without the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the so-called Obama stimulus program. However, a preliminary review of information collected by an investigative journalists’ group suggests New Mexico’s three border counties were short-changed in stimulus funding, which for the state’s border residents fell far below the averages of either New Mexico as a whole or the United States. Read more ..


The Dangerous Roads of Mexico

The Blood of the Sierra Madre

January 3rd 2013

Deceased Sinaloa Cartel Member Miss Sinaloa Maria Susana Flores Gamez,

As 2012 drew to a close, violence was down from previous months and years in the northern Mexican urban centers of Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez. But in several rural zones of Chihuahua state, drug-related mayhem is on the rise. A major flashpoint is in the Sierra Tarahumara, the mountainous region internationally renowned for the Copper Canyon and the long-distance runners of the Raramuri indigenous people.

Among Mexico’s prime opium poppy and marijuana-producing regions, the Sierra Tarahumara has also been known to harbor clandestine air strips that transport cocaine to interior markets. And new sources of profit are thought to be lurking under the ground in the form of gold and other precious metals.

Since the end of November, violence between rival criminal organizations identified as the Sinaloa Cartel and La Linea, a group affiliated with the Juarez Cartel and allied with the Zetas, has intensified over control of the strategic zone. Read more ..


Edge of the Cliff

Boehner, Pelosi Facing Defections as House Votes for Speaker

January 3rd 2013

Disgruntled House lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are lining up to voice their discontent with their own leaders during Thursday's vote to choose the Speaker in the 113th Congress. Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) is expected to keep his Speaker position while Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has already secured her spot as the Democratic leader. But the small groups of defectors are a reminder that neither party is entirely unified heading into the high-stakes fiscal battles that are expected to define 2013.

For Boehner, Thursday's vote for Speaker could be particularly punishing amid a week when the Ohio Republican pushed through a fiscal-cliff package that was wildly unpopular in his conference, and then scrapped a promised vote on federal relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy.

The first move alienated conservatives who said the tax-and-spending package didn't include nearly enough cuts; the second enraged Republicans from the Northeast, who were apoplectic Wednesday that the aid to their districts won't come faster. Reps. Pete King (R-N.Y.) and Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) threatened to defect on the Speaker vote unless Boehner reversed course on the Sandy measure. After Boehner did an about face, they expressed support for the Ohio Republican. Read more ..


The Way Were Are

While In Womb, Babies Begin Learning Language From Their Mothers

January 2nd 2013

Premature Baby

Babies only hours old are able to differentiate between sounds from their native language and a foreign language, scientists have discovered. The study indicates that babies begin absorbing language while still in the womb, earlier than previously thought. Sensory and brain mechanisms for hearing are developed at 30 weeks of gestational age, and the new study shows that unborn babies are listening to their mothers talk during the last 10 weeks of pregnancy and at birth can demonstrate what they’ve heard.

“The mother has first dibs on influencing the child’s brain,” said Patricia Kuhl, co-author and co-director of the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences at the University of Washington. “The vowel sounds in her speech are the loudest units and the fetus locks onto them.” Read more ..


The Edge of Mars

Mars Mission Could Accelerate Alzheimer’s in Astronauts

January 2nd 2013

Space-X Dragon Capsule

Traveling into deep space could accelerate the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, an incurable form of dementia, according to a new report. The NASA-funded study assessed how cosmic radiation would impact the astronauts throughout their trip in deep space. The effect of cosmic radiation on the human body has been a  concern for the US space agency as it plans manned missions into deep space, such as one to a distant asteroid in 2021, and another to Mars in 2035.

Earth’s magnetic field usually keeps us, and those in low Earth orbit, safe from the perils of cosmic radiation. However, beyond Earth’s protective magnetic fields, space travelers are exposed to a constant barrage of radiation. With adequate warning, such as in the case of solar flares, steps can be taken to protect astronauts from dangerous forms of radiation. However, other forms of cosmic radiation, which occur without warning, cannot be blocked as effectively. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

More Aid Workers Gunned Down in Pakistan--7 Killed

January 1st 2013

Taliban

Gunmen have ambushed a vehicle carrying Pakistani aid workers, killing seven people in northwest Pakistan. Mohammad Rafiq, a spokesman for the Pakistani non-governmental organization (NGO) Support With Working Solutions, says that six of the victims were women -- five school teachers and a health worker.  One man was killed and the driver was wounded in the shooting.

Rafiq said Tuesday's attack took place in the Swabi district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, about 75 kilometers northwest of the Pakistani capital Islamabad.  He said the aid workers were on their way home when their vehicles were ambushed by gunmen on motorcycles.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. The NGO spokesman said the workers had not been threatened before and that this was the first time such an incident had taken place. Rafiq said the health worker and teachers were working on two projects in the area (including one named "Ujala" or light) and that the charity has been operating in the region for the last two decades. Read more ..


The New Egypt

Egypt "On the Verge of Bankruptcy"

December 31st 2012

Egyptian bannerman

"The country is on the verge of bankruptcy," Egyptian opposition leader and Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei told the newspaper al-Arabiya Dec. 23. Unable to reduce subsidies that account for most of a budget deficit that now exceeds 14 percent of GDP, and unwilling to raises taxes, it seems most likely that the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi will instead take the path of least resistance and allow a steady devaluation of the Egyptian pound. During the past two weeks, central bank intervention to support the pound's value on the foreign exchange market has stopped and the currency has fallen sharply. 

Central bank intervention in support of the pound is shown clearly on the chart of daily values for the Egyptian pound's exchange rate against the U.S. dollar during the year to date. The spikes in the exchange rate reflect central bank activity. The sharp drop in the pound's exchange rate during the past two weeks reflects an absence of central bank intervention. Read more ..


The Darkest Edge

Broader Background Checks And Denial Criteria Could Help Prevent Mass Shooting Catastrophes

December 31st 2012

Police Running

Garen Wintemute, a leading authority on gun violence prevention and an emergency medicine physician at UC Davis, believes broader criteria for background checks and denials on gun purchases can help prevent future firearm violence, including mass shooting catastrophes such as those that occurred at Sandy Hook, Aurora, Virginia Tech and Columbine.

"To reduce the number of deaths and injuries from firearms in the United States, we need to develop policies that require background checks for all firearm purchases, including private-party sales — the most important source of firearms for criminal buyers and others who are prohibited from purchasing guns," said Wintemute, director of the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program and inaugural Susan P. Baker-Stephen P. Teret Chair in Violence Prevention at UC Davis. Read more ..


Inside Israel

What Wingate Wrought

December 30th 2012

Wailing Wall 1967

Everyone still remembers T. E. Lawrence, if only because of David Lean’s magnificent movieLawrence of Arabia and Lawrence’s own literary masterpiece,Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Yet far fewer remember Lawrence’s distant cousin, the British Army officer Orde Wingate, who was in many ways his World War II counterpart​-​not least in his eccentricity, his pungent writing style, his flair for publicity, and his tragic, premature death. A partial exception is to be found in Israel, where he is still remembered asHayedid (the Friend) for his Zionist sympathies. But Wingate remains little known in the United States or even in Burma, the land whose freedom he gave his life for. Last summer while visiting Myanmar, as the country is now known, I asked several well-educated Burmese if they were familiar with Wingate. I drew only blank stares. No doubt his name would draw equally blank looks from well-educated Americans, even those with an interest in military history.

That is a shame because Wingate was one of the most interesting, innovative, and influential, if also most aggravating and outrageous, commanders of World War II. He was one of the pioneers in Special Operations. Remember the way that a small number of Green Berets and CIA operatives, with links to indigenous allies and radios to call in airstrikes, helped to overthrow the Taliban in the fall of 2001? Wingate was one of the first to mount such “deep penetration” missions, in his case behind Japanese lines in Burma, Italian lines in Ethiopia, and Arab lines in Palestine. More broadly Wingate was an innovator who helped nascent Special Operations forces win recognition and resources despite skepticism about their utility among conventional soldiers. Read more ..


The Edge of Food

Even In Same Vineyard, Different Microbes May Create Variations In Wine Grapes

December 30th 2012

China

Choosing the perfect wine may soon involve more than just knowing the perfect vintage and chateau. Differences in the microbes present on grapes even in different parts of the same vineyard may contribute to flavor fluctuations in samples of grapes from different tanks, according to research published December 26 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Mathabatha Setati and colleagues from Stellenbosch University, South Africa.

"In the wine industry, the fungal communities on grapes are especially important. The microbial species present on the berry may contribute to the fermentation process, and therefore the aromatic properties of the resulting wine", the authors explain. For this study, the researchers sampled grapes from different vines in three well-established commercial vineyards, each of which used a different farming system - organic, traditional or biodynamic- to cultivate the grapes. Read more ..


The Ancient Edge

Waqf Ignores High Court Ruling, Continues to Destroy Artifacts On Temple Mount

December 30th 2012

Temple Mount Artifacts
Temple Mount Artifacts

A demonstration was held last Wednesday (Dec. 26) at the northern entrance to the Temple Mount in protest of the Waqf's continued destruction of archeological artifacts on the Temple Mount. The demonstrators, lead by MK Aryeh Eldad, called on Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to intervene and to stop the obliteration of these unique antiques by the Waqf.

The Waqf, a Muslim Jordanian religious body entrusted with the management of the Temple Mount, has been renovating the Temple Mount for years. In the process they have been moving mounds of earth off the mountain. These piles contain numerous archaeological artifacts from many centuries. In 2004 the High Court of Justice passed a ruling prohibiting the removal of the dirt from the Temple Mount elsewhere until the contents are combed for artifacts. Since then, these artifacts have been lying at the bottom of the mountain in the accumulating mounds. Many of the artifacts dug up are currently being ruined by the weather, after being preserved for centuries.    Read more ..


The Edge of Photography

The Eyes Have It: The Work Of Suren Manvelyan

December 29th 2012

Human Eye by Suren Manvelyan

Manvelyan, 36, is an Armenian photographer who's attracting quite a bit of attention for his sumptuous macro images of the human eye. The photos, which reveal intricate contours and ridges and complex weblike structures, don't so much resemble eyes as they do images of extraterrestrial worlds taken by the Hubble telescope. "We see thousands of eyes in our life but never suspect about the structure of the iris," Manvelyan says. "It is very beautiful and astounding. The surface resembles the surface of other planets, with craters, rivers, and valleys. It looks like something from another world. Every time I photograph the eye, I feel myself traveling through the cosmos."

Manvelyan, who has a doctorate in theoretical physics, won't reveal his technique, saying only that "maybe every photographer tries to shoot eyes -- the windows of the soul. I am not an exception to this rule, but I was lucky enough to find an interesting way to do that."

Manvelyan has also focused on the eyes of animals, which he says pose particular difficulties. "Sometimes I need to work for an hour trying to catch the still moment," he says, stressing that no animals (or humans) are ever harmed during his studio sessions. (A few of his animal eyes are included in this gallery.)

As for his next project, Manvelyan says he'll continue with his eye portraits but is interested in exploring the more down-to-earth world of wedding photography. Read more ..


Broken Government

New Mexico's Complex Sunland Embezzlement Case Goes Forward

December 28th 2012

Gov Susana Martinez of New Mexico
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez

Annette Morales was a well-traveled woman who moved widely in governmental and professional circles in the borderlands of New Mexico and Texas. Once a familiar face in the New Mexico state capital of Santa Fe, Morales was regarded by some insiders as former Democratic Governor Bill Richardson’s point person for colonias, the underdeveloped and impoverished communities lacking in basic services which are commonplace in New Mexico and other border states.

Morales’ advocacy work was praised by Dona Ana County Commissioner Karen Perez and Dona Ana County State Senator Mary Kay Papen, after the New Mexico State Legislature passed the 2010 Colonias Infrastructure Act, a measure which established an annual, $10 million funding stream for eligible communities within 150 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. In Dona Ana County alone, 37 designated colonias could receive much-needed funding under the law. Read more ..


Significant Lives

R.I.P. 'Stormin' General Norman Schwarzkopf

December 28th 2012

Norman Schwarzkopf and George H W Bush

Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., the U.S. general who commanded the international coalition that expelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991, has died. “Stormin’ Norman,” as he was popularly known in the United States, was 78. Schwarzkopf died on December 27 in Tampa, Florida, where he had served his last military assignment as head of the U.S. Central Command. Schwarzkopf’s sister said he died of complications from pneumonia. He is survived by his wife, Brenda, and three children.

In a statement, former President George H.W. Bush -- who is seriously ill and now hospitalized in Texas -- said he and wife Barbara mourn the loss of Schwarzkopf, whom Bush called "a true American patriot and one of the great military leaders of his generation." In 1991, during Bush's presidency, Schwarzkopf became famous for leading Operation Desert Storm, which liberated Kuwait from Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s forces. In that conflict, Schwarzkopf commanded more than 540,000 U.S. troops and 200,000 allied forces from around 30 countries. Read more ..


The Evolutionary Edge

Rapid Shifts in East African Environment Drove Human Evolution

December 27th 2012

Amazon jungle dreamy

A series of rapid environmental changes in East Africa roughly 2 million years ago may be responsible for driving human evolution, according to researchers at Penn State and Rutgers University.

"The landscape early humans were inhabiting transitioned rapidly back and forth between a closed woodland and an open grassland about five to six times during a period of 200,000 years," said Clayton Magill, graduate student in geosciences at Penn State. "These changes happened very abruptly, with each transition occurring over hundreds to just a few thousand years." According to Katherine Freeman, professor of geosciences, Penn State, the current leading hypothesis suggests that evolutionary changes among humans during the period the team investigated were related to a long, steady environmental change or even one big change in climate. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Turning Israeli Roofs into Green Habitats

December 27th 2012

Green Roofs in Israel

Anybody can plunk down some potted trees and pretty planters on a roof, but a rooftop garden does not offer the same environmental and ecological benefits as a “green roof” – a layer of low-maintenance vegetation that insulates the building underneath and reduces flash flooding on paved streets below by acting as a sponge for rainfall.

Prof. Leon Blaustein, director of the University of Haifa’s new Green Roofs Ecology Center, says the Israeli center is the first of its kind in the Middle East and one of the first worldwide to focus specifically on how to conserve biodiversity in an urban setting. “When you create a city, you’re destroying much of the natural habitat for plants and animals, and we want to mitigate this as much as possible with our rooftop habitats,” Blaustein says. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Is There an Alawite Future for Post-Assad Syria?

December 27th 2012

Syria Pro-Assad demonstration

It is an idea that was first introduced more than a year ago: If President Bashar al-Assad were to fall or be remove himself from power, would Alawites, for decades a ruling minority in Syria, retreat to their traditional western mountain enclaves and form a breakaway state? As rebels gain more ground in Syria, so too does the idea of an Alawite homeland as an antidote against sectarian violence that could become, in the words of one former U.S. diplomat, “the world’s next genocide.” Senior reporter Cecily Hilleary spoke about the prospects of an Alawite retreat from Syria’s capital, Damascus, with Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies and associate professor at the University of Oklahoma.

Landis: Well, Assad hasn’t come to the conclusion that he has lost Damascus, and he’s not anywhere near there. We’ve just heard Farouk al-Sharaa, his vice president, say that neither side could win – neither the rebels nor the government. There would have to be a political solution; there could not be a military solution. Read more ..


Edging Toward the Fiscal Cliff

Treasury to Take Emergency Steps to Stave Off Federal Spending Limits

December 26th 2012

Click to select Image

The U.S. Treasury announced on December 26 that it will put into place a series of emergency steps to delay the deadline for when the federal government will exceed its legal borrowing authority as imposed by Congress.

In a statement, the Treasury department declared that it will suspend issuance of State and Local Government Series securities, known as "slugs."

The so-called slugs are special low-interest Treasury securities offered to state and local governments to temporarily invest proceeds from municipal bond sales. Slugs, which count against the federal debt limit, have been suspended several times over the last 20 years to avoid colliding with the debt ceiling. Read more ..


The Edge of Mars

More Clay on Mars Means More Water

December 26th 2012

Mars Rover

A new study indicates that clay minerals, rocks that usually form when water is present for long periods of time, cover a larger portion of Mars than previously thought. In fact, GA Tech Assistant Professor James Wray and the research team say clays were in some of the rocks studied by Opportunity when it landed at Eagle crater in 2004. The rover only detected acidic sulfates and has since driven about 22 miles to Endeavour Crater, an area of the planet Wray pinpointed for clays in 2009.

The study is published online in the current edition of Geophysical Research Letters.

The project, which was led by Eldar Noe Dobrea of the Planetary Science Institute, identified the clay minerals using a spectroscopic analysis from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The research shows that clays also exist in the Meridiani plains that Opportunity rolled over as it trekked toward its current position. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Is it Better to Give or Receive?

December 25th 2012

Bonobo chimp

A monkey would probably never agree that it is better to give than to receive, but they do apparently get some reward from giving to another monkey.

During a task in which rhesus macaques had control over whether they or another monkey would receive a squirt of fruit juice, three distinct areas of the brain were found to be involved in weighing benefits to oneself against benefits to the other, according to new research by Duke University researchers.

The team used sensitive electrodes to detect the activity of individual neurons as the animals weighed different scenarios, such as whether to reward themselves, the other monkey or nobody at all. Three areas of the brain were seen to weigh the problem differently depending on the social context of the reward. The research appears Dec. 24 in the journal Nature Neuroscience. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

NORAD Scrambles Jets and Radar Task Force to Track Santa

December 24th 2012

F-22s at Sunset

Jets are scrambling and America's military might is mobilizing to track Santa. The red-suited airborne visitor is expected to enter U.S. air space soon.

See Classified Defense Video

Nerve center for the tracking operation is a tense and expectant Colorado Air Force base where volunteers monitor maps showing Santa Claus' progress. Surveillance imagery reveals his sleigh is laden with gifts. The recipients are still unidentified, but intelligence sources and hopeful children are frantically checking all sources before the North Pole national arrives.

Only hours into their mission, NORAD has already answered more than 10,000 phone calls from people asking about the jolly intruder. Phones are ringing nonstop at Peterson Air Force Base, headquarters of the North American Aerospace Command's annual Santa-tracking operation. Dozens of helpers at NORAD are taking calls and tracking Santa's location on large projection screens. The first shift of Santa trackers started taking calls early Monday at 877-HI-NORAD (877-446-6723), telling children — and some adults — when Santa is due at their house. The last shift won't end until nearly 24 hours later. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Hospital 'Facility Fees' Boosting Medical Bills, and Not Just for Hospital Care

December 24th 2012

medicine and money

After Vermont hospitals started buying up the medical practices of local physicians, state Sen. Kevin Mullin of Rutland, began hearing complaints that prices some patients were paying for routine medical care had soared.

One family accustomed to paying about $120 in out-of-pocket costs for doctor visits and other medical services was outraged when they ended up forking over more than $1,000 for similar visits, Mullin said, mostly for seeing doctors whose practices had been bought out by a local hospital. “The only thing that was different was the office was [now] hospital-owned,” said Mullin, a Republican. “All of a sudden everything was charged differently.”

The root of these increases are controversial charges known as “facility fees,” and they are routinely tacked on to patients’ bills not just for services actually provided in hospitals, but also by outpatient care centers and doctors’ offices simply because they’ve been purchased by hospital-based health care systems. Hospitals argue they can’t afford to keep the doors open without facility fees.

Hospitals have billed them at least since 2000 when Medicare set billing standards for doctors employed by hospitals, and private insurers went along. Since then, the fees have grown increasingly common, costly and controversial. Critics argue that the billing practice needlessly adds billions of dollars to the nation’s ballooning health care costs and needs to be revamped. Some private insurers have protested the fees and in some cases even refused to pay them, which can add to the patient’s share of the bill. But getting rid of the charges — or even requiring medical offices to post facility fees — has proved daunting, reformers say. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Smaller Colorado River in our Future

December 24th 2012

Ancient Grand Canyon

Some 40 million people depend on the Colorado River Basin for water but warmer weather from rising greenhouse gas levels and a growing population may signal water shortages ahead. In a new study in Nature Climate Change, climate modelers at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory predict a 10 percent drop in the Colorado River's flow in the next few decades, enough to disrupt longtime water-sharing agreements between farms and cities across the American Southwest, from Denver to Los Angeles to Tucson, and through California's Imperial Valley.

"It may not sound like a phenomenally large amount except the water and the river is already over-allocated," said Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and lead author of the new study. The study expands on findings published in 2007 in the journal Science that the American Southwest is becoming more arid as temperatures rise and rainfall patterns shift from human-caused climate change. It also comes on the heels of a major study of the Colorado River Basin by the U.S. Department of Interior that projected longer and more severe droughts by 2060, and a 9 percent decline in the Colorado's flows. Read more ..


The Vote Aftermath

Son Reveals Romney Didn't Want the Presidency

December 24th 2012

Click to select Image

In an interview with the Boston Globe, GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney’s son Tagg described his father as reluctant to run for the presidency and hesitant to reveal his personal side during the long campaign. “He wanted to be president less than anyone I’ve met in my life. He had no desire to … run,” said Tagg, according to the report. “If he could have found someone else to take his place . . . he would have been ecstatic to step aside,” he continued.” “He is a very private person who loves his family deeply and wants to be with them, but he has deep faith in God and he loves his country, but he doesn’t love the attention.”

According to the report, Romney was shaken by his 2008 failed bid to capture the GOP nomination and was wary of a second run. The former Massachusetts governor initially told family members he would not run again. Read more ..


Israel's Next War

Israel's Active Defense Doctrine Won't Work Against Hezbollah

December 23rd 2012

Israel's weeklong air campaign against Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza last month helped establish a successful anti-rocket/missile combat doctrine, which was well-designed for that particular conflict, but which will not be applicable against Hezbollah.

Despite the triumphalist cries and unceasing flow of belligerent threats coming out of Gaza, Hamas' leadership is trying to recover from their deep shock at the extent of damage incurred by their organization during the conflict, senior IDF sources say.

The air campaign began with a surprise when the Israel Air Force killed Hamas' military chief, Ahmed Jabari. He will be difficult to replace especially as subsequent strikes eliminated more than 30 senior terrorist field commanders. The air campaign also destroyed nearly all of Hamas' and Islamic Jihad's Fajr rockets (with a range of 45 miles) and around half of their Grad rockets (with a range of 10 miles).

Terrorist groups based in Gaza including Hamas launched some 1,500 rockets and missiles at Israel and scored psychological points by setting off air raid sirens in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. But 87 percent of the missiles heading towards populated, built-up areas were blown out of the sky by the Iron Dome anti-rocket/missile system. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Current Syrian Collapse Emulates Ancient Mesopotamian Downfall

December 23rd 2012

Syria fighting injured baby

Dr Ellery Frahm from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Archaeology made the discoveries by studying stone tools of obsidian, razor-sharp volcanic glass, crafted in the region about 4,200 years ago.

Dr Frahm used artefacts unearthed from the archaeological site of Tell Mozan, known as Urkesh in antiquity, to trace what happened to trade and social networks when Bronze-Age Syrian cities were abandoned in the wake of a regional government collapse and increasing drought due to climate shifts.

“Unfortunately,” explained Dr Frahm, “the situation four thousand years ago has striking similarities to today. Much like the fall of the Akkadian Empire, a governmental collapse is a real possibility in Syria after nearly two years of fighting. Some archaeologists and historians contend that the Akkadian Empire was brought down by militarism and that violence ended its central economic role in the region. Read more ..


The Darkest Edge

Christmas in the Trenches: 1914 and Today

December 22nd 2012

Christmas truce 1914

As the first Christmas of World War I approached, Pope Benedict XV on Dec. 7, 1914, asked the leaders of all warring governments to agree to an official cease-fire. He begged "that the guns may fall silent at least upon the night the angels sang." Sadly, his plea was ignored by government leaders. But many of the soldiers in the trenches declared their own unofficial truce.

In 1914, the earthly powers of Europe were engaged in a suicide pact that came to be known then as the Great War. By December of that year, the promise that many envisaged that the carnage would surely end by Christmas had long been cast aside as battles raged along the front that formed between the Allies of the Triple Entente on one side and the Central Powers on the other. Trench warfare unfolded as Germans faced British and French troops as they haggled over the soil of Belgium and France, while Italy and Russia contended with the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany, too. Ottoman Turkey, long an ally of the German Reich, fell into the fray and controlled the essential approaches to the Black Sea through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles. A bloody stalemate ensued as the contending parties now bore upon each other with the most deadly weapons and tactics then known to humanity. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Hawaiian Islands are Dissolving

December 21st 2012

Someday, Oahu’s Koolau and Waianae mountains will be reduced to nothing more than a flat, low-lying island like Midway.

But erosion isn’t the biggest culprit. Instead, scientists say, the mountains of Oahu are actually dissolving from within.

“We tried to figure out how fast the island is going away and what the influence of climate is on that rate,” said Brigham Young University geologist Steve Nelson. “More material is dissolving from those islands than what is being carried off through erosion.”

The research pitted groundwater against stream water to see which removed more mineral material. Nelson and his BYU colleagues spent two months sampling both types of sources. In addition, ground and surface water estimates from the U.S. Geological Survey helped them calculate the total quantity of mass that disappeared from the island each year. Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

Catholic Spokesman Denies Vatican Archives Exonerate Turkey for Armenian Genocide

December 21st 2012

Armenian death march
Death march of Armenians

Speaking for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Turkey, Rinaldo Marmara denied statements attributed to him by Turkish media about the existence of documents purportedly held by the Vatican Archives that the origin of the 1915 Armenian genocide arose from "problems" within the Armenian community itself. Last week, the Turkish press reported that the University of Bahcesehir will seek to examine documents supposedly in the Vatican Archives.

The Turkish daily, Vatan, in a December 11 report said that Marmara will lead research at the Vatican Archives. Read more ..


The Darkest Edge

Mayan Apocalypse Jitters Shuts Down Michigan Schools

December 20th 2012

mayan calendar

Parents of some 25 school districts in Michigan had to keep their children at home after education officials decided to shutter schools due to threats of violence. On December 19, school officials in Grand Blanc (a suburb of Flint) were alerted to text messages allegedly sent by a high school student to his mother that claimed that shots had been fired at the school The mother called police, who promptly had the school on lockdown while police from four distinct jurisdictions raced to the school. Law enforcement in Michigan was already on heightened alert due to fears engendered by the massacre in Connecticut last week, and because of the coming so-called Mayan apocalypse.

Due to rumors, schools in Genesee County and Lapeer County in Michigan decided to close down, thus giving children an extra two-days' holiday. Children will stay home on December 20 and 21. They were already scheduled to remain home as of December 24 in observance of Christmas. Read more ..


Broken Government

A Congressional Food Fight over Peanut Butter vs. Hummus

December 19th 2012

Small Farm

There’s a battle of the sandwiches going on in Congress. At issue is the shape of the safety net program for America’s farmers. On one side: peanut butter, the favorite sandwich spread of American childhood. On the other side is the upstart, hummus, a Middle Eastern spread made with chick peas. “It’s really one of the fastest-growing snack foods in the U.S.,” says Tim McGreevy, who runs the farm lobby group, USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council, adding that hummus is finding new places on the American menu. “[It] started out as a dip and now it’s moving into a spread. People put it on sandwiches and pitas.”

Protecting an abundant, affordable supply of sandwich fixings -along the rest of the food supply- has been a cornerstone of U.S. policy for decades. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Commercial Space Travel Makes a Giant Leap for Mankind

December 19th 2012

Space X launch 2012

With NASA's retired shuttles mothballed in museums, 2012 saw a new kind of spacecraft blaze its own path toward the International Space Station. In May, the Dragon space capsule — developed, owned and operated by California-based SpaceX — was launched from atop a Falcon-9 rocket, becoming the first private craft to dock with the ISS.

A feat achieved by only a few governments, the docking, says SpaceX chief Elon Musk, signaled more than a mere technological breakthrough. "This was a crucial step," Musk said of the unmanned mission that was completed in conjunction with NASA. "It makes the things in the future, and the ultimate path toward humanity becoming a multi-planet species, much, much more likely." Designed to carry cargo or crew, the Dragon capsule is slated for a manned test within three years. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Drought Causing Historic Low Levels on Mississippi River

December 18th 2012

Missisisppi river barge and mist

A lack of rain in the central part of the United States has created a crisis on the Mississippi River. The most important inland U.S. waterway is reaching historic low levels, which could significantly disrupt shipping. The U.S. Coast Guard, which plays a key role in determining whether the river stays open to traffic, is keeping one eye on the receding river, and another on the skies - hoping for rain.

Crewmembers on board the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Gasconade are struggling to keep traffic flowing on the Mississippi River. As the water level beneath them continues to drop, the green and red buoys they deploy to mark the shallow spots are all that stand between successful navigation of the river and disaster. “As it gets narrower, there’s less room to move around, and things like wind pushing on you and the shallow water coming up it makes it very difficult," said Ryan Christensen of the U.S. Coast Guard. Read more ..


Japan on Edge

Japan's Governing Party Resoundingly Ousted in Shift to Right

December 17th 2012

Shinzo Abe
Shinzo Abe

Read more ..


Uzbekistan on Edge

Uzbekistan's Glamorous Graft Enriches President and Celebrity Daughter

December 16th 2012

Gulnara Karimova

A new TV documentary airing on Sweden's SVT public television offers startling eyewitness accounts of how Uzbekistan's ruling regime negotiates, and extracts, millions of dollars in bribes from foreign investors.

The program, "TeliaSonera and the Dictator's Daughter," appears to bolster allegations that the Swedish-based TeliaSonera telecoms company paid $250 million in bribes to Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, in exchange for entry into the Uzbek market.

Fredrik Laurin, an investigative reporter with the current-affairs program "Uppdrag granskning," says the documentary includes testimony from two executives within TeliaSonera's organization who witnessed the 2007 deal to enter Uzbekistan, an agreement negotiated on Karimova's behalf by a longtime ally with ties to the telecom market. Read more ..


Islam's War Against Christianity

At Christmas, Christians Continue to be Persecuted by Muslim Neighbors

December 16th 2012

Dead Copts

Despite promises to reform the school textbooks, the Saudi education system continues to indoctrinate children with hatred and incitement, especially against Christians and Jews. The textbooks teach -- among a long list of hate-filled passages, all of which originate in the Qur'an or the Hadith -- that "Christians are the enemies of the Believers," and that "the Apes are the people of the Sabbath, the Jews; and the Swine are the infidels of the communion of Jesus, the Christians." These reports of the persecution of Christians by Muslims around the world during the month of October include (but are not limited to) the following accounts, listed by form of persecution, and by country, in alphabetical order—not according to severity.

Canada: As happens regularly in Egypt (see below), a Molotov cocktail was hurled through the window of a newly opened Coptic church near Toronto. Unlike in Egypt, however, firefighters came quickly and little damage was done: "Police have no suspects or motive in the incident."

Egypt: A Muslim mob, consisting mostly of Salafis, surrounded St. George Church in the Beni Suef Governorate. Armed with batons, they assaulted Christians as they exited the church after Sunday mass; five were hospitalized with broken limbs. The Salafi grievance is that Christians from neighboring villages, who have no churches to serve them, are traveling and attending St. George. Read more ..



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