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The Battle for Syria

Rally 'Round the Jihadist

December 14th 2012

Rebel fighters

The Obama administration slapped a terrorist designation on a jihadist rebel faction in Syria, but only managed to spark an anti-American backlash among the opposition.

The backlash within Syria to the U.S. decision to designate the Syrian-based jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra as a terrorist organization has been swift. Opposition to the designation, which was officially announced on Dec. 11, extends well beyond groups ideologically sympathetic to Jabhat al-Nusra's radical goals. After more than 40,000 deaths, the starvation and torture of many, and the sadistic tactics of the Assad regime, Syrians now want the fall of the regime more than ever -- even if that means temporarily embracing groups with suspect long-term goals.

The Barack Obama administration's designation of Jabhat al-Nusra asserts that the group is an extension of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) -- merely one of the terrorist organization's aliases. Whether this is the case or whether the administration is issuing the designation as part of a political effort to convince the opposition to shun Jabhat al-Nusra, the move will likely fail to marginalize the group at this juncture. Following the fall of the regime, however, it could help sideline the most destructive influences trying to gain a foothold in post-Assad Syria. Read more ..


The North Korean Threat

China Appeals for Calm Following North Korean Missile Launch

December 13th 2012

North Korean launch

North Korea launched its rocket Wednesday morning, surprising many countries throughout Asia, including its main ally China. While the move was strongly condemned by Japan and South Korea, China's reaction was more muted.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said China expresses regret at North Korea’s decision to launch the rocket despite extensive concerns in the international community.

China says countries should remain calm and that while North Korea has a right to make peaceful use of outerspace, that right is subject to restriction by the United Nations. The spokesman said the U.N. Security Council’s actions should be moderate to avoid escalation of the situation. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Climate Change and the Prospect of Water Wars

December 13th 2012

Click to select Image

International researchers from 14 institutions met in Nicosia (Cyprus) on the 10th and 11th of December to present and debate the results of studies on water, conflict and security conducted in the past three years in a variety of locations in the Mediterranean, Middle East and Sahel under the CLICO research project. The CLICO project explored the social dimensions of climate change and in particular, conflicts related to water, and the threats this may pose for national and human security. The project was led by the Institute for Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA) of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and financed by the Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities (SSH) Theme of the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme.

The effects of climate change on water are expected to intensify in the Mediterranean and surrounding regions in the coming years. This raises potential threats to the security of populations, particularly those most vulnerable to droughts or floods. Prominent people have talked about the danger of "water wars" and about climate change as a threat to national security. The results of the CLICO project, however, found that such discourses oversimplify a complex reality. Read more ..


Labor on Edge

There will be Blood: Michigan Delivers Body-Blow to Organized Labor

December 12th 2012

Michigan right to work protest

Despite the presence of thousands of protesters and counter-protesters in the Michigan state capitol building and grounds, the Republican-controlled state Legislature passed and Michigan's Governor Rick Snyder signed controversial legislation that reduces the power of labor unions in the state. Michigan was the birthplace of the United Auto Workers union and also the scene of some of the worst violence in the last century that pitted organized labor against companies such as Ford and General Motors. In Michigan, approximately 18 percent of working people are now represented by labor unions, one of the highest percentages in the country and the second-highest in the Midwest.

Now signed into law, the legislation will bar both public and private sector union workers (with the exception of police and firefighters) from being required to pay union dues as a condition of employment. At least two school districts in the state announced closings, thus allowing school teachers to join other organized labor at the protests. Reportedly, many teachers from other districts used paid sick-leave to attend the rally. Read more ..


The Musical Edge

Remembering Iconic Sitar Player Ravi Shankar

December 12th 2012

Ravi Shankar

World-renowned sitar player Ravi Shankar, one of the greatest ambassadors of Indian music, has died in San Diego, near his Southern California home. He was 92 years old. Shankar, a master of the sitar—a multi-stringed, Indian classical instrument—helped popularize its use in the west.

Shankar was a recognized master of classical Indian music, an art form with roots that extend back more than 4,000 years. Through his contact with musicians of different cultures, Shankar was the first to introduce Indian music to western, mainstream audiences. Over his eight-decade career, he became a worldwide musical icon, especially through his work with the Beatles, and was labeled the “godfather of world music” by no less than George Harrison.

The Indian prime minister’s office confirmed Shankar’s death and called him a “national treasure.”

Ravi Shankar was born in India and began his musical career in the 1930s, studying music and dance. At the age of 10, he moved to Paris to join his brother, the leader of a respected Indian dance troupe. Read more ..


The Ancient Edge

Famed Archaeologist Claims Possible Proof That Noah’s Ark Flood Actually Happened

December 12th 2012

Stormy Seas

The famed archaeologist responsible for discovering the titanic wreck says that he thinks he has proof that the flood at the center of the biblical Noah’s Ark story actually happened.

Robert Ballard and his team are probing the depths of the Black Sea off the coast of Turkey in search of traces of an ancient civilization hidden underwater since the time of Noah. He told ABC’s Christiane Amanpour  that, using robotic technology to travel farther back in time, he is on a marine  archaeological mission that might support the story of Noah. He said some 12,000 years ago, much of the world was covered in ice.

“Where I live in Connecticut was ice a mile above my house, all the way back to the North Pole, about 15 million kilometers, that’s a big ice cube,” he said, according to ABC News’ website. “But then it started to melt. We’re talking about the floods of our living history.”

The water from the melting glaciers met the world’s oceans causing floods all around the world.

“The questions is, was there a mother of all floods,” Ballard said. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Students Dress for Success in School and Life

December 11th 2012

Students

Each Monday at Mayfield Intermediate School in Manassas, Virginia, you'll find boys dressed in suits with ties and girls wearing dresses or skirts and blouses. It's a far cry from the usual jeans and sweatshirts common in American classrooms.

Almost 700 students at Mayfield participate in the "Dress for Success" program, which educators believe can enhance students’ behavior and, they hope, achievement in school and in life.

Diana Otero, 10, is one of those students. “What am I going to wear to school today?” is what she asks herself each morning, but not on Mondays. That’s when she puts on a nice outfit that makes her feel "important and confident." At school, Diana and the other well-dressed students attend their regular Monday classes and their activities  as usual. This is Diana’s first year in the "Dress for Success" program. “I thought it would help me improve my grades.” Read more ..


The Gender Edge

Abuse during Childhood Linked to Adult-onset Asthma in African-American Women

December 11th 2012

Crying black woman

According to a new study from the Slone Epidemiology Center (SEC) at Boston University, African-American women who reported suffering abuse before age 11 had a greater likelihood of adult-onset asthma compared to women whose childhood and adolescence were free of abuse. The study, which is published online in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, was led by Patricia Coogan, DSc, senior epidemiologist at SEC and associate professor of epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health.

This study followed 28,456 African-American women, all of whom are participants in the Black Women’s Health Study, between 1995 and 2011. They completed health questionnaires and provided information on physical and sexual abuse during childhood up to age 11 and adolescence, ages 12–18. The results indicate that the incidence of adult-onset asthma was increased by more than 20 percent among women who had been abused during childhood. The evidence was stronger for physical abuse than for sexual abuse. There was little indication, however, that abuse during adolescence was associated with the risk of adult-onset asthma. Read more ..


Inside America

Oklahoma City MAPS Out Revitalization

December 10th 2012

Oklahoma City Botanical Gardens

For communities looking to attract the coveted highly-skilled, highly-paid workforce, there is often little substitute for a locale’s livability. Job opportunities, no matter how plum, may fail to lure workers if a city is determined to be undesirable by potential emigrants. In describing what motivates the so-called Creative Class to relocate, urban theorist Richard Florida notes that “quality-of-place”—a city’s built and natural environment, its population diversity and vibrancy—is the deciding factor.

Perhaps no U.S. city has proved more effective at recognizing their quality-of-life shortcomings and making a drastic effort to turn things around than Oklahoma City. The impetus for action, as is often the case, was a crisis. “It was a really destitute place to live,” said Roy H. Williams, president and CEO of Oklahoma City’s Chamber of Commerce, referring to the state capital in the late 1980′s and early 1990′s. Read more ..


Ethiopia on Edge

Despite Economic Growth, Poverty Remains Ethiopia's Plight

December 10th 2012

Chinese shoe factory in Ethiopia
Chinese shoe factory in Ethiopia

Ethiopia has one of the fastest growing economies in the world, but remains one of the poorest countries at the same time. It might take years before the majority of people benefit from the growth. Ethiopia's economy has grown at an annual rate of nearly 10 percent for the last seven years. But a third of the population still lives below the poverty line.

Samuel Bwalya is the economic advisor for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Ethiopia. Bwalya says that the country has to be patient while waiting for a trickle-down effect to lift more people from poverty. "Ethiopia is starting from a very low base in terms of development, so it should actually take much longer for this impact to take root," Bwalya noted. "So I think we are too much in a hurry to see seven-year growth to start asking questions about how many people are out of poverty. Ethiopia is still very poor. But if you look where Ethiopia is coming from, it has made significant progress in reducing poverty." Read more ..


The Way We Are

Testing the Brain for Confidence

December 10th 2012

Baby Boomer

Researchers have discovered how the brain assesses confidence in its decisions. The findings explain why some people have better insight into their choices than others.

Throughout life, we're constantly evaluating our options and making decisions based on the information we have available. How confident we are in those decisions has clear consequences. For example, investment bankers have to be confident that they're making the right choice when deciding where to put their clients' money. Researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL led by Professor Ray Dolan have pinpointed the specific areas of the brain that interact to compute both the value of the choices we have in front of us and our confidence in those choices, giving us the ability to know what we want.

The team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure activity in the brains of twenty hungry volunteers while they made choices between food items that they would later eat. To determine the subjective value of the snack options, the participants were asked to indicate how much they would be willing to pay for each snack. Then after making their choice, they were asked to report how confident they were that they had made the right decision and selected the best snack. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Vietnam's Elephants Face Threats from Near and Far

December 9th 2012

rampaging bull elephant

At the end of the war in 1975, as many as 2,000 wild elephants roamed the lowland forests of Vietnam. Today, there are as few as 50. Poaching and habitat destruction have brought the animals to the brink of extinction, and conservationists say the only herd with a long-term chance of survival is located along the border separating Yok Don National Park and Cambodia.

According to park director Tran Van Thanh, the already limited forests are shrinking as local communities cut trees in order to grow crops and expand housing. “Another problem with the elephants now is about the agriculture cultivating of the local people," he said, explaining that the pachyderms enjoy eating sweet crops such as banana and dragon fruit, wreaking havoc on local farmers.

As their habitat shrinks, the elephants become more aggressive, he says, and traditional scare tactics, such as lighting fires, become less effective. Because locals are not taught how to live in harmony with the elephants, Thanh says they often resort to violence. Many residents own guns, he adds, and illegal hunting is not uncommon.

“I think this is a big problem for the government," said Thanh, explaining that, after years of fighting illegal logging, staff training is outmoded. "They have to improve the capacity of the staff and [teach] the local authority how to help conservation."

But diminishing local resources isn't the only threat elephants are facing. Despite the 1989 global ban on illicit ivory, the global trade continues to take its toll on Vietnam's wild elephant population. In Dak Lak province, at least six wild elephants were killed by poachers this year alone — two of them found in August, their skulls mutilated and tusks sawn off. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

The Biggest Trees are Dying

December 9th 2012

Click to select Image

The largest living organisms on the planet, the big, old trees that harbor and sustain countless birds and other wildlife, are dying. A report by three of the world’s leading ecologists in today’s issue of the journal Science warns of an alarming increase in deathrates among trees 100-300 years old in many of the world’s forests, woodlands, savannahs, farming areas and even in cities. “It’s a worldwide problem and appears to be happening in most types of forest,” says lead author Professor David Lindenmayer of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) and Australian National University.

“Large old trees are critical in many natural and human-dominated environments. Studies of ecosystems around the world suggest populations of these trees are declining rapidly,” he and colleagues Professor Bill Laurance of James Cook University, Australia, and Professor Jerry Franklin of Washington University, USA, say in their Science report. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Create iPhone Photo Collages with Friends and Their Friends

December 8th 2012

Pixplit Crew

Pixplit is the first app that uses the concept of connecting with people in the third degree of separation,’ says co-founder Jay Meydad. A bloke in London used his iPhone to upload a snapshot of the city’s Underground via the new Israeli mobile app Pixplit. His friend in New York then added a photo of the subway, and a friend of that friend completed the three-part split with an image of the Milan Metro.

“There are almost 13,000 photo apps on the App Store but ours is the only one that lets you collaborate with others in a visual dialogue,” says Pixplit co-founder Yovav (Jay) Meydad. “A photo typically has one area of content, while on Pixplit it’s divided into two to four parts.” Based in the heart of Tel Aviv, Pixplit began development in May with angel funding, and officially opened on October 17 when the company was named best new startup at the StartTWS competition in Tel Aviv. Read more ..


The Medical Edge

A Move To Cut Dependence On Bomb Grade Uranium In Medical Isotopes

December 8th 2012

MEG-MRI

The Obama administration is moving forward with plans to modify the Medicare payment system for radiological isotopes used in diagnostic procedures despite concerns that the change would not do enough to end health care providers’ reliance on bomb-grade uranium. Effective Jan. 1, hospitals and other medical facilities will be entitled to an additional $10 in government reimbursement for every diagnostic procedure they conduct on Medicare patients using isotopes not derived from highly enriched uranium.

The Health and Human Services Department proposed the change in July, and it has been viewed favorably by nonproliferation advocates who want to see the United States weaned off of isotopes produced with material that could be used to make a nuclear weapon if it fell into the wrong hands.

Health care industry officials, however, have argued the administration underestimates how much more it will cost to switch to producing isotopes without HEU material. The extra $10 per procedure is not likely cover the cost increase passed on health care providers, and will therefore not be enough to persuade hospitals and other medical facilities to make the switch, industry officials argued in September comments to the HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. In a passage buried within a 357-page notice published in the Federal Register last month, CMS officials acknowledged the additional payment might not be a great incentive. They argued, though, that they are merely looking to compensate providers who switch to non-HEU sources, not give them motivation to do so.

“We did not create an additional payment to promote the administration’s initiative to eliminate domestic reliance on [medical isotopes derived] from HEU, as that is outside the scope of” the CMS rule, the notice says. “Rather the industry had conveyed to us that this conversion to non-HEU will occur in response to U.S. strategic policy, but that cost considerations have created barriers to that movement. … Although commenters have opined that a larger payment would be a better incentive to support non-HEU conversion, the purpose of the payment is limited to mitigating any adverse impact.” Read more ..


Inside Saudi Arabia

The Making of Kings in Saudi Arabia

December 7th 2012

Saudi Royal Burial

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah recently underwent relatively minor back surgery and his hospitalization triggered a host of increasingly dire rumors about the state of his health.  Though the 88-year-old monarch has since recovered and appeared in public, the episode has raised new questions about royal succession, an issue that has loomed over Saudi Arabia for years.

As they advance in age, one Saudi leader after another faces the same tough decision: should the crown continue to be passed from brother to brother – the sons of the Kingdom’s founder, Abdulaziz Ibn Saud? Or has the time come for a new generation of leaders?

After the sudden death of Saudi Crown Prince Nayef last June, his brother Salman, 76, was named Crown Prince and is likely to become the next king in spite of his poor health.  But who should succeed him?  Only a handful of his brothers are still living and in reasonable health, and some even ask whether they would be up to the task of leading the Kingdom.   Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

The Turkey-Syria Border Snafu

December 6th 2012

Turk flags

Tensions flared on the Turkish-Syrian border again over the weekend as Syrian regime forces and rebels clashed near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, just across from Turkey's Hatay province. Shells fired during the clashes fell into the Turkish town of Reyhanli, just on the other side of the border. On Monday, the Syrian regime bombed the Syrian border town of Ras al-Ayn, causing more shells to fall into Turkey as well as prompting Turkey to alert its fighter jets. This is the new state of affairs that has arisen since Syrian shells first fell on Turkey almost two months ago, resulting in an exchange of fire between the two countries that lasted for six days. The Turks are once again experiencing the spillover of clashes in Syria into Turkish towns across the countries' 900-kilometer shared border. Read more ..


The Prehistoric Edge

Africa's Homo Sapiens were the First Techies

December 5th 2012

Neanderthal child mannequin

The search for the origin of modern human behaviour and technological advancement among our ancestors in southern Africa some 70 000 years ago, has taken a step closer to firmly establishing Africa, and especially South Africa, as the primary centre for the early development of human behaviour.

A new research paper by renowned Wits University archaeologist, Prof. Christopher Henshilwood, is the first detailed summary of the time periods he and a group of international researchers have been studying in South Africa: namely the Still Bay techno-traditions (c. 75 000 – 70 000 years) and the Howiesons Poort techno-tradition (c. 65 000 – 60 000 years). The paper, entitled Late Pleistocene Techno-traditions in Southern Africa: A Review of the Still Bay and Howiesons Poort, c. 75 ka, has been published online in the Journal of World Prehistory on 6 November 2012.

Henshilwood says these periods were significant in the development of Homo sapiens behaviour in southern Africa. They were periods of many innovations including, for example, the first abstract art (engraved ochre and engraved ostrich eggshell); the first jewellery (shell beads); the first bone tools; the earliest use of the pressure flaking technique, that was used in combination with heating to make stone spear points and the first probable use of stone tipped arrows launched by bow. Read more ..


The Edge of the Earth

Himalayas And Pacific Northwest Could Experience Major Earthquakes

December 4th 2012

Continental Crust

A big one is due in the Himalayas. The Himalayan range was formed, and remains currently active, due to the collision of the Indian and Asian continental plates. Scientists have known for some time that India is subducting under Asia, and have recently begun studying the complexity of this volatile collision zone in greater detail, particularly the fault that separates the two plates, the Main Himalayan Thrust (MHT).

Previous observations had indicated a relatively uniform fault plane that dipped a few degrees to the north. To produce a clearer picture of the fault, Warren Caldwell, a geophysics doctoral student at Stanford, has analyzed seismic data from 20 seismometers deployed for two years across the Himalayas by colleagues at the National Geophysical Research Institute of India.

The data imaged a thrust dipping a gentle two to four degrees northward, as has been previously inferred, but also revealed a segment of the thrust that dips more steeply (15 degrees downward) for 20 kilometers. Such a ramp has been postulated to be a nucleation point for massive earthquakes in the Himalaya. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

In Jordan, Syrian Refugees Await Assad's Fall

December 4th 2012

Syrian refugees Jordan

In a makeshift kitchen between refugee tents in Jordan, members of an extended family try to recreate some semblance of the life they left in Syria, before war tore apart their homeland. They are among more than 200,000 Syrians in Jordan waiting for the conflict to end.

Several women pat out dough for bread and cook it over an open fire. Om Ahmed, who cares for several children in the group, recalls their last days at home in el Sawra, in southern Syria.  “It was very bad," she says. "They were hitting us with rockets and tanks and mortar shells.”

They tried to find a haven in towns nearby, but were forced to cross the border, settling at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. At the camp's playground, children have a place to run in safety, away from the bombing and firefights which have claimed an estimated 40,000 lives since early last year. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Climate Change Melts Away Obstacle To Arctic Shipping For China, Russia

December 3rd 2012

Siberian Glacier

Could climate change turn the Russian Arctic into a northern alternative to the Suez Canal ?Some Russians think so, as they add up the results from their Arctic summer shipping season, which closed on November 28. There were a record 47 crossings by ships moving cargo between Asia and Europe -- almost 12 times the number of two years ago.

The difference? Melting Arctic ice. In September, American satellites recorded the greatest shrinkage of Arctic ice since record-keeping started 33 years ago. This summer, ice retreated to 3.4 million square kilometers -- about half the average levels recorded in the 1980s and 1990s.

With more open water, U.S. hydrologists predict that cargo volumes will increase this decade by 50 times from this year's level. For northern Europe, the Russian Arctic route can cut 7,000 kilometers off the standard trip to Asia through Egypt's Suez Canal. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Nukes Likely To Decline In Obama’s Second Term

December 3rd 2012

Misslle in Silo

The Pentagon’s budget is almost assuredly going down in coming years, under heavy pressure from those who wish to trim the federal deficit and see the agency – whose budget increased by two-thirds over the last decade – as a ripe target. But it also looks like a specific weapon system,  the nation’s stockpile of nuclear warheads, is also headed down, with Barack Obama’s reelection.

This is not a great surprise. Obama promised in a 2009 speech in Prague, after all, that the U.S.-Russian arms control treaty he was then negotiating “will set the stage for further cuts.” But the administration’s planning was not detailed publicly before the election to avoid creating controversy.

Now that the voting is past, a group of independent advisers to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has publicly urged her to consider pursuing an informal accord with Russia aimed at lowering the number of nuclear weapons the two countries might deploy under existing treaties. Its report, issued Nov. 27, has also acknowledged official support for deeper cuts inside the administration.

Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Ayman Zawahiri and Egypt: A Trip Through Time

December 2nd 2012

Ayman al-Zawahiri

Around 1985, current al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri fled his homeland of Egypt, presumably never to return. From his early beginnings as a teenage leader of a small jihadi cell devoted to overthrowing Egyptian regimes (first Nasser’s then Sadat’s) until he merged forces with Osama bin Laden, expanding his objectives to include targeting the United States of America, Zawahiri never forgot his original objective: transforming Egypt into an Islamist state that upholds and enforces the totality of Sharia law, and that works towards the resurrection of a global caliphate.

This vision is on its way to being fulfilled. With Islamist political victories, culminating with a Muslim Brotherhood president, Muhammad Morsi, Egypt is taking the first major steps to becoming the sort of state Zawahiri wished to see. Zawahiri regularly congratulates Egypt’s Islamists—most recently the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Cairo—urging them to continue Islamizing the Middle East’s most strategic nation. Read more ..


The Edge of the Universe

The Beginning of Everything: A New Paradigm Shift for the Infant Universe

December 2nd 2012

Big Bang

A new paradigm for understanding the earliest eras in the history of the universe has been developed by scientists at Penn State University. Using techniques from an area of modern physics called loop quantum cosmology, developed at Penn State, the scientists now have extended analyses that include quantum physics farther back in time than ever before -- all the way to the beginning. The new paradigm of loop quantum origins shows, for the first time, that the large-scale structures we now see in the universe evolved from fundamental fluctuations in the essential quantum nature of "space-time," which existed even at the very beginning of the universe over 14 billion years ago. The achievement also provides new opportunities for testing competing theories of modern cosmology against breakthrough observations expected from next-generation telescopes. The research will be published on 11 December 2012 as an "Editor's Suggestion" paper in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Obese Children More Vulnerable to Food Advertising

December 2nd 2012

teen obese belly

Rates of childhood obesity have tripled in the past 30 years, and food marketing has been implicated as one factor contributing to this trend. Every year, companies spend more than $10 billion in the US marketing their food and beverages to children; 98 percent of the food products advertised to children on television are high in fat, sugar, or sodium. In a new study scheduled for publication in The Journal of Pediatrics, researchers used neuroimaging to study the effects of food logos on obese and healthy weight children.

Amanda S. Bruce, PhD, and colleagues from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the University of Kansas Medical Center assessed 10 healthy weight and 10 obese children, ages 10-14 years, using both self-reported measures of self-control and functional magnetic resonance imaging, which uses blood flow as a measure of brain activity. Dr. Bruce states, "We were interested in how brain responses to food logos would differ between obese and healthy weight children." The children were shown 60 food logos and 60 nonfood logos, and functional magnetic resonance imaging scans indicated which sections of the brain reacted to the familiar logos being shown. Read more ..


The Afghanistan War

Al-Qaeda to Prevent Obama's 2014 Afghanistan Pullout--Says Panetta

December 2nd 2012

Islamist terrorists

Members of the al-Qaeda terror network are continuing to make a U.S. pullout from Afghanistan less likely as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the American press on Friday that battling the group would be a national priority well past President Barack Obama's second-term.

Secretary Panetta said that U.S. military commanders are now analyzing the number of the troops to leave in Afghanistan after the NATO combat forces leave in 2014, technically ending the war on terrorism that's lasted more than 12 years. Presently there are about 66,000 American combat troops in Afghanistan, but once the 2014 date arrives the U.S. force may drop to about 10,000. Panetta noted that Obama would decide in the coming weeks as to how many troops would remain and what their mission will be once coalition troops leave that war-torn and chaotic nation. Read more ..


The Agricultural Edge

Wheat DNA Map Could Help Change the Way We Farm

November 30th 2012

wheat fields

The most complete map ever of wheat's genetic blueprint could provide plant breeders with new clues to improving one of the world’s most important food crops. The new map includes tens of thousands of genetic signposts on wheat's DNA molecules. These markers will help guide researchers and breeders who are working to better understand how the plant copes with salty soil or drought, for example.

Better varieties
Such insights, theoretically, will allow them to create better varieties of wheat much more quickly than in the past. “We knew this was a necessary thing because breeders and researchers who were working on wheat were crying out for this sort of resource,” says Mike Bevan at the U.K. research institute, the John Innes Centre. Wheat is among the world’s most widely consumed grains. And with the global population expected to reach nine billion by 2050, Bevan says efforts to improve the crop are essential.
Read more ..


Geologic Edge

More Evidence for an Ancient Grand Canyon

November 29th 2012

Ancient Grand Canyon

For over 150 years, geologists have debated how and when one of the most dramatic features on our planet—the Grand Canyon—was formed. New data unearthed by researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) builds support for the idea that conventional models, which say the enormous ravine is 5 to 6 million years old, are way off.

In fact, the Caltech research points to a Grand Canyon that is many millions of years older than previously thought, says Kenneth A. Farley, Keck Foundation Professor of Geochemistry at Caltech and coauthor of the study. "Rather than being formed within the last few million years, our measurements suggest that a deep canyon existed more than 70 million years ago," he says.

Building upon previous research by Farley's lab that showed that parts of the eastern canyon are likely to be at least 55 million years old, the team used a new method to test ancient rocks found at the bottom of the canyon's western section. Past experiments used the amount of helium produced by radioactive decay in apatite—a mineral found in the canyon's walls—to date the samples. This time around, Farley and Flowers took a closer look at the apatite grains by analyzing not only the amount but also the spatial distribution of helium atoms that were trapped within the crystals of the mineral as they moved closer to the surface of the earth during the massive erosion that caused the Grand Canyon to form. Read more ..


Destination the World

After 201 Countries, Man Ends World Tour in South Sudan

November 29th 2012

Graham Hughes

A British man, Graham Hughes, says he has broken a world record by traveling to every sovereign state in the world without flying.  He recently entered South Sudan; the world’s newest country and the last on the list for Hughes. Brandishing an overstuffed passport from all the visas he collected while making what he calls his “Odyssey", Graham Hughes celebrated his self-proclaimed record for being the first person to travel to 201 sovereign states.

The 33-year-old Briton, who hails from Liverpool, has been on the road for almost four years. Remarkably, he made the journey strictly by land transportation and by sea. “Today is the 1,426th day of the Odyssey expedition, which is my world-record-breaking attempt, which is to be the first person to visit every country in the world without flying," he said.  Read more ..


Poland on Edge

Mimicking Breivik in Poland

November 29th 2012

Polish Security Forces

Poland's Internal Security Agency announced Nov. 20 that it had arrested "Brunon K," a chemistry professor at the Agricultural University in Krakow who allegedly planned to attack the lower house of the Polish parliament. The arrest came Nov. 9, just two days before Warsaw's annual Independence Day parade, which authorities believe could have been another target. During the arrest, authorities seized ammonium nitrate fertilizer, high-powered, military-grade explosive RDX and other bomb-making equipment. They also seized several hundred rounds of ammunition, a bulletproof vest and a pistol.

Presumably, the suspect in question is Dr. Brunon Kwiecien, who has published multiple chemistry papers at the Agricultural University in Krakow, according to a Polish academic directory. Kwiecien openly espoused anti-government views and accused the Polish government and the European Commission of tyranny. Specifically, he condemned the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which has angered Internet freedom activists in Europe. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

New Study Could Change Treatment For Asthma

November 27th 2012

Asthma Patient

Most doctors tell asthma patients to stick to a regimen when taking medicine that helps control this disease. Asthma is a chronic and sometimes life-threatening lung disease that affects people around the world. There is no cure, but there are treatments. And now, global treatment guidelines for asthma could change as a result of a study led by a researcher at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

Most adults who have mild or moderate asthma are told to use their inhalers twice daily, even if they don't have symptoms.  The medicine in those compressed-air inhalers are corticosteroids, which open a person's airways and decrease mucus so it's easier to breathe. Inhaled corticosteroids are the most common and the most effective form of therapy for asthma sufferers.

In an asthma attack, the airways of the lungs become inflamed and swollen. That can be triggered by a wide range of factors, some genetic, some environmental. Dust, air pollution or smoke can set off an asthma attack. Falling autumn leaves and other seasonal changes that put fine debris in the air can also trigger an attack.

Frank Grizzaffi knows this routine well. “There was a regime that I was supposed to follow, it was two puffs in the morning and two puffs in the evening,” Grizzaffi said. That was before Grizzaffi participated in a study that involved ten academic centers and more than 300 adults with mild to moderate asthma. Read more ..


Broken Economy

General Motors vs. General Electric

November 27th 2012

General Electric

During the 2012 election, journalists and historians noted the symbolic political torch being passed from American Motors Corporation executive and Michigan governor George Romney to his son Mitt. The younger Romney was also a businessman but had forged his career as an executive and moderate Republican far outside the Motor City. And pundits generally used the pair as an illustrative example of how far the Republican center had shifted to the right since the elder Romney’s 1968 primary run. But his son’s business credentials should have given scholars more pause. Father and son dramatically symbolize the momentous shift from factories to finance, as Judith Stein recently put it.

Historians have been slow to recognize the coming of postindustrial America; probably because they have almost reflexively asserted that General Motor’s was the icon of American manufacturing. Three generations of scholars have scrutinized Detroit and its unionized, regulated auto industry, assuming them to be a microcosm of American labor, business, and politics. Yet from the vantage point of 2012, GM, Michigan, and the United Auto Workers hardly seem like templates to understand postwar capitalism. For that story, academics should be reconsidering General Electric, whose metamorphosis from Schenectady-based electronics producer to captain of global finance offers a much better lens to explore the fate of American unionism, manufacturing, and moderate Republicanism. Read more ..


Benghazigate

Fight Over Susan Rice Holds Risks for Both Obam, GOP lawmakers

November 26th 2012

Susan Rice

President Obama and congressional Republicans appear to be itching for a fight over U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s possible nomination as secretary of State. The ensuing political battle, however, comes with high risks and uncertain rewards for both sides. So far, President Obama has aggressively defended Rice from attacks by leading GOP lawmakers over her handling of the September attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Challenging his critics to "go after me" at his first press conference following reelection, the president has looked to display his loyalty — and a willingness to engage the GOP in his second term — in his passionate defense of a top administration official. But in doing so, Obama risks wasting his reelection political capital on a fight that might not be worth winning.

Republicans have already cautioned the president that Rice would face sharp opposition if she is tapped to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the second term, with nearly 100 House Republicans last week signing a letter questioning “her credibility both at home and around the world.” Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C) have signaled opposition to her possible nomination, though McCain said Sunday that he would be open to considering her for the top diplomatic post.

A major battle over Rice's nomination could easily distract from the president’s other priorities, beginning with the negotiations over the looming “fiscal cliff.” Moreover, nominating Rice could alienate top Republicans, including McCain and Graham or House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Pete King (R-N.Y.), who will play pivotal roles in negotiating defense cuts that the White House is seeking as part of a grand bargain. Read more ..


Latin America on Edge

Soiled Sovereignty: Land Issues in the Southern Cone

November 25th 2012

Tompkins-Ecology-Chile

“People say you can’t go back. So, well what happens if you get to the cliff and you take one step forward? Do you do a 180-degree turn and take one step forward? Which way are you going? Which is progress?” –Douglas Tompkins, 180 Degrees South Documentary

Latin America has had a tumultuous history plagued by the exploitation of natural resources and foreign political intervention. Western imperialistic practices have created a sense of resentment among native communities in the Southern Cone, which has been amplified through controversial cases, such as American Douglas Tompkins’s nature conservation campaign that began in 1991. Although Tompkins’s motives may be well intentioned, his territorial projects have proven to be politically and culturally problematic. This self-proclaimed philanthropist is the former CEO of the North Face and Espirit companies and, as such, spent a lifetime meticulously building his empire off the spoils of capitalism. He sold these U.S. businesses in 1990 for an estimated $150 million after deciding he no longer wanted to be a part of cyclical materialism, and subsequently used the funds to purchase land in Patagonia, Chile. Today, he owns a total of 826,386 hectares of land in both Chile and Argentina. The controversy surrounding his actions involves questions of national sovereignty and cultural integrity, which inspires further questions of legal regulations in Latin America to limit foreign purchases of real estate given painful colonial legacy. Read more ..


China on Edge

New Chinese Passports Rile Asian Neighbors

November 25th 2012

The East is Red

Whenever a country issues new passports, someone almost always complains about the new design. But China's latest edition of travel logs is drawing formal criticism from countries across Asia. The passports feature a map of China that includes areas of the South China Sea claimed by other countries, as well as territory claimed by India. Taiwan's government objected to the passports Friday, following similar protests by the Philippines and Vietnam. Officials at the Indian Embassy in Beijing are protesting in their own way, stamping Chinese visas with a map showing the disputed territory belonging to India, according to The Press Trust of India.
 
John Blaxland, with the Strategic and Defense Studies Center at Australian National University, called China's move "pretty clever." "It basically forces everyone who's a claimant of South China Sea elements to acknowledge it by stamping it," he said.
Read more ..

Operation Pillar of Defense

History of Ceasefire Accords with Hamas

November 24th 2012

Gaza Militants

Since the last day of Operation Cast Lead (January 18, 2009) until the 1st day of Operation Pillar of Defense, The Gaza Hamas regime launched 2,000 aerial attacks against Israel. That was the third ‘ceasefire’ between Israel and Hamas.

There is talk about 'an opportunity to reach an understanding with Hamas,' relying on the notion that Israel must 'give Hamas a chance for a ceasefire with Israel.' How many people remember two failed ‘ceasefires' were reached with The Gaza Hamas regime over the past 6 years? How many people remember what occurred? during those 'ceasefires'? The people of Sderot and the western Negev remember all too well.

Let us refresh our memories. From November 26, 2006, until May 15, 2007, the first 'ceasefire' between Hamas and Israel lasted for six months. Here is the statement made by Hamas five days before agreeing to that cease fire: 'Hamas's military wing will stop rocket fire when residents evacuate the city of Sderot.' (from November 21, 2006) Read more ..


Afganistan on Edge

Afghan Public Opinion

November 24th 2012

Afgan Troops

As the international military presence in Afghanistan winds down, fears of unrest, civil war, and backsliding on fragile gains loom large. An October 2012 International Crisis Group (ICG) report states that “Afghanistan is far from ready to assume responsibility for security when U.S. and NATO forces withdraw in 2014,” arguing that “…steps toward a stable transition must begin now to prevent a precipitous slide toward state collapse. Time is running out.” The increase of green-on-blue attacks and green-on-green attacks—Afghan soldiers and police attacking international forces colleagues and one another—raises serious questions about the state of the Afghan forces. Mohammad Ismail Khan, a former mujahadeen member who was ousted from his position as governor of Herat by President Hamid Karzai in 2004, recently called on his supporters to rearm, another ominous sign that former warlords are once again preparing for war. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Russian Scientist Jailed For Spying Walks Free

November 24th 2012

Prison bars

Russian scientist Valentin Danilov has walked free after serving eight years of a controversial prison sentence on charges of spying for China. After his release on parole in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk on November 24, Danilov, 66, said that he regarded himself as a political prisoner because the information he passed on was declassified.

Danilov smiled, joked, and laughed with reporters upon being set free. "I would really appreciate it if somebody finally told me what state secret I sold," he said.

Danilov criticized his sentence, which he maintained was based on false charges. He claimed that he had received official clearance to collaborate with a Chinese firm on building equipment designed to model the impact of the space environment on satellites. Read more ..


After the Election

Obama's Fashion Line Garners $40 Million

November 23rd 2012

Barack Obama Israel speech

President Obama’s “Runway to Win” collection of clothing and accessories designed by top celebrity-designers helped raise over $40 million for his reelection bid. The total haul from the sales of designer merchandise was revealed by campaign manager Jim Messina in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. “That ended up bringing in just north of $40 million,” said Messina, touting the decision to sell high-priced Obama-branded items on the campaign website.

The line which included items ranging from t-shirts and handbags to scarves was the idea of Vogue editor and Obama supporter Anna Wintour. Wintour hosted several fundraising dinners for the president and helped pull in fashion industry luminaries, including Vera Wang and Tory Burch, to contribute the work to the campaign shop. Read more ..


Broken Government

Congressional Republicans Refuse to be Railroaded by Amtrak

November 22nd 2012

Amtrak high speed

House Republicans will hold new hearings next week on Amtrak, which Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) is targeting for funding cuts despite recent record ridership numbers. The hearings are part of a year-long effort by Mica designed to prove Amtrak’s nearly $1 billion federal subsidy is a waste of taxpayer dollars.

The latest GOP hearings will come after a Thanksgiving holiday that is usually Amtrak's busiest weekend of the year, and after the national rail passenger carrier has earned good reviews in New York and New Jersey for its response to Hurricane Sandy. Amtrak supporters believe Amtrak has boosted its political standing.

“There is a strong majority view on Capitol Hill in favor of Amtrak moving forward and keeping the enterprise funded,” AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Ed Wytkind said in an interview. He noted that Republicans on Mica’s own committee were divided over a GOP effort to privatize Amtrak’s most profitable routes in the Northeast. Read more ..



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