The Battle for Syria
|Henry Ridgwell||August 13th 2012|
Some Western and Arab Gulf powers say they are increasing humanitarian and support aid to the Syrian opposition. At the Turkey–Syria border—the main conduit for foreign aid to rebel fighters—there are signs the aid trail also may include covert arms smuggling.
The Turkish city of Antakya is now a hub for Syrian rebels and their supporters. Just 20 kilometers from the border, analysts say it’s here that most of the deals are being forged to aid the Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels. But few people here will openly admit that foreign countries are arming the opposition.
Opposition supporters have posted videos on social media sites allegedly showing big caches of weapons—mainly Kalashnikov rifles—and ammunition. Their origin is unknown. Ahmad al-Kanatre Abu Hamza, commander of the Omar al-Mukhtar brigade of the FSA, said in July that most of his fighters’ weapons are taken from Syrian forces. “Almost all our weapons are confiscated from the defeated regime army. We get no help from other countries,” he said. “All our arms are light weapons and they are old.” Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Debbie Siegelbaum||August 12th 2012|
Former Washington tax attorney Janna Ryan reportedly used to go hunting with her outdoorsman beau, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), when they first began dating in 1999. Today, both she and her husband are setting their sights on much bigger game. On Saturday, presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney announced Ryan as his running mate, catapulting Janna Ryan into the national media spotlight as her husband vies for the White House. The pretty blonde met Ryan in 1999 during his first term in the House. At the time, Janna Christine Little was working as a tax attorney for PricewaterhouseCoopers and lived in Arlington, Va.
The Wellesley College and George Washington University Law School graduate was introduced to the eligible political bachelor by a mutual friend, according to their April 2000 engagement announcement.
Ryan was 30, Little age 31 at the time of the marriage, which took place in December 2000 in the bride’s home state of Oklahoma. Immediately following the nuptials, Ryan had to choose between his new wife and the demands of Congress, opting to forego voting on unfinished budget matters in favor of a honeymoon to the Virgin Islands. Ryan allegedly first consulted then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) before being advised there were only minor votes scheduled, according to local news reports. "I'm going to keep my first commitment to my wife, and that's to take her on a honeymoon," Ryan said, as reported by the Associated Press. The Ryans subsequently made their home in Wisconsin, and in the decade to follow had three children, daughter Liza and sons Charlie and Sam. Not much is known about Janna Ryan, who's kept a low-public profile despite her husband's political fame. Read more ..
The Edge of Nature
|Layne Cameron||August 12th 2012|
Michigan State University
Why, after millions of years of evolution, do organisms build structures that seem to serve no purpose?
A study conducted at Michigan State University and published in the current issue of The American Naturalist investigates the evolutionary reasons why organisms go through developmental stages that appear unnecessary.
“Many animals build tissues and structures they don’t appear to use, and then they disappear,” said Jeff Clune, lead author and former doctoral student at MSU’s BEACON Center of Evolution in Action. “It’s comparable to building a roller coaster, razing it and building a skyscraper on the same ground. Why not just skip ahead to building the skyscraper?”
Why humans and other organisms retain seemingly unnecessary stages in their development has been debated between biologists since 1866. This study explains that organisms jump through these extra hoops to avoid disrupting a developmental process that works. Clune’s team called this concept the “developmental disruption force.” But Clune says it also could be described as “if the shoe fits, don’t change a thing.”
“In a developing embryo, each new structure is built in a delicate environment that consists of everything that has already developed,” said Clune, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University. “Mutations that alter that environment, such as by eliminating a structure, can thus disrupt later stages of development. Even if a structure is not actually used, it may set the stage for other functional tissues to grow properly.”
Going back to the roller coaster metaphor, even though the roller coaster gets torn down, the organism needs the parts from that teardown to build the skyscraper, he added.
“An engineer would simply skip the roller coaster step, but evolution is more of a tinkerer and less of an engineer,” Clune said. “It uses whatever parts that are lying around, even if the process that generates those parts is inefficient.”
An interesting consequence is that newly evolved traits tend to get added at the end of development, because there is less risk of disrupting anything important. That, in turn, means that there is a similarity between the order things evolve and the order they develop. Read more ..
The Geological Edge
|Stuart Wolpert||August 12th 2012|
|Valles Marineris (Viking orbiter photomosaic|
credit USGS/NASA Viking Project)
For years, many scientists had thought that plate tectonics existed nowhere in our solar system but on Earth. Now, a UCLA scientist has discovered that the geological phenomenon, which involves the movement of huge crustal plates beneath a planet’s surface, also exists on Mars.
“Mars is at a primitive stage of plate tectonics. It gives us a glimpse of how the early Earth may have looked and may help us understand how plate tectonics began on Earth,” said An Yin, a UCLA professor of Earth and space sciences and the sole author of the new research.
Yin made the discovery during his analysis of satellite images from NASA’s THEMIS spacecraft and from the HIRISE camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. He analyzed about 100 satellite images—and approximately a dozen were revealing of plate tectonics. Yin has conducted geologic research in the Himalayas and Tibet, where two of the Earth’s seven major plates divide. “When I studied the satellite images from Mars, many of the features looked very much like fault systems I have seen in the Himalayas and Tibet, and in California as well, including the geomorphology,” said Yin, a planetary geologist. Read more ..
America on Edge
|Mike O'Sullivan||August 11th 2012|
American Sikhs have been mourning the victims of the mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin - and are trying to comprehend an act that seems senseless. The shooter's motives are unclear, but one organization that monitors hate groups points to the Internet as a breeding ground for racial hatred.
In the Los Angeles suburb of Walnut, Sikhs and other community members gathered for a vigil to remember the victims of the Wisconsin shooting. Some also tried to understand what motivated the accused shooter, Wade Michael Page. California temple member Nachhatar Singh Bhullar calls the act senseless. "It could happen anywhere. Somebody can come anywhere and do those things," he said. But researchers into hate groups say Page had ties to music groups with a white supremacist message and they speculate that his hatred sparked the rampage. Read more ..
|Kent Paterson||August 10th 2012|
|Truncated U.S/Mexico border fence|
In an era when border travel has become increasingly problematic, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is now proposing to expand the geographic area Mexican nationals can travel within the state of New Mexico. Invoking its rule-making authority, the DHS proposed August 9 an expansion of the geographic limit in New Mexico for holders of a Border Crossing Card, or other proper documentation besides a CBP Form 1-94, from the current 25 miles north of the border to 55 miles. “This change is intended to promote commerce and tourism in southern New Mexico while still ensuring that sufficient safeguards are in place to prevent illegal entry to the U.S.,” the DHS stated in its notice of proposed rule-making.
Dating back to a system first put in place in 1953, the modern-day Border Crossing Card allows Mexican nationals to travel within certain geographic boundaries for up to 30 days. In 1999, the old Immigration and Naturalization Service expanded the geographic limit to 75 miles in Arizona but kept the 25 mile-limit for New Mexico, Texas and California. Currently, Mexican nationals can travel to Tucson for shopping and other purposes. According to the DHS, applicants for the Border Crossing Card and other appropriate travel documents are vetted by the department's personnel and/or staff from the Department of State. Read more ..
The Archaeologoical Edge
University of Toronto
|Credit: Jennifer Jackson|
A beautiful and colossal human sculpture is one of the latest cultural treasures unearthed by an international team at the Tayinat Archaeological Project (TAP) excavation site in southeastern Turkey. A large semi-circular column base, ornately decorated on one side, was also discovered. Both pieces are from a monumental gate complex that provided access to the upper citadel of Kunulua, capital of the Neo-Hittite Kingdom of Patina (ca. 1000-738 BC).
“These newly discovered Tayinat sculptures are the product of a vibrant local Neo-Hittite sculptural tradition,” said Professor Tim Harrison, the Tayinat Project director and professor of Near Eastern Archaeology in the University of Toronto’s Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations. “They provide a vivid glimpse into the innovative character and sophistication of the Iron Age cultures that emerged in the eastern Mediterranean following the collapse of the great imperial powers of the Bronze Age at the end of the second millennium BC.”
The head and torso of the human figure, intact to just above its waist, stands approximately 1.5 metres in height, suggesting a total body length of 3.5 to four metres. The figure’s face is bearded, with beautifully preserved inlaid eyes made of white and black stone, and its hair has been coiffed in an elaborate series of curls aligned in linear rows. Both arms are extended forward from the elbow, each with two arm bracelets decorated with lion heads. The figure’s right hand holds a spear, and in its left is a shaft of wheat. A crescent-shaped pectoral adorns its chest. A lengthy Hieroglyphic Luwian inscription, carved in raised relief across its back, records the campaigns and accomplishments of Suppiluliuma, likely the same Patinean king who faced a Neo-Assyrian onslaught of Shalmaneser III as part of a Syrian-Hittite coalition in 858 BC.
The second sculpture is a large semi-circular column base, approximately one metre in height and 90 centimetres in diameter, lying on its side next to the human figure. A winged bull is carved on the front of the column and it is flanked by a sphinx on its left. The right side of the column is flat and undecorated, an indication that it originally stood against a wall. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Alicia M. Cohn||August 10th 2012|
Wikipedia pages for candidates most likely to appear on Mitt Romney’s shortlist for vice president have been locked down as of Wednesday.
"This article is protected due to vandalism," reads the Wikipedia page for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Similarly, pages for Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and even CIA Director David Petraeus are in “semi-protected” mode, preventing edits from unregistered users or users who registered within the last four days.
With anticipation high for the expected announcement by Romney’s campaign — which will come sometime this month, ahead of the GOP convention — TechPresident’s Micah L. Sifry on Monday reported that monitoring the increased number of edits on the Wikipedia entries for various contenders might tip off interested observers. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Francis Reddy||August 9th 2012|
|Artist’s conception of Swift J1644+57 (credit: NASA GSFC)|
Last year, astronomers discovered a quiescent black hole in a distant galaxy that erupted after shredding and consuming a passing star. Now researchers have identified a distinctive X-ray signal observed in the days following the outburst that comes from matter on the verge of falling into the black hole. This tell-tale signal, called a quasi-periodic oscillation (QPO), is a characteristic feature of the accretion disks that often surround the most compact objects in the universe—white dwarf stars, neutron stars and black holes. QPOs have been seen in many stellar-mass black holes, and there is tantalizing evidence for them in a few black holes that may have middleweight masses between 100 and 100,000 times the sun’s.
Until the new finding, QPOs had been detected around only one supermassive black hole—the type containing millions of solar masses and located at the centers of galaxies. That object is the Seyfert-type galaxy REJ 1034+396, which at a distance of 576 million light-years lies relatively nearby. Read more ..
The Biology Edge
|Sonia Furtado Neves||August 9th 2012|
Scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany, have combined the power of two kinds of microscope to produce a 3-dimensional movie of how cells “swallow” nutrients and other molecules by engulfing them. The study, published in Cell, is the first to follow changes in the shape of the cell’s membrane and track proteins thought to influence those changes. It also provides ample data to investigate this essential process further.
This “swallowing,” called endocytosis, is involved in a variety of crucial tasks. It is used by brain cells relaying information to each other, for instance, and is also hijacked by many viruses, which use it to invade their host’s cells. When a cell is about to swallow some molecules, a dent appears in the cell’s membrane, and gradually expands inwards, pinching off to form a little pouch, or vesicle, that transports molecules into the cell. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Russ Choma||August 8th 2012|
Long ago, Earth Day rooted itself in the minds of many Americans as a regular annual event -- not bad for what started 42 years ago as a “teach-in” about the dangers of an industrial economy running amok.
But there have always been opponents to the environmentalist agenda, and on Earth Day 2012, they found that they had their own, modern-day "teach-in" -- a four-and-a-half minute video posted on YouTube.
The slick production, titled “If I Wanted America To Fail,” is a laundry list of libertarian grievances against big government billed as a response to the “economic suicide pact” of environmentalism.
“If I wanted America to fail, I would create countless new regulations and seldom cancel old ones,” says the narrator, black background and foreboding music adding to an apocalyptic tone. “They would be so complicated that only bureaucrats, lawyers and lobbyists could understand them. That way, small businesses with big ideas wouldn’t stand a chance.”
He goes on to mock alternative energy, the public education system and other standards of the left. “If I wanted America to fail, I would prey on the goodness and decency of ordinary Americans,” he concludes. “I would only need to convince them that all of this is for the greater good. If I wanted America to fail, I...I suppose I wouldn't change a thing." Heavily promoted by Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing commentators, the video went viral, racking up 2.3 million views since it debuted. But few, if any, of those millions of viewers understand the complicated web of secretive, densely interwoven political groups from which the video emerged.
While the network is built around nonprofits with vague names and grassroots slogans that imply the participation of many ordinary Americans, it’s primarily the handiwork of one man: Howard Rich.
Rich, 72, made his fortune in Manhattan real estate, but since at least the early 1970s, his passion has been libertarian politics. He decamped from the Libertarian Party in the 1980s to establish his own network of like-minded think-tanks and publishing companies. Rich is also prominently attached to leading national libertarian groups -- he sits on the boards of directors of the Club for Growth and the Cato Institute. Yet he remains a mysterious figure, rarely interviewed and almost always several steps removed from any direct action. Read more ..
Paraguay on Edge
|Eric Stadius||August 8th 2012|
The June 15 clash between police and campesinos in the Paraguayan region of Curuguaty sparked a political crisis that resulted in Fernando Lugo’s impeachment, Paraguay’s removal from both the Mercosur trade bloc and the Unasur customs union, as well as international condemnation. That violent encounter, which left 11 campesinos and six policemen dead, threatened to destabilize the traditional land tenure regime that had been in place in Paraguay since the War of the Triple Alliance in the 1800s. But instead of enacting change, the Curuguaty affair has enabled a return to the traditional power structure of Paraguayan politics, with the historically powerful, but corrupt, Colorado and traditional Liberal parties overthrowing the left-leaning Lugo. For the average Paraguayan, the country is no better off after the impeachment then before: corporations remain more important then the citizenry, political power remains concentrated, and corruption remains culturally ingrained. Regionally, the impeachment has jeopardized Paraguay’s economic standing; Brazil and Argentina removed Paraguay from Mercosur, replacing the soybean-producing country with the oil rich Venezuela. Internationally, the United States has failed to even comment on the impeachment, and by doing so, has implicitly supported the de facto government that was comprised of almost entirely primarily pro-U.S. politicians. For Paraguayans their political crisis nears its end as one more story of arrested development.
Paraguayan society is clearly split between those who possess land and those who do not. As detailed in previous COHA reports, the drastically unequal land concentration dates back to the 1800s and continues today, as roughly 2 percent of the Paraguayan populace still owns 80 percent of the land. For years, the campesinos have attempted to campaign for greater rights, but in recent years “King Soybean” reigned over the Paraguayan government, preventing any reform through corrupt clientele networks. On June 15, this fight turned violent. The political crisis began soon after, sweeping the land tenure issue under the rug. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Diana Lutz||August 8th 2012|
Washington University in St. Louis
|Artist’s conception of sunrise on CoRoT-71b (credit: ESO/L. Calçada)|
In science fiction, evil overlords and hostile aliens often threaten to vaporize the Earth. At the beginning of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the officiously bureaucratic aliens called Vogons, authors of the third-worst poetry in the universe, actually follow through on the threat, destroying the Earth to make way for a hyperspace bypass.
“We scientists are not content just to talk about vaporizing the Earth,” says Bruce Fegley, professor of earth and planetary sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, tongue firmly in cheek. “We want to understand exactly what it would be like if it happened.”
And in fact Fegley, PhD, and his colleagues Katharina Lodders, PhD, a research professor of earth and planetary sciences who is currently on assignment at the National Science Foundation, and Laura Schaefer, currently a graduate student at Harvard University, have vaporized the Earth—if only by simulation, that is mathematically and inside a computer. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Viveca Novak||August 8th 2012|
So far in the 2012 election cycle, the political action committee of TCF Financial
-- a publicly traded holding company that owns Minnesota-based TCF Bank -- has given away $105,500. Most has gone to candidates and party committees. But TCF PAC's largest contribution by far -- nearly a quarter of what it has given away over the last year-and-a-half -- is the $25,000 it gave on May 31 to Americans for Prosperity
, a group founded and funded by David Koch. He's one of the billionaire Koch brothers, mega-funders of the right who convene twice-a-year retreats with other wealthy Republicans to strategize and pledge money to the cause. TCF's pugnacious chairman and CEO Bill Cooper, a former Detroit street cop and head of Minnesota's Republican Party in the late 1990s, has attended at least one of the Kochs' conservative gatherings.
Americans for Prosperity is a 501(c)(4) organization under the framework of the U.S. tax code, which means that it's a nonprofit "social welfare" group allowed to engage in limited political activity. Groups such as these -- Stephen Colbert calls them "spooky PACs" -- don't have to disclose their donors, unlike their more famous cousins, super PACs. Increasingly, they have become the vehicles of choice for donors wanting to give six-, seven- or even eight-figure sums -- anonymously -- to political entities. Read more ..
America and Israel
|Lenny Ben David||August 7th 2012|
Cutting Edge Commentator
|Old City synagogue similar to the one described by Seward, ca. 1900.|
William H. Seward served as President Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State. On the night of Lincoln’s assassination Seward was attacked in his home by one of Booth’s co-conspirators and was seriously wounded. But he survived, and in 1871, traveled the world and visited Jerusalem where he described the population, visited the “Wailing Wall,” and even participated in Friday night services, apparently at the Hurva synagogue.
His 1859 visit to Jerusalem may have sparked an interest in President Lincoln to visit the Holy Land, evidenced in Mary Todd Lincoln’s statement to the pastor presiding at Lincoln’s funeral that her husband said “he wanted to visit the Holy Land and see those places hallowed by the footprints of the Saviour. He was saying there was no city he so much desired to see as Jerusalem.”
Below are excerpts from Seward’s 788-page book Travels around the World, interspersed with my comments.
June 13, 1871: “Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following.” [Psalms]
We have done so, and we have found it neither a short nor an easy promenade. The city occupies two ridges of a mountain promontory, with the depression or valley between them. The walls of the modern Turkish city have been so contracted with the decrease of the population, as to exclude large portions of the, ancient city. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Amie Parnes and Justin Sink||August 7th 2012|
The Obama campaign sought to downplay fundraising expectations on Monday as some top donors expressed exasperation that the president had been outraised for the third month in a row by Mitt Romney’s campaign.
“We know we will be outspent, that’s just the reality, ” Jen Psaki, a spokesperson for the Obama campaign told reporters as the president traveled to Connecticut for two high-dollar fundraisers — including one by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein — estimated to bring in $2 million. Psaki said the campaign’s focus is on having the resources and tools needed to “build the biggest grassroots campaign in history,” and she downplayed any disadvantages Obama’s campaign might suffer from weaker fundraising.
But some donors for President Obama’s reelection bid expressed frustration on Monday that the campaign needed to be more competitive. “I keep telling people we need to step it up a bit,” said one longtime Obama donor. “Now’s the time. Not two months from now.
“We’re still winning in the overall game but we can’t be complacent,” the donor added. “We need to keep throwing in more money.” Read more ..
Mexico on Edge
|Kent Paterson||August 6th 2012|
Fed up with deepening economic and security problems, Mexican truckers conducted convoy protests that brought traffic to a crawl on some of the nation’s highways this week. Thousands of independent truckers affiliated with the Mexican Alliance of Transporter Organizations (AMOTAC) participated in actions in at least 12 states.
Frustrated by earlier negotiations with federal officials, the truckers demanded a halt to the monthly price increases of diesel fuel, an end to extra-weight hauling by bigger competitors, the return of trucks confiscated by tax authorities, financial support for the small trucking sector, and a transfer of the highway division of the Federal Police from the Federal Secretariat of Public Safety to the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation (SCT). They also objected to expensive highway tolls, taxes and a host of other current policies.
“The (authorities) do not want to address the demands of the sector,” charged Lauro Rincon Hernandez, an AMOTAC regional coordinator in the state of Veracruz. “The July 31 meeting was not fruitful. That’s why we decided to do this protest, and because we’ve had enough of the abuse.” Read more ..
America and Iran
|David Crist and James Jeffrey||August 6th 2012|
Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the United States and Iran have been engaged in a twilight war involving parallel campaigns of espionage, covert action, and military action. Although the deep-seated distrust between the two governments has been heightened by the crisis over Tehran’s nuclear program, this is only one of many issues dividing them. As a result, even if the two sides are able to resolve the nuclear issue diplomatically, the next major U.S. war will still likely be against Iran. In addition, any conflict sparked by Iranian aggression would likely emerge quickly—it would be a “come as you are war” involving armed forces already on hand in the region, so the United States would not have the luxury of gradually flowing forces into the area as it has in the past. Therefore, Washington needs to maintain a robust presence in the Persian Gulf region to counter long-term hostilities and confrontations with Iran.
The history of the U.S.-Iran relationship is one of missed opportunities: when one side was ready for a rapprochement, the other was not, and vice versa. On several occasions, Iranian interlocutors offered what some in Washington thought were “grand bargains,” but such initiatives were of dubious provenance. In particular, the famous 2003 trial balloon was more likely motivated by Tehran’s desire to stall and to avert a possible U.S. invasion, with the idea of opening negotiations and giving the appearance of progress, but without addressing the fundamental divide between the two nations. Read more ..
Uzbekistan on Edge
|Farangis Najibullah ||August 6th 2012|
Some call it the "House of Torture," others the "Place of No Return." Officially, it is Jaslyk prison -- the worst of the worst in a country whose penal system is notorious for harsh conditions and mistreatment of prisoners. Uttering the name conjures images of fear and horror, fed by stories of prisoners being boiled alive and bodies of deceased inmates being returned to their families bearing horrific scars and bruises.
Former inmates recall gruesome methods of torture being employed at Jaslyk, including electric shocks, sexual assault, the pulling out of prisoners' fingernails, and long stints of solitary confinement without food or drink. "I don't know which is worse -- Jaslyk or Nazi concentration camps during World War II," says Yusuf Juma, an Uzbek poet and dissident who spent three years at the remote prison facility.
"Jaslyk is nothing less than a death camp. It feels like there is no limit to the cruelty the prison officers there are capable of," recalls the poet, who was imprisoned in 2007 after he challenged President Karimov's right to run for a new term in office. "Every month, they would keep me in solitary confinement for 15 days. Another 15 days of each month I would spend in another facility in the town of Nukus, some 500 kilometers away," Juma says. "They would transfer me there in a small iron box -- too small to sit, too small to stand up. And it was a bumpy road and my head would bang against iron. There wasn't enough air to breathe." Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Meghashyam Mali||August 5th 2012|
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney unveiled a new television ad on Sunday hitting President Obama for not visiting Israel while in office and calling Jerusalem the country’s capital. The ad titled “Cherished relationship” opens with a voiceover asking “Who shares your values?”
“As President, Barack Obama has never visited Israel and refuses to recognize Jerusalem as its capital,” the ad says. “Mitt Romney will be a different kind of president—a strong leader who stands by our allies. He knows America holds a deep and cherished relationship with Israel.”
The video shows clips from Romney’s visit last weekend to Israel, part of his six-day three country overseas trip.
“We speak the same language of freedom and justice,” says Romney in a video clip of an address he delivered in Jerusalem. “And like the U.S.,” the ad continues, “Israel respects the rights of people of all religions.” The ad then shows a clip of Romney visiting the Western Wall. Read more ..
Mali on Edge
|Lisa Schlein||August 5th 2012|
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Antonio Guterres, says conflict in northern Mali is aggravating the humanitarian crisis in the Sahel and posing a serious threat to regional and global security. According to a UNHCR report, the conflict in northern Mali has internally displaced more than 200,000 and driven more than a quarter-million refugees into neighboring countries, compounding the situation in West Africa's Sahel region, where some 18 million people are going hungry, more than a million of whom are acutely malnourished children. While the world community focused on Syria, Guterres says, it ignores the deteriorating situation in Mali at its peril.
"If proper humanitarian assistance is not provided and if a political solution is not found, the risk of this conflict to go far beyond Mali is, in my opinion, enormous, and the implications are very serious for the whole region," he said, explaining that al-Qaida's presence in northern Mali and other countries in the region could also exacerbate crises in Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, and even Yemen. Read more ..
France on Edge
|Martin Barillas||August 4th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
Paris was rocked by mob violence overnight on July 31 and August 1 when hoodie-wearing youths set a bus on fire on Pablo Picasso Avenue in Nanterre, a western suburb of Paris, following hours of confrontations with police. The bus was burned to the ground near the intersection of Pablo Picasso Avenue and Fontenelles Street, leaving the pavement charred. According to local press, an eyewitness said of the torching, “This neighborhood. It’s no longer possible! In what kind of world do we live?”
It was shortly before midnight when a group of hooded youths blocked the bus travelling with passengers in the Parisian suburbs. The young men forced the driver and passengers to disembark, and then torched the bus after having primed the flames with gasoline.
Observers theorize that the assailants were acting in sympathy with Kamel Hakkar, a Muslim man who police had been seeking for days on a charge of aggravated assault. Approached by four police officers at approximately 8 PM on July 31, Hakkar resisted arrest and took refuge in a ‘taxiphone’ telephone shop. Read more ..
|John Zimmer||August 4th 2012|
From RT and Agencies
Holding a baseball bat in your hand while talking on the phone about a delicate international issue means you really like the person you are talking to. At least, so says the President of the United States. The White House scrambled to explain the meaning behind a photo it posted online of President Obama holding a wooden club associated with either a popular American sport or mob violence, depending on personal preferences. Obama held the bat as he chatted on the phone with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday. The two were discussing the ongoing violence in Syria, in which both America and Turkey are backing the anti-regime opposition forces.
Reporters bombarded White House secretary Jay Carney on Monday with questions over possible hidden meanings in the photo of the bat-wielding Obama. Carney explained the photo by saying the president was a baseball fan and avid supporter of the Chicago White Sox. Turkish politicians were quick to seize on the picture and level harsh criticism at Turkey’s head of government. Read more ..
The Defense Edge
|R. Jeffery Smith||August 3rd 2012|
Behind doors that can be opened only by spins of a combination lock or an electronic scan of fingerprints or eyeballs, Defense Department officials periodically work out the details of America’s plans to drop nuclear explosives on aggressive enemies.
Not many outsiders get to peer in, particularly those dispatched from another branch of government, like Congress. But twice in the past 20 years, a few analysts at the Government Accountability Office have been allowed to get a rough sense from closed-door Pentagon briefings — not from actual documents — of the conditions and manner in which the United States could detonate its nuclear bombs.
The resulting reports to Congress have been highly classified, so they don’t offer much to a broader audience. An unclassified version, released July 31, says virtually nothing about what’s actually in the U.S. nuclear war plan. It is, in fact, even shorter and less detailed than its sketchy 1991 predecessor. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Zachary Lichaa||August 2nd 2012|
Days after returning from Israel where he declared Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital and donors pledged $1 million to his campaign for the White House, Mitt Romney has formed a Jewish American coalition to bolster his bid for the presidency.
“The Jewish community has made contributions to American society that stand in amazing disproportion to its numbers, and I am genuinely honored to have so many of its leading thinkers, diplomats, and political leaders support my campaign,” Romney said in a note to reporters on Wendesday. “Having just visited Israel at a critical juncture in the history of the Middle East, I am persuaded that now, more than ever, America needs to stand with Israel.”
Congressman Eric Cantor, the highest ranking Jewish member of Congress in U.S. history, will serve as one of the coalition’s honorary chairmen.
“Governor Romney understands that peace in the Middle East will only be achieved when Israel is secure within its borders and not the target of violence fueled by senseless hatred,” Cantor wrote in the coalition’s opening statement. “He will leave no stone unturned in the effort to keep Israel secure.” Read more ..
|Abigail Klein Leichman||August 1st 2012|
Runway debris costs about $14 billion in damages yearly. That’s why the FAA likes an Israeli system to detect birds and metal fragments 24/7. Debris on runways causes an estimated $14 billion in direct and indirect damages every year. Lots of people complain about airplane food, but what about FOD?
That acronym, which stands for “foreign object debris,” refers to stuff on the runway – birds, small animals and fragments that break off planes – causing far more dangerous problems than rubbery rolls on your dinner tray.
The Israeli company XSight Systems has swooped in to prevent harm in a unique way that’s already been adopted at international airports in Boston, Paris, Bangkok and Tel Aviv.
Using integrated radar and electro-optical sensors in a fixed installation on the runway, XSight’s FODetect system “was able to detect the objects of various shapes, sizes, and materials on runway surfaces and perform satisfactorily in nighttime, daytime, sun, rain, mist, fog, and snow conditions,” according to a US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) report issued in June. Read more ..
Lebanon on Edge
|Barry Rubin and William Harris||August 1st 2012|
Barry Rubin interviewed William Harris, professor of politics at the University of Otago in New Zealand, one of the world’s leading experts on Lebanon and Syria, and author of Lebanon: A History, 600–2011.
BR: You’ve just written a comprehensive history of Lebanon. What makes Lebanon a unique country and what are its most important special features?
WH: Lebanon contains virtually the full religious diversity of the Arab world in a space the size of Connecticut. Christian, Muslim, and Islamic-derived sectarian communities with histories going back to early Medieval times are the principal identity markers in the country. The balance is unique: Sunni and Twelver Shia Muslims are about 30 percent each; Christians (all Christian sects) are approximately 35 percent; and Druze (an offshoot of Isma’ili Shia Islam) are 5 percent.
Nowhere else do Sunni, Shia, and Christians come together in such equivalence, and the demographic standoff is expressed in a unique multi-communal political system of defined shares in government, parliament, and bureaucracy for each sectarian group. The system worked best in the 1960s and has decayed in the subsequent decades of turbulence, but Lebanese remain more accustomed to freedoms than any other Arabs. Read more ..
The Edge of Space
|Richard Hook||August 1st 2012|
European Southern Obervatory
|Artist’s Conception of a Vampire Star and its Victim|
(credit: ESO/L. Calçada/S.E. de Mink)
The Universe is a diverse place, and many stars are quite unlike the Sun. An international team has used the VLT to study what are known as O-type stars, which have very high temperature, mass, and brightness. These stars have short and violent lives and play a key role in the evolution of galaxies. They are also linked to extreme phenomena such as “vampire stars”, where a smaller companion star sucks matter off the surface of its larger neighbour, and gamma-ray bursts. Most stars are classified according to their spectral type, or colour. This in turn is related to the stars’ mass and surface temperature. From bluest (and hence hottest and highest mass) to reddest (and hence coolest and lowest mass), the most common classification sequence is O, B, A, F, G, K and M. Our sun is a G-type.
“These stars are absolute behemoths,” says Hugues Sana (University of Amsterdam, Netherlands), the lead author of the study. “They have 15 or more times the mass of our Sun and can be up to a million times brighter. These stars are so hot that they shine with a brilliant blue-white light and have surface temperatures over 30,000° Celsius.” Read more ..
The Medical Edge
From RT and Agencies
The Pentagon’s DARPA lab has announced a milestone, but it doesn’t involve drones or death missiles. Scientists at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency say they’ve produced 10 million doses of an influenza vaccine in only one month’s time.
In a press release out of the agency’s office this week, scientists with DARPA say they’ve reach an important step in being able to combat a flu pandemic that might someday decimate the Earth’s population. By working with the Medicago Inc. vaccine company, the Pentagon’s cutting edge research lab says that they’ve used a massive harvest of tobacco plants to help produce a plethora of flu-fighting vaccines.
“Testing confirmed that a single dose of the H1N1 VLP influenza vaccine candidate induced protective levels of hemagglutinin antibodies in an animal model when combined with a standard aluminum adjuvant,” the agency writes, while still noting, though, that “The equivalent dose required to protect humans from natural disease can only be determined by future, prospective clinical trials.”
Researchers have before relied on using chicken eggs to harvest compounds to use in influenza vaccines. With a future outbreak requiring scientists to step up with a solution as soon as possible, though, they’ve turned to tobacco plants to help produce the vaccines. Read more ..
The Defense Edge
|Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI)|
What many intelligence, military and law enforcement officials believe is an out-and-out scandal and one of the most important issues facing this nation -- the intentional leaking of classified intelligence for political purposes -- received short shrift by members of the news media on Sunday's national news shows.
National security and homeland security officials in the Obama administration should be outraged at the number of incidents in which "secrets are thrown around like confetti at a parade," according to an intelligence source who spoker on the condition of anonymity.
"There are significant questions about the role of the White House with regard to the widespread disclosure of sensitive national security information," said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) on July 29. Rogers serves as the Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The Committee is the House’s primary panel responsible for authorizing the funding for and overseeing the execution of the intelligence activities of the various intelligence agencies or the intelligence-gathering components of the military and federal law enforcement. Read more ..
Mexico on Edge
|Kent Paterson||July 30th 2012|
In February 2006, as the presidential election campaign unfolded in Mexico, an explosion at a Grupo Mexico coal mine in the northern border state of Coahuila ominously presaged what would turn out to be a tumultuous year in the country’s history. Although relatives of the Pasta de Conchos miners demanded the recovery of the bodies of loved ones who died in the methane gas blast, the remains of 63 of the 65 men who perished stayed trapped underground.
Now, more than six years later and at a time when Mexico is undergoing yet another conflict-ridden presidential transition, miners keep prematurely joining their brothers in the tombs of coal-rich Coahuila. Last week, sadness gripped the town of Palau, as thousands of people buried seven miners who were killed in a July 25 methane gas explosion in a nearby coal pit located in the municipality of Muzquiz.
“Palau is in mourning,” said Amalia Gutierrez Romo, neighbor of two miners killed on July 25. “We ask the authorities to pay more attention to our region. We don't have other sources of employment and safety in the mines is increasingly lacking,” Gutierrez was quoted. “Our husbands, sons and fathers all go to work every day with the blessing of God, but we don’t know if they will return home.” Read more ..
|Julian Pecquet||July 30th 2012|
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday slammed House Republicans who suggested one of her top aides has links to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement, saying there is “no place in our politics” for such “assaults.”
Clinton was marking the release of the State Department's annual report on religious freedom around the world when she was asked to comment about the allegations against her deputy chief of staff, Huma Abedin. Five House Republicans have asked the State Department's deputy inspector general to probe Abedin's alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, a request that has been condemned by some leaders of their own party.
“Leaders have to be active in stepping in and sending messages about protecting the diversity within their countries,” Clinton said at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “We did see some of that in our own country. We saw Republicans stepping up and standing up against the kind of assaults that really have no place in our politics.”
Clinton has mostly kept silent about the allegations, although State Department spokesman Philippe Reines has previously denounced them as "nothing but vicious and disgusting lies,” adding that “anyone who traffics in them should be ashamed of themselves.”
The House members who made the allegations — Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) — have doubled down, accusing the media of focusing solely on Abedin instead of the broader risk of Islamist infiltration of government. The remarks have been criticized by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who took to the Senate floor to denounce the accusations as "specious and degrading attacks." Read more ..
The Olympics on Edge
|Selah Hennessy||July 29th 2012|
The organizing committee of the London Olympic Games has said unfilled seats at competitions may go to the military, teachers and students. There have been complaints about empty seats during the opening days of the 2012 Games. The sight of empty seats at Olympic sports venues is a sensitive issue after hundreds of thousands of people failed to get tickets in an initial public lottery.
London Organizing Committee Chairman Sebastian Coe says tickets are being distributed to soldiers and others to fill those seats. He said no one would object to free tickets for public servants."If the military are there, I do not think there is single person out there that thinks it is shambolic asking the military, given the way they have stepped up to the plate in the last few weeks, if they are in a rest period, whether they would like to watch sport. I do not think it is shambolic to ask local teachers and students, that we had always planned to do this anyway, whether they want to come in and see some of that sport and this is fine. This is not something that we should be extrapolating dramatically from the first day of an Olympic Games," he said. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
During a visit Sunday to Israel, the man expected to be the Republican Party nominee for U.S. president, Mitt Romney, said it is “unacceptable” for Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.
It was during an appearance with Israeli President Shimon Peres that Romney made his statement on Iran.
"We are very concerned about the development of nuclear capacity on the part of Iran and feel it is unacceptable for Iran to become a nuclear armed nation. The threat it would pose to Israel, to the region and to the world is incomparable and unacceptable."
The former Massachusetts governor is in the middle of a trip to Britain, Israel and Poland that analysts say is intended in part to demonstrate some expertise in foreign policy. In his public comments in Israel, he did not go as far as his foreign policy adviser Dan Senor, who told reporters that, if elected president, Romney would not try to stop Israel from attacking Iran's nuclear sites. Read more ..
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has frozen the assets of traders who allegedly made over $13 million in “illegal profits” from this week’s announcement that CNOOC Ltd., a big Chinese oil company, is buying Canadian oil producer Nexen Inc. The SEC won a court order Friday targeting the traders who, operating through accounts in Hong Kong and Singapore, allegedly used confidential information ahead of the deal’s announcement to stockpile shares of Nexen stock, which soared in value when the acquisition plan went public July 23.
In a complaint filed Friday in New York, the SEC alleges Hong Kong-based Well Advantage Ltd., and other unknown traders using accounts in Singapore, engaged in “highly suspicious and highly profitable” trading in Nexen stock that rose by about 52 percent in value after the proposed $15 billion acquisition was announced.
The SEC complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York alleges that “each Defendant purchased Nexen stock while in the possession of material, nonpublic information concerning CNOOC's proposed acquisition of Nexen.” Read more ..
Russia on Edge
|Brian Whitmore||July 27th 2012|
|Lev Ponomaryov protesting in defense of Article 31, August 2009|
(credit: Ilya Varlamov)
Lev Ponomaryov has decided to just say no—and he’s not alone. The head of the advocacy group For Human Rights announced this weekend that it would refuse to comply with a new law signed by President Vladimir Putin requiring NGOs receiving funds from abroad to register as “foreign agents” and subject themselves to extensive state scrutiny. “We are declaring a campaign of civil disobedience to laws that have been passed in violation of the Russian Constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights, and other conventions that Russia has signed,” Ponomaryov told Interfax.
“We will never be [foreign] agents and will not obey this law. We are agents of Russian citizens. We will continue to receive foreign grants and will speak about this openly.” And Ponomaryov indicated that he has no illusions about what such defiance might mean. “The government will take measures against us, and we will oppose this by using legal methods, like going to courts, including the Constitutional Court. Then the government will somehow close us down, but this will be the government’s decision,” he said. Read more ..
|Avi Jorisch||July 27th 2012|
Cutting Edge Commentator
The $28 million fine levied by Mexican regulators against HSBC’s Mexico subsidiary announced on Wednesday is just the latest—but possibly not be the last—blow to hit the London-based bank for its failure to counter money laundering. Mexico’s National Securities and Banking Commission said the fine, about half the subsidiary’s 2011 profits, had been paid.
HSBC’s failure to act adequately in various countries, but particularly Mexico, to counter money laundering through its network was at the heart of a recent US investigation of the bank that could lead it to being fined up to $1 billion by US authorities.
Last week, HSBC issued an apology and its head of compliance resigned following disclosures by lawmakers in Washington that the bank had failed to implement anti-money-laundering procedures and had facilitated illicit Iranian transactions, terrorist activity, and drug proliferation around the world. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Michael Beckel||July 26th 2012|
Republican-aligned super PACs have benefited from far more corporate cash than their Democratic counterpartsca revenue stream created in the wake of the controversial Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision two years ago.
The top two super PACs—the pro-Mitt Romney Restore Our Future and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads—have raised nearly $24 million in contributions from companies so far this election cycle, an analysis has found. Donors include hedge funds, energy companies, dietary supplement makers, and even a popcorn manufacturer.
The list includes a handful of Fortune 500 and other publicly traded corporations, but donors are more likely to be privately held businesses, often organized as limited partnerships or limited liability companies. Read more ..
Afganistan on Edge
|Frud Bezhan||July 26th 2012|
The heat is scorching, and the hours-long wait arduous, but it is a price worth paying for the long line of angry customers standing outside the headquarters of Afghanistan's national power company.
The bearded man who heads the line, Abdul Hadi, is there to complain about the "crazy" electricity bill he received this month. Hadi knows what to expect -- he went through the same thing with the company, Breshna Sherkat, just weeks earlier and ended up paying a bribe. Now a veteran of the game, he is sure he is being deliberately overcharged by unscrupulous employees keen on making some money on the side.
Afghanistan's status of one of the world's most corrupt countries is well-documented and features prominently in high-level discussion about foreign investment in the country. Lost in the shuffle, however, is the extent to which corruption permeates all levels Afghan society. Whether ensuring that they have a steady stream of electricity, acquiring identification, or dealing with judicial authorities, ordinary citizens have reluctantly come to accept bribery as an unavoidable cost of life. Read more ..
Iran on Edge
|Michael Rubin||July 26th 2012|
The Islamic Revolution has from its victory in 1979 been a work in progress. Revolutionaries were united in their opposition to the Shah, but had no consensus on what Islamic society and culture meant. Revolutionary authorities have always paid special attention to the universities. The revolution was carried on the back of student unrest, and it was hardline students who seized the U.S. embassy nine months after Ayatollah Khomeini’s return. Upon seizing the reins of power, revolutionary authorities sought to implement a cultural revolution in the universities to purge them of Western influence. Revolutions evolve, however, and as Iran rebuilt after the Iran-Iraq War, universities became incubators for the reformist movement.
When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005 he sought to revive traditional revolutionary values. Indeed, what many Western analysts call ‘hardliners,’ Iranians call ‘principalists,’ meaning those who reach back to the principles of the Islamic Revolution. Read more ..
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