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Paraguay on Edge

The Paraguay Imbroglio: A Disconcerting Endgame

August 8th 2012

Fernando Lugo

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

Vaporizing the (Super-)Earth

August 8th 2012

Sunrise on CoRoT-71b
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

Midwestern Bank PAC Funds Kochs' Americans for Prosperity

August 8th 2012

Money Money Money

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

William H. Seward’s Visit to Jerusalem, 1871

August 7th 2012

Synagogue, Old Jerusalem, ca. 1900
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

Obama Campaign Confident about Fundraising Gap

August 7th 2012

Obama with baseball bat

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

Aggrieved Mexican Truckers Bring Highway Traffic to a Standstill

August 6th 2012

Mexican traffic jam

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

The Twilight War: The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran

August 6th 2012

Iran-US Hatred

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

The Uzbek House of Torture

August 6th 2012

Prison bars

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.

Electric Shocks

"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

New Romney TV Ad Hits Obama on Israel

August 5th 2012

Romney in Jerusalem 7-31-12

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

Mali Conflict Poses Global Threat, UN HighCom Wrans

August 5th 2012

Mali Refugees

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

Hoodie-Wearing Youths Burn a Bus after an Orgy of Violence in Paris

August 4th 2012

Nanterre bus

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 ..


Turks see Red in Obama’s Dubious Photo Holding Bat

August 4th 2012

Obama with baseball bat

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

U.S. Nuclear Targeting Unaltered Since 2008

August 3rd 2012

Bomb blast

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

Romney Creates American-Jewish Coalition

August 2nd 2012

mitt romney

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 ..


Travel Safe

Have a Safe Flight, Thanks to Israel's Xsight

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

Lebanon: Fractured Past, Bleak Present

August 1st 2012

Beirut Ruins

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

The Brightest Stars Don’t Live Alone

August 1st 2012

Vampire star and victim
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

DARPA's Blue Angel - Pentagon Prepares Vaccines by Millions against Future Global Flu

July 31st 2012

blood test

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

Damaging Intelligence Leaks Apparently Don't Concern Obama White House

July 30th 2012

Rep Mike Rogers
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

Mexico's Miners Organize to Fight Unsafe Conditions and Child Labor

July 30th 2012

mexican miner

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 ..


Broken Government

Clinton Slams House GOP Letter Suggesting Aide Has Islamist Ties

July 30th 2012

Hilary Clinton

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

Vacant Olympic Seats to Be Filled by Military, Teachers

July 29th 2012

London Olympics

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

Romney Says 'Unacceptable' for Iran to Get Nuclear Weapon

July 29th 2012

mitt romney

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 ..


Oil Addiction

Inside Traders Reaped Millions on China Firm's Oil Deal

July 28th 2012

One Million Dollars

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

Advocacy Groups Choose Civil Disobedience over New NGO Law

July 27th 2012

Lev Ponomaryov protesting 2009-08-31
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 ..


Broken Banking

HSBC Nightmares and Money Laundering Dreams

July 27th 2012

HSBC

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

Big Business Prefers GOPs’ Super PACs to Democrats’

July 26th 2012

Mitt Romney expansive

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

Corruption A Cost Of Life For Ordinary Afghans

July 26th 2012

International Currency 3

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

Iran Expands Gender Segregation in Universities

July 26th 2012

Iran students

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 ..


The Edge of Space

Building a Middleweight Black Hole

July 25th 2012

Black hole pulling gas from nearby star
Artist’s conception of black hole pulling gas from a star
(credit: NASA E/PO, Sonoma State University, Aurore Simonnet)

A new model shows how an elusive type of black hole can be formed in the gas surrounding their supermassive counterparts. In research published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, scientists from the American Museum of Natural History, the City University of New York, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology, and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics propose that intermediate-mass black holes—light-swallowing celestial objects with masses ranging from hundreds to many thousands of times the mass of the Sun—can grow in the gas disks around supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies. The physical mechanism parallels the model astrophysicists use to describe the growth of giant planets in the gas disks surrounding stars.

“We know about small black holes, which tend to be close to us and have masses a few to 10 times that of our Sun, and we know about supermassive black holes, which are found in the centers of galaxies and have a mass that’s millions to billions of times the mass of the sun,” said coauthor Saavik Ford, who is a research associate in the Museum’s Department of Astrophysics as well as a professor at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), part of the City University of New York (CUNY), and a faculty member at CUNY’s Graduate Center. “But we have no evidence for the middle stage. Intermediate-mass black holes are much harder to find.” Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Dark Energy and the Fate of the Universe

July 24th 2012

NGC 1097 Spiral Galaxy
Credit: Ann Feild, NASA/STScI

Dark energy makes up about 70 percent of the current content of the Universe and thus holds the ultimate fate of our Universe. Several possible scenarios are possible depending on the properties of dark energy; one is that the Universe will end in a so-called big rip.

This interesting topic was recently explored by five researchers from the University of Science and Technology of China, the Institute of Theoretical Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Northeastern University, and Peking University. Their work, “Dark energy and fate of the Universe,” was published in Sci China-Phys Mech Astron.

For millennia, human beings have been pondering two ultimate questions: “Where do we come from?” and "Where are we going?” Over that time, these questions have spurred theological and philosophical debate. Thanks to the rapid development of modern cosmology in the past three decades, scientists nowadays have obtained some important clues to answer these questions. The standard “inflation plus hot big bang” framework has been developed to explain the origin of the Universe. However, to forecast the destiny of the Universe, researchers have realized that the nature of dark energy is key. Read more ..


London Olympics

BBC Removes Israel's Capital for Olympic Coverage

July 24th 2012

London Olympics

In a letter to a BBC viewer who complained about the network’s omission of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on a list of countries scheduled to participate in this summer’s Olympic games, the British broadcaster says it chose to amend their list, in part, due to “online lobby activity”. After listing Palestine’s capital as East Jerusalem, and leaving blank the space where Israel’s capital was supposed to be placed, the BBC changed their list to note Jerusalem as Israel’s “seat of government”, while informing readers that Tel Aviv is where most embassies operating inside Israel are located.

Responding to a viewer’s complaint about Israel receiving unfair treatment by the British outlet, the BBC responded in a letter. “We feel it is worth explaining that a considerable number of complaints have been generated by online lobby activity,” the letter, which was uncovered by a blog called Guido Fawkes, reads. The broadcaster is being asked to identify which “online lobby” they’re referring to. The outlet’s omission of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and their amendment thereafter, led to a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman, notifying the BBC of the government’s ongoing concern. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Ancient Meteorites Give New Clues about the Early Solar System

July 23rd 2012

Johnstown meteorte showing diogenites
Johnstown meteorite showing diogenites (credit: Jon Taylor)

In order to understand Earth’s earliest history—its formation from Solar System material to the present-day layering of metal core and mantle, and crust—scientists look to meteorites. New research from a team including Carnegie’s Doug Rumble and Liping Qin focuses on one particularly old type of meteorite called diogenites. These samples were examined using an array of techniques, including precise analysis of certain elements for important clues to some of the Solar System’s earliest chemical processing. Their work is published in July in Nature Geoscience.

At some point after terrestrial planets or large bodies accreted from surrounding Solar System material, they differentiated into a metallic core, asilicate mantle, and a crust. This involved a great deal of heating. The sources of this heat are the decay of short-lived radioisotopes; the energy conversion that occurs when dense metals are physically separated from lighter silicate; and the impact of large objects. Studies indicate that the Earth’s and Moon’s mantles may have formed more than 4.4 billion years ago, and Mars’s more than 4.5 billion years ago. Theoretically, when a planet or large body differentiates enough to form a core, certain elements including osmium, iridium, ruthenium, platinum, palladium, and rhenium—known as highly siderophile (iron-lovng) elements—are segregated into the core. Read more ..


The Water's Edge

'Caffeinated' Coastal Waters Discovered--Sewer Overflows, Septic Tanks Suspected

July 23rd 2012

Ocean

A new study finds elevated levels of caffeine at several sites in Pacific Ocean waters off the coast of Oregon—though not necessarily where researchers expected. This study is the first to look at caffeine pollution off the Oregon coast. It was developed and conducted by Portland State University master's student Zoe Rodriguez del Rey and her faculty adviser Elise Granek, assistant professor of Environmental Science and Management, in collaboration with Steve Sylvester of Washington State University, Vancouver. In spring 2010, Rodriguez del Rey and Granek collected and analyzed samples from 14 coastal locations and seven adjacent water bodies as far north as Astoria, Ore., and as far south as Brookings.

Locations were identified as potentially polluted if they were near wastewater treatment plants, large population centers or rivers and streams emptying into the ocean. The study found high caffeine levels near Carl Washburne State Park (Florence, Ore.) and Cape Lookout, two areas not near the potential pollution sources, yet low levels of caffeine near large population centers like Astoria/Warrenton and Coos Bay. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Voters Blame President Obama for Wrong Economic Policies

July 23rd 2012

PBObama contemplative

The poll, conducted for The Hill by Pulse Opinion Research, found 53 percent of voters say Obama has taken the wrong actions and has slowed the economy down. Forty-two percent said he has taken the right actions to revive the economy, while six percent said they were not sure.

Obama has argued throughout the presidential campaign that his policies have made the economy better. He says recovery is taking a long time because he inherited such deep economic trouble upon taking office in 2009.

“The problems we’re facing right now have been more than a decade in the making,” he told an audience last month in Cleveland.

Obama’s campaign, under the slogan “Forward,” has sought to steer voter attention less toward current and past economic performance and more toward questions about Republican Mitt Romney’s work in the private sector economy. It has launched attacks on the challenger’s role as head of the private equity firm Bain Capital, casting him as a jobs “outsourcer” whose firm shipped thousands of U.S. positions overseas.

The Hill Poll, however, shows the extent to which voters hold Obama responsible for the economy and reveals his vulnerability should the election become primarily a referendum on his economic management. Read more ..


The Edge of Physics

Is There Another Higgs Boson Out There?

July 22nd 2012

Tired, and rushing to meet a looming deadline,  Dr. Pierre Savard and his colleagues didn’t realize what they’d found when they first came across a particle that looked a lot like the long-sought-after Higgs boson.

But it didn’t take long for them to realize their hard work had paid off. “When we looked at it, we kind of saw it,” Savard says. “It was unbelievable.” The University of Toronto  professor belongs to ATLAS, one of two teams tasked with finding whether the mystery subatomic particle – which is believed to give all objects mass ­- actually exists. The team’s excitement about finding the new particle grew when it discovered the second team, CMS, had found virtually the same thing.

“It’s a big thing.  Essentially, it’s as if we discovered a new fundamental force of nature,” Savard says. “So we know about, for instance, electromagnetism, electricity and magnetism. We know about gravity… but now we’ve found something new and it also plays a key role in our current theory for how we understand how matter interacts with particles and forces. It’s a big deal.” Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Putin Signs NGO 'Foreign Agents' Law

July 22nd 2012

Putin

The Kremlin press service reports that President Vladimir Putin has signed into law a controversial bill that requires nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) which receive funding from abroad to register with the Justice Ministry as "foreign agents." The law, which was cleared by the upper house of parliament and the Federation Council earlier in July, tightens control on the foreign-funded NGOs by compelling them to file detailed quarterly financial reports on their actitivies to Russian authorities every quarter. And it makes it possible for targeted NGOs to be subjected to regular and unannounced inspections.
 
Violations of the law are punishable by sizeable financial penalties or potential imprisonment. The bill has caused huge concern among activists who fear it will be used to stigmatise NGOs critical of government activities or policies. Observers have noted that the term "foreign agent" is synonymous with espionage for many in Russia and other nations. Yuri Dzhibladze, president of the Democracy Development and Human Rights Center, stated that he considered the law "anticonstitutional."
Read more ..

Skin and Bone

Abusing the “Gift” of Tissue Donation

July 21st 2012

X-ray showing leg bones replaced by PVC pipe

Mandi Eisenbeis stood over her dad. It was a Thursday in May 2011 when she said her private good-byes at a funeral parlor in Lodi, Calif. George “Randy” Eisenbeis had died young, felled at age 57 by a methamphetamine overdose.

As she looked at him lying in the coffin, she noticed his hands were oozing blood. Eisenbeis didn’t know what had happened until later, when she learned the funeral director had sent a scathing complaint to the California Transplant Donor Network, the nonprofit organ and tissue bank that had stripped out Randy Eisenbeis’s usable parts. “To say this was simply a ‘hack job’ would be a compliment,” Lodi Funeral Home’s Michael Collins wrote in a letter accompanied by a series of graphic photos of the torn-apart corpse. “I guess we should consider ourselves lucky that you left his head and his hands for viewing, and yes, that is his severed foot in the photo to the bottom left of the embalming table.”

In March the family sued the California organ bank, accusing it of fraud, mutilation of a corpse, and infliction of emotional distress. Read more ..


Skin and Bone

Global Trade of Human Parts—With Little Tracking

July 21st 2012

Meshed human skin
Human skin, meshed for grafting (credit: Mar Cabra)

The Kentucky man died in an off-road vehicle accident last year. His liver and kidneys helped save three dying patients in his home state. Musculoskeletal grafts taken from his heart, skin and bones were used in medical products used to improve the lives of 15 people around the country.

But soon after the transplants, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) learned the organ recipients had contracted hepatitis C. It turned out the Kentucky donor had a history of substance abuse and had served prison time. The tissue bank that recycled his remains, the CDC said, had screwed up the usual testing done to verify that tissues and organs were safe.

The CDC’s Office of Blood, Organ, and Other Tissue Safety deployed a team of “shoe-leather epidemiologists” to track down the tissue before someone else got sick. Unlike hearts and other organs—or blood products that come with a unique barcode—there’s no easy way to track tissue. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Pregnant Woman Killed In Burgas Terror Attack after Years of Struggling With Infertility

July 20th 2012

Bulgarian Bus Explosion 7-18-12

An Israeli woman who had received the news that she was pregnant the morning of her flight to Bulgaria was among the victims killed in yesterday’s terror attack at the Burgas airport according to Israel’s Channel 2 news.

Kochava and her husband Itzik Chriqui left on vacation for three days to Bulgaria. On the day of the flight, it was revealed that she was finally pregnant after attempting unsuccessfully to have a child for four years. Her husband suffered from minor injuries and returned to Israel to receive treatment. Her sister was shocked when she received the tragic news of Kochava’s death that afternoon, as they waited for Itzik at Ben Gurion airport.

“Those evil murderers. She is a 42-year-old pregnant woman. Two of them went, her and her baby. They were just going away for a three-day vacation and they had to return in a coffin” said one of Kochava’s sisters, Yael Mored, in anguish. “She was our little sister,” added another sister of Kochava. “She had no children and got pregnant after four years of treatment. The day she left for the trip, she received the news that she was pregnant.” Read more ..



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