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Edge of Space

When Galaxies Collide ... Five Billion Years from Now

May 29th 2011

Science - Cloud D2 Cygnus region, Spitzer

Five billion years from now, our Milky Way galaxy will collide with the Andromeda galaxy. This will mark a moment of both destruction and creation. The galaxies will lose their separate identities as they merge into one. At the same time, cosmic clouds of gas and dust will smash together, triggering the birth of new stars.

To understand our past and imagine our future, we must understand what happens when galaxies collide. But since galaxy collisions take place over millions to billions of years, we can't watch a single collision from start to finish. Instead, we must study a variety of colliding galaxies at different stages. By combining recent data from two space telescopes, astronomers are gaining fresh insights into the collision process."We've assembled an atlas of galactic 'train wrecks' from start to finish. This atlas is the first step in reading the story of how galaxies form, grow, and evolve," said lead author Lauranne Lanz of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). Read more ..


Edge of Computing

Future of Mobile 3-D is a Two-way Street

May 29th 2011

Technology - Mobile phone foto app

From Avatar to Nintendo's 3DS, 3-D entertainment has been popular with consumers for some time now, but it's always been a one way street. Audiences have been able to consume media in 3-D, with the aid of glasses and parallax filters, but they have not been able to communicate back with their devices in the third dimension. XBox Kinect was the first consumer device to introduce depth to its input, and its record-setting sales are a certain indicator of the market's appetite for technology that interfaces in 3-D.

FaceTime may be the utility that grabs the most attention, but iPad and iPhone’s forward-facing camera can do more than just video calling. These cameras act like a little eye that can be programmed to track our heads as we look left and right to produce some of the same movement effects seen with Kinect. Read more ..


Edge of Space

Virgin’s Galactic Space Travel—From LA to Abu Dhabi in Two Hours

May 25th 2011

Last week, in the historic large lecture theatre at the Royal Institution in London, the oldest independent research body in the world, Stephen Attenborough—the Commercial Director for Virgin Galactic—spent two uninterrupted hours mesmerizing a private audience on the future of commercial space travel. By the end of the session, even skeptics like myself, who came in thinking this was another wasted venture for the rich, were converted, captivated by the advancement of human ingenuity and the potential that space travel holds for the future of scientific research and sustainable travel.

It’s been just over a century since the Wright Bothers made their inaugural flight in North Carolina and fifty years since Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. When Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the surface of the moon in 1969, space travel seemed poised to enter a golden era. However, space programs proved prohibitively expensive—and dangerous.

As Virgin’s Attenborough reminded us, in the last fifty years only 550 people have been to space, far fewer than what one would have expected at the time when human spaceflight first began. Read more ..


Edge on Africa

What Really Happened in the Ugly, Bloody Chaos of Rwanda?

May 18th 2011

Africa - Rwandan skulls

If University of Michigan Professor Allan Stam hadn’t realized how much hot water he was in just for asking some simple questions, it became clear as he and an assistant sat in a windowless room in an abandoned warehouse in a suddenly unfriendly Rwanda. They were surrounded by guys with machine guns and an interrogator who intoned pronouncements such as, “The last people who asked questions like this are dead.”

It didn’t help that the assistant, to remain unnamed, poor thing, was beginning to scream as the interrogator piled on poisonous innuendos, at which point Stam—who remained cool, for reasons later explained here—finally had to shout to said assistant, “Shut the f--k up! You’re not helping!” Read more ..


Washington on Edge

SEC “Revolving Door” Spinning at Dizzying Speed

May 18th 2011

Politics - SEC Chair Mary Schapiro
SEC Chair Mary Schapiro

When the Securities and Exchange Commission accused Eric Sieracki of securities fraud in 2009, the former Countrywide Financial executive did what many others in trouble with Wall Street’s top cop have done: He hired a former SEC lawyer to defend him.

Between 2006 and 2010, at least 219 former SEC staff appeared before their former agency on behalf of private-sector clients in 800 different matters, according to a new database created by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO). POGO obtained copies of the ex-SEC employees’ disclosure forms through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Senior SEC officials—particularly those from the enforcement division—have long been able to count on finding a home at a private law firm with a hefty raise after a few years of government service. The new POGO data gives the clearest picture yet of just how much corporate America relies on former SEC staff to handle its legal work before the agency. Read more ..


After bin Laden

Pakistani Intelligence Links to Islamic Extremists Run Deep

May 18th 2011

PakistanTopics - Pakistani military brass

The U.S. decision to withhold any advance knowledge from Pakistan about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden was no surprise to those who know the torturous history of Pakistan’s intelligence services.

A powerful segment of Pakistan’s intelligence apparatus is made up of anti-U.S., anti-India conservative Islamic officers. In the past, they have recruited teenagers as fighters from extremist religious schools to fight in Afghanistan. And they have cut deals with “good Taliban,” to the fury of Americans.

For Islamabad, these Islamic alliances are strategic assets to keep at bay Indian influence over Kabul. And it is against a backdrop during which Pakistan and India have fought three wars since 1947. Read more ..


Edge on Archaeology

The Rights and Wrongs of Egypt's New and Bombastic Master of Antiquities

May 18th 2011

Egypt - Hawass
Zahi Hawass

On Sunday, January 16, I interviewed Zahi Hawass in his office in Zamalek, the elegant Cairene island in the Nile and home of the Gezira Sports Club, from which Hawass commanded an army of 32,000 employees as secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. The following Thursday, I left Egypt. And five days later the mass protests erupted that would topple the government of Hosni Mubarak. As part of an effort to save his thoroughly despised regime, Mubarak appointed Hawass Minister for Antiquities. One blogger described Hawass’s appointment this way: “Zahi Hawass, the bombastic, clownish pseudo-archaeologist who has tyrannized, bullied, and manipulated Egyptologists and Egyptian Villagers alike for years now, today officially accepted President Hosni Mubarak’s appointment as Minister of State for Antiquities.” On March 3, Hawass resigned but was reappointed in March.

But my interview with Hawass was before all this. True, Hawass was widely vilified—but also widely admired. The New Yorker called him the “international star of Egyptology … at the intersection of archaeology, show business and national politics.” Read more ..


Israel on Edge

The Geopolitics of Israel: Biblical and Modern

May 18th 2011

Israel Topics - Israel 1200BCE
Israel in 1200BCE. (Credit: STRATFOR)

The founding principle of geopolitics is that place—geography—plays a significant role in determining how nations will behave. If that theory is true, then there ought to be a deep continuity in a nation’s foreign policy. Israel is a laboratory for this theory, since it has existed in three different manifestations in roughly the same place, twice in antiquity and once in modernity. If geopolitics is correct, then Israeli foreign policy, independent of policymakers, technology or the identity of neighbors, ought to have important common features. This is, therefore, a discussion of common principles in Israeli foreign policy over nearly 3,000 years.

For convenience, we will use the term “Israel” to connote all of the Hebrew and Jewish entities that have existed in the Levant since the invasion of the region as chronicled in the Book of Joshua. As always, geopolitics requires a consideration of three dimensions: the internal geopolitics of Israel, the interaction of Israel and the immediate neighbors who share borders with it, and Israel’s interaction with what we will call great powers, beyond Israel’s borderlands. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Donald Trump’s Propensity for Lawsuits Could Alienate GOP Tort Reformers

May 9th 2011

Politics - the donald

As billionaire Donald Trump flirts with a run for the White House, his lengthy history of filing lawsuits—often to protect his image or gain a financial edge—is making conservatives wary of excessive litigation wince.

The real estate tycoon has been a party (as defendant or plaintiff) in about 100 federal lawsuits, according to a review of a legal database. Moreover, five of Trump’s major companies have been embroiled in over 200 civil suits in federal courts, according to court records.

A few examples: Trump has filed lawsuits against Palm Beach County, Fla., where he owns a palatial home and private club, called Mar-a-Lago, seeking to block a new runway at a local airport because it could increase the noise levels near his property. He has sued his former New York law firm, Morrison Cohen, for citing him as an ex-client on its website and treating him like a “cash cow.” He sued former New York Times journalist Tim O’Brien and his publisher seeking $5 billion in damages because he was depicted in the journalist’s book as worth much less than what Trump claimed was correct. Read more ..


Edge on Computing

PaperPhone prototype Opens the Way to Flexible, Interactive Computing

May 9th 2011

Science - Flexible paper phone

An advanced "thin-film" flexible paper computer has been developed through collaborative efforts of researchers at Queen's University in Ontario, Canada, and Arizona State University. Called PaperPhone, it's described as a "flexible iPhone" by its inventor, Roel Vertegaal, the director of the Human Media Lab at Queen's University.

"This computer looks, feels and operates like a small sheet of interactive paper," Vertegaal says. "You interact with it by bending it into a cell phone, flipping the corner to turn pages, or writing on it with a pen." The paper computer is to be unveiled May 10 in Vancouver, Canada, at the Association of Computing Machinery's CHI 2011 (Computer- Human Interaction) conference - the premier international meeting in the field of human-computer Interaction. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The Truth Left Behind: Waking Sleeping Dogs; Key Findings

May 8th 2011

Terrorism - Daniel Pearl

Though Daniel Pearl’s remains have long been recovered and laid to rest on a hilltop in Los Angeles, many loose ends to this story persist. And there are many casualties in this sad story.

Omar Sheikh and his three associates were convicted in the summer of 2002 for Pearl’s kidnapping and murder and sit in jail to this day; despite their conviction for Pearl’s murder in Pakistani court, the evidence of their direct role remains unconvincing.

Attorneys for Sheikh and his three co-defendants have filed numerous appeals that have been postponed repeatedly, and people familiar with the case told the Pearl Project that Sheikh, at least, will be freed at some point.

Rai Bashir Ahmad, defense attorney for the four men, told the Pearl Project, “I believe the case will be reversed on appeal, as soon as the appeal shall be heard, because there is absolutely no concrete evidence against the accused.”

Al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who said he killed Pearl with his own hands, and one of his two nephews who may have assisted him are incarcerated in Guantánamo Bay; they await trial for their role in 9/11, but not for Pearl’s murder. The second nephew who may have been KSM’s other accomplice is thought to be in custody somewhere, but his whereabouts cannot be confirmed. Another suspect, Faisal Bhatti, an alleged logistical operator in Karachi, is in jail in Pakistan for other charges, but not the Pearl case. Read more ..


Economy on Edge

Credit Rating Agencies Still Counting on Big Banks for Support

May 2nd 2011

Federal Reserve
The Federal Reserve

Credit rating agencies took a reputational hit after the financial crisis for giving good grades to garbage financial products—bad advice that many investors complain lost them billions of dollars. But the agencies still have a powerful ally in Washington: big banks, important clients with whom they have long had a symbiotic relationship.

Now, big banks are pushing back on financial reform meant to protect investors by ending the government-backed system that enshrines the symbiotic relationship into law, correspondence shows. Banks would have to evaluate the risks of financial products themselves—a responsibility that would prevent them from shifting blame for giving poor financial advice to someone else. Read more ..


Edge of Terrorism

Winners—and Losers—Since 9/11

May 2nd 2011

Terrorism - WTC on Fire (credit: Macten)
World Trade Center, NYC, on September 11, 2001 (Credit: Macten)

Almost 10 years have passed since Osama bin Laden orchestrated the worst terror attack on American soil. A pursuit that began under President George W. Bush was finally wrapped up under his successor, Barack Obama, who told the world Sunday night that bin Laden was killed.

The relief of Americans was palpable as hundreds descended on the White House to chant "USA! USA!" as Obama spoke. To the thousands of extremist bin Laden followers overseas, chants in the coming days will likely carry a different tone. America’s war against the al-Qaida terror network is not over, even if its head has been stricken. Read more ..


Sudan on Edge

American Rabbi Celebrates Seder with Emancipated Slaves of Sudan

April 28th 2011

Africa Topics - Rabbi Joseph Polak
Rabbi Joseph Polak in Sudan

Rabbi Joseph Polak, a chaplain for Hillel House at Boston University, traveled to southern Sudan to speak to recently-released slave who managed to escape their bondage to Arab Muslim masters. Recalling the manumission of the children of Israel from their bondage in Pharaoh's Egypt, the rabbi told a gathering of Sudanese on March 23 that they "must be a very special people, because God has listened to your cries," - a reference to their liberation.

The rabbi also led the freed slaves in a chorus of 'Dayenu,' - a song which in Hebrew means 'It would have been enough' that God had freed the Israelites from bondage.

In addition to sharing with his listeners, who were gathered beneath the spreading branches of a huge tree, the story of Passover, Rabbi Polak invited them to a traditional Seder meal of matzah, hard-boiled eggs, and wine that commemorates the hasty preparations of the children of Israel as they left behind their shackles in Egypt. His listeners appeared to appreciate the story, since 175 of them had only recently been released from bondage themselves. One of the women who was interviewed said that Arab marauders had attacked her village and beheaded men and boys, while she was raped and her genitals mutilated. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Chernobyl 25 Years Later

April 25th 2011

Russian Topics - Chernobyl Today

April 26, marks the 25th anniversary of the worst nuclear accident on record, the explosion of the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine. The fate of 4,500 square kilometer exclusion zone around the old Soviet plant may give a glimpse into future of the area now banned for human habitation around Fukushima.

One quarter century ago a flotilla of trucks and buses evacuated the 330,000 human inhabitants from Chernobyl’s exclusion zone, a massive area almost twice the size of Luxemburg. Today, some biologists have a different name for that zone: Europe’s largest wildlife refuge.

The human story is well told. Centuries old villages vanished from maps, disappearing into the undergrowth. Less has been said about resurgence of wildlife caused by the withdrawal of the hand of man.

Wolves, wild boar, elk, moose, roe deer, foxes, lynx, beavers, badgers,  white-tailed eagles, nesting swans, cranes, black stork and great white egrets now abound, checked only by their natural predators. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

The Truth Left Behind: Letting Sleeping Dogs Lie

April 25th 2011

Terrorism - Daniel Pearl

On Thursday, October 16, 2003, a warm and slightly overcast day in Washington, D.C., White House National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice called Daniel Pearl’s widow, Mariane, with some startling information. It was their first conversation ever, and Mariane was caught off guard.

In a cool voice, Rice delivered blockbuster news that would tie the Pearl abduction-murder to the horrors of the 9/11 attacks that preceded it. “We have now established enough links and credible evidence to think that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was involved in your husband’s murder,” Rice said. KSM, as he was called, was the alleged mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks.

“What do you mean ‘involved?’” Mariane Pearl asked. Since the earliest days of discovering that her husband had been murdered, she had suspected Al Qaeda’s involvement. She had never been satisfied with the July 2002 convictions of Omar Sheikh and three co-defendants as closing the case.

“We think he committed the actual murder,” Rice responded.

Rice doled out her information selectively. She didn’t tell Mariane Pearl how officials had reached that conclusion or what evidence they had to back it up. She did not offer any proof that KSM was the killer, nor identify his accomplices in the murder. Most significantly, Rice didn’t let on to what was then one of the Bush administration’s most closely-held secrets—that KSM was being held in a secret CIA prison and had been subjected to waterboarding and other hard-core interrogation techniques. Those facts would turn out to have major consequences. They both raised questions about the reliability of KSM’s confession and created a major obstacle to ever trying him in a U.S. criminal court for Pearl’s murder. Read more ..


China on Edge

Anxiety Grows in China as the Deng Model of Development Enters End Game

April 20th 2011

China Topics - Dent Tsao Peng
Deng Xiaoping

Beijing has become noticeably more anxious than usual in recent months, launching one of the more high-profile security campaigns to suppress political dissent since the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. Journalists, bloggers, artists, Christians and others have been arrested or have disappeared in a crackdown prompted by fears that foreign forces and domestic dissidents have hatched any number of “Jasmine” gatherings inspired by recent events in the Middle East. More remarkable than the small, foreign-coordinated protests, however, has been the state’s aggressive and erratic reaction to them.

Meanwhile, the Chinese economy has maintained a furious pace of credit-fueled growth despite authorities’ repeated claims of working to slow growth down to prevent excessive inflation and systemic financial risks. The government’s cautious approach to fighting inflation has emboldened local governments and state companies, which benefit from rapid growth. Read more ..


Architectural Edge

A Love Affair with a House that Preserved Relic of American Architecture

April 20th 2011

Architecture - S W Green mansion by Paula Burch-Celantano
S.W. Green mansion. Photo: Paula Burch-Celantano

My love affair with the S.W. Green house is, perhaps, my fondest memory of New Orleans. Discovering this architectural gem was the crowning achievement of my college years. I discovered – or I should say – stumbled upon the Green mansion while skateboarding one hot, sunny afternoon in 1996, my junior year. I’d been living, to my Mom’s dismay, off-campus in the French Quarter. (This was early in the movement to locate and preserve African American historic sites.)

Sporting a tie-dyed t-shirt, Bass Pro Shops cap, Ralph Lauren shorts and well-worn New Balance sneakers, I skateboarded past whitewashed shotgun houses lining the avenues of Lower Mid-City New Orleans. Blazing through the intersection of Cleveland and South Miro, whose only landmarks were a rusty car-repair shop and an unkempt parking lot, I noticed a curious anomaly: a large green, Mediterranean-tiled roof peeking high above its humdrum neighbors. I decided to backtrack and have a look.

Walking towards the mysterious structure, an image of my great aunt Rowena’s estate in Virginia flashed into mind. I’d grown up there in what folks referred to as a mansion, but my family simply called it “Brooks Cottage.” It was built in 1920 by my late uncle Mac’s first wife and her first husband, “Uncle J.C.” Although they were well-to-do, racial covenants prohibited them from building in a more exclusive part of town. Read more ..


Breaking News!

Exclusive Coverage of Exodus: Children of Israel Flee Egyptian Bondage

April 18th 2011

Contributors / Staff - Edwin Black
Edwin Black

EDITORS NOTE: All details of Edwin Black’s Passover coverage are taken faithfully from Exodus chapters 5-15, plus Rashi’s Commentary.

Approximately two million Children of Israel are now encamped in the Sinai following their extraordinary exodus from Egypt yesterday. Just days ago, they were slaves to Pharaoh. Today, they are free men and women, destined for self-determination in a land of their own. Only now are the details of their fantastic experience coming to light.

The dramatic sequence of events began some weeks ago with the unexpected return of exiled prince Moses, who previously fled Pharaoh's wrath after slaying a taskmaster. In his daring appearance at the Palace, the inarticulate Moses, speaking through his brother Aaron, declared himself to be the personal emissary of a powerful new “God,” previously unknown to the Royal Court. Moreover, Moses asserted that his God was the protector of the Children of Israel, who have been in bondage for more than four centuries in Egypt.

The entire Royal Court was aghast as Moses demanded that the Children of Israel be permitted to travel three days into the desert for an unprecedented “feast and sacrifice” to their God. Making clear that he was not asking a Court indulgence, Moses looked straight at Pharaoh, stamped his roughhewn staff and issued the ultimatum that would be his rallying call during the coming days: “Let my people go.”

Laughter echoed throughout the hall as Pharaoh sneered, “Who is your 'God?' I know him not. Nor will I let Israel go!” Showing little patience, Pharaoh cited reports that Moses had been “disturbing the people from their works” in various building projects wholly dependent upon slave labor. As a punitive measure, Pharaoh proclaimed that henceforth slaves would be compelled to gather their own straw, even as their daily brick quota was maintained. Read more ..


Edge of Rehab

Bionic Arm Can Move, Feel

April 18th 2011

Health/Medicine - Vet w/Bionic Arm
Iraq War Vet with New Artificial Arm (credit: VOA)

American soldiers who have lost limbs in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq often end up at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., for rehabilitation and to get fitted with prosthetics. Dr. Todd Kuiken, of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, works with these patients who provide him with feedback on a bionic arm he developed. Kuiken’s work has focused on creating an artificial arm which can respond to the wearer’s mind. “What we do is use the nerves that are still left. Although the arm is lost,” he says.

Nerves from the amputated arm are attached to the remaining muscle, either in the chest or in the bicep. Nerves that control flexing the hand or closing it are attached in different locations. Electrodes placed on the muscles act as antennas and when the brain sends an electrical nerve impulse to these antennas, the electrode activates the prosthetic arm or hand to move accordingly. Read more ..


Border War

Mexico Struggles to Shake Off the Perception of Danger in its Vital Tourism Sector

April 18th 2011

Mexican Topics - Mexico City mounted police
Mexico City mounted police

As Mexico gears up for its annual Holy Week and Easter Week holiday beach bash, polemics continue to fly over the state of the country’s tourism sector. At the heart of the debate is how violence and the media’s coverage of it may or may not be discouraging tourism.

Immediately challenging the declarations of an important industry official, the federal Secretariat of Tourism (Sectur) repeated earlier contentions this week that foreign visitation is on the upswing. The federal agency reported that Mexico received last year 5.9 million US tourists, a number which represented a 5.9 percent jump from 2009 and a 1.5 percent increase from 2008. Read more ..


Politics and Money

Congressional Freshmen Saddled With Debt Turn to PACs

April 18th 2011

Politics - 2011 Freshman Repubs
Republican Caucus, U.S. House of Representatives, 2011

Republican Blake Farenthold, a small time radio show personality and Tea Party favorite in southern Texas, scored a major upset last November when he defeated 14-term Democratic House member Solomon Ortiz Sr. by a mere 799 votes. His victory in the marginally Democratic 27th District near the Gulf Coast was even more remarkable because he weathered the embarrassment of a widely disseminated photo of him in yellow duck pattern pajamas with a scantily dressed woman.

Farenthold arrived in Washington from Corpus Christi two weeks later with a hefty campaign debt and a seat that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee declared a “must win” for Democrats in 2012. But not to worry. Read more ..


Edge of Terror

How to Tell if Your Neighbor is a Bomb Maker

April 11th 2011

Terrorism - Bomb Maker

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released the fifth edition of its English-language jihadist magazine “Inspire” on March 30. AQAP publishes this magazine with the stated intent of radicalizing English-speaking Muslims and encouraging them to engage in jihadist militant activity. Since its inception, Inspire magazine has also advocated the concept that jihadists living in the West should conduct attacks there, rather than traveling to places like Pakistan or Yemen, since such travel can bring them to the attention of the authorities before they can conduct attacks, and AQAP views attacking in the West as “striking at the heart of the unbelievers.” Read more ..

America on Edge

Closing America’s Playground: Los Angeles and the History of Our Parks and Recreation Crisis

April 11th 2011

Travel - Disneyland Closed

On a Tuesday morning in late December 2010, for the first time ever, the gates closed at Disneyland. The reason was simple enough—holiday crowds had overwhelmed the magic kingdom. Yet shutting down Disneyland could be a metaphor for a far broader and more troubling phenomenon occurring in Los Angeles and Southern California. A place that gained international renown as “America’s Playground” has become a region where recreation and recreational space are increasingly scarce, and similar threats now face parks and recreational funding across the nation. Read more ..


Safety on Edge

Lax School Construction Oversight Raises Doubts about Earthquake Safety

April 11th 2011

Disaster - Muir HS Long Beach 1933
Muir HS, Long Beach after 1963 Quake (credit: USGS)

State regulators have routinely failed to enforce California’s landmark earthquake safety law for public schools, allowing children and teachers to occupy buildings with structural flaws and potential safety hazards reported during construction.

Top management with the Division of the State Architect—the chief regulator of school construction—for years did nothing about nearly 1,100 building projects that its own supervisors had red-flagged. Safety defects were logged and then filed away without follow-up from the state. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Newt Gingrich Straddles Fine Line Between Saints and Sinners

April 4th 2011

Politics - Newt Gingrich 4_2011
Newt Gingrich

Newt Gingrich is straddling a fine line: Even as he courts evangelicals wary of his two divorces, a Gingrich political committee has taken millions from a casino titan whose industry is often anathema to the Christian right.

Confronted with repeated questions about his personal life, Gingrich has created a pair of religious-oriented nonprofit groups that since 2009 have raised over $5 million to boost his standing among evangelical conservatives.

Meanwhile, Gingrich’s key political group, American Solutions for Winning the Future, has hauled in $7 million from one big financial backer — Sheldon Adelson, the multi- billionaire chairman of the Las Vegas Sands casino, who is expected to help raise funds for Gingrich if he opts to run for president. The Sands recently disclosed it is under Justice Department investigation for possible bribery in the Chinese gambling hub of Macau where it has a major casino operation. And last December while Adelson was visiting Macau, the police anti-vice squad raided his Venetian Hotel and arrested more than 100 alleged prostitutes and pimps on charges of running a sex ring out of the resort. Read more ..


Border War

ATF: Weak Laws and Paltry Resources Hinder Gun Trafficking Probes

April 4th 2011

Mexican Topics - ATF Agent w/AK-47
ATF Agent with AK-47

Since March, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has endured sharp criticism for a decision to risk letting hundreds of assault weapons slip into the hands of brutal Mexican drug cartels as part of a controversial sting operation last year.

A lot has happened in the month since the controversy over the so-called Fast and Furious probe by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) came to light. As part of the Fast and Furious investigation, ATF officials decided to let hundreds of suspicious guns “walk” over the border to Mexico in hopes of nailing higher-ups in the drug cartels south of the border. The strategy was met by strong opposition among some of the agency’s front-line agents, one of whom took his misgivings to the Senate Judiciary Committee as a whistleblower. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

The Truth Left Behind: Rushing to Judgment

April 4th 2011

Terrorism - Pearl Perps

Clockwise from top left: Fahad Naseem, Salman Saqib, Sheikh
Mohammed Adil, and Omar Sheikh—all convicted of the Pearl murder.
Credit: Pakistani police

Two months after Omar Sheikh and his cohorts were apprehended, the Pakistani judicial system was putting into place all the pieces necessary to try the four men in a court of law. But what followed turned out to be less about meting out justice and more about putting a quick end to this embarrassing incident.

The trial was closed to the public. Through interviews with those in attendance as well as a close examination of the voluminous 2,400 pages of court records chronicling the case, the Pearl Project has stitched together much of what unfolded in the three-month trial, offering a rare window into the Pakistani judicial system and its tenuous relationship with the ideal of the rule of law. Read more ..


The Race for Nuclear

From Chernobyl to Fukushima: Nuclear Safety is Still in Doubt

April 4th 2011

Japan - fukushima reactor smoke
Fukushima nuclear plant

Soldiers long ago shot the dogs and cats. Today, the only sound on Lenin Avenue is a chill wind blowing dead leaves. In the summer, thick vegetation obscures six-story apartment blocks, once homes for the city’s 50,000 residents. Once a model Soviet community built for Chernobyl’s nuclear power station, Pripyat now looks like a post apocalypse film set.

Tourists, some wearing face masks, pick their way carefully through dimly lit corridors, boots crunching on broken glass. They walk down debris strewn sidewalks, keeping an eye out for missing manhole covers. Side streets have narrowed into tunnels as bushes and trees have grown unchecked for a quarter century. Read more ..


The Ancient Edge

First US-lead Archaeological Survey of Iraq in 20 Years yields Origins of Mesopotamian cities

April 4th 2011

Archaeology Topics - Mesopotamia archaeology

Three National Science Foundation-supported researchers recently undertook the first non-Iraqi archaeological investigation of the Tigris-Euphrates delta in nearly 20 years. Archeologists Jennifer Pournelle and Carrie Hritz, with geologist Jennifer Smith, carried out the study late last year to look for links between wetland resources and the emergence of Mesopotamian cities.

"Mesopotamia"--Greek for "the land between the rivers"--is an area about 300 miles long and 150 miles wide straddling the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which now run through Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran. It is broadly considered a cradle of civilization, because urban societies first developed there, about six thousand years ago. Read more ..


Edge of Computing

NASA Mission Computers Vulnerable to Hackers

March 30th 2011

Technology - NASA mission control

The computer networks responsible for NASA spacecraft missions like the International Space Station and the Hubble Telescope are vulnerable to computer hackers and cyber attacks, according to an audit by the NASA inspector general.

The inspector general found vulnerabilities on six computers with IT capabilities that control spacecraft were so severe that remote attackers could take control of them through the Internet. Once attackers gain access to the network, they can use a compromised computer to exploit other weaknesses and cripple NASA operations. The audit found six network servers that revealed encryption keys, passwords, and account information. Sensitive data, all accessible through the Internet, which could then lead to further access on other NASA networks. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

The Truth Left Behind: Catching the Mastermind

March 30th 2011

Terrorism - Daniel Pearl

Kidnapping plotter Omar Sheikh had scurried out of town after turning over Daniel Pearl to local militant leaders in Karachi. Sheikh later told police that Asif Ramzi, an operational leader, called him and told him that Pearl had been killed. Sheikh recalled that he immediately phoned Amjad Farooqi, his contact to the local militant leaders, and asked him to get the details. Farooqi met Sheikh in Lahore and confirmed that Pearl was dead. This account has Pearl dead before Sheikh was arrested. It isn’t clear how Sheikh responded, but when he was arrested he claimed to police that Pearl was still alive.

Sheikh had experience as a kidnapper, nabbing tourists in New Delhi in 1994, but, as far as is known, wasn’t a killer. Was his intention to carry through on the Pearl death threat, or was he playing to see what he could get? After all, he was sprung from jail in India by militants who had demanded and won his freedom in return for passengers aboard a hijacked Indian passenger flight. By his account, he was going to free the American he kidnapped in India, Bela Nuss. Police investigators familiar with Sheikh see him as a man who approached his crime as a tactical strategist, like the chess champion that he was as a British schoolboy, rather than as a cold-blooded killer. Even before the Pearl kidnapping, he had evaded U.S. efforts to extradite him for the Delhi kidnapping. Read more ..


The Battle for Libya

France leads Europe’s Libya Intervention

March 28th 2011

Military - French fighter planes

Distinct interests sparked the European involvement in Libya. The United Kingdom and France have issued vociferous calls for intervention in Libya for the past month, ultimately managing to convince the rest of Europe—with some notable exceptions—to join in military action, the Arab League to offer its initial support, and global powers China and Russia to abstain from voting at the U.N. Security Council.

U.S. President Barack Obama said March 21 that the leadership of the U.S.-European coalition against Libya would be transitioned to the European allies “in a matter of days.” Read more ..


Border Wars

Border Agents Unwittingly Freed Suspects Found with Weapons from Federal Sting

March 28th 2011

Mexican Topics - Seized weapons in Mexico

On Jan. 14, 2010, federal border patrol agents stopped two men driving a car through the border-crossing town of Columbus, New Mexico. Inside the vehicle was a cache of assault weapons, including AK-47s, Ruger .45-caliber handguns and pistols called “cop killers” because their ammunition can penetrate armor.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers ran the guns’ serial numbers in a nationwide database and waited. None of the eight came back flagged as stolen or suspect, so the agents let the men go — just a few short miles from the Mexican border, where gun trafficking is fueling a violent and deadly drug war.

At the time, the border guards were unaware that six of the weapons had been purchased by alleged straw buyers in a federal sting and were supposed to be monitored by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents trying to bust a major Mexican gun running ring. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Iranian Video Says Mahdi is 'Near'

March 28th 2011

Iran - The 12th Imam

New evidence has emerged that the Iranian government sees the current unrest in the Middle East as a signal that the Mahdi--or Islamic messiah--is about to appear.

This reporter has obtained a never-before-seen video produced by the Iranian regime that says all the signs are moving into place -- and that Iran will soon help usher in the end times.

While the revolutionary movements gripping the Middle East have created uncertainty throughout the region, the video shows that the Iranian regime believes the chaos is divine proof that their ultimate victory is at hand. Read more ..


Presidential Edge

George H.W. Bush—Revisited

March 21st 2011

Presidential - George HW Bush

He’s 86 now, his eyebrows silver and his legs weakened by Parkinson’s-like symptoms. But as George Herbert Walker Bush approaches his twilight years, the untold tales of his life of public service are beginning to spill out.

Americans grown weary of political spin and attack-dog politics are coming to embrace the 41st president in ways they didn’t when he actually occupied the Oval Office, or before that, when he served as Ronald Reagan’s loyal right-hand man.

Democrats who once mocked the Bush political dynasty are leading the charge. President Barack Obama has saluted the elder Bush several times, mostly recently bestowing on the Bush family patriarch America’s highest civilian honor last month at the White House. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

The Truth Left Behind: Losing the Race Against Time

March 21st 2011

Terrorism - Daniel Pearl
Daniel Pearl

From the start, everyone knew that the hunt to find Daniel Pearl was a frantic race against time. They knew that it might not have a happy ending.

The kidnappers had quickly gone from an initial ransom note to a death threat. Their first note called him a CIA spy but then, learning he was Jewish, they declared he was not CIA but was working for the Israeli intelligence service Mossad. “Therefore,” they vowed, “we will execute him within 24 hours unless amreeka fulfils our demands.”

That was on January 30. Little did the FBI and Pakistani police know their efforts were futile. Three men had suddenly arrived just days after he was kidnapped and killed him, recording Pearl’s last words, “I am a Jew,” on a video.

There was an adrenaline rush when Pakistani police and FBI agents caught a break just a few days later. That kicked off a succession of dramatic raids across Karachi that would lead to the kidnapping mastermind and the men who sent out the ransom notes, but not to Pearl and the men who by then were in charge of his fate.

The ransom notes were the tipoff. In sending those notes by e-mail, the kidnappers unintentionally gave investigators an electronic trail they could trace back to the sender’s computer. On February 4, 2002, police traced the e-mails and photos of Pearl’s kidnapping to a cyber café, Speedy Internet. The owner produced records showing that a young man, an unemployed computer programmer named Fahad Naseem, had sent the e-mails. The tipoff led police to him, and they grabbed his laptop. Read more ..


Confronting the Farhud

The Struggle for Memory of the Farhud

March 21st 2011

Islamic Topics - al-Husayni and Hitler

Since the vicious massacre in Iraq known as the Farhud—the Pogrom of 1941 in Baghdad following the Sack of Basra on 7–8 May, 1941, many scholars among the Jews who left Iraq had been trying, largely in vain, to keep it alive in the Jewish collective memory. The Jewish Holocaust is widely believed to be confined to European Jewry only, and it overshadows all other calamities of WWII outside Europe.

In the Arab World, most of all in Iraq, a conspiracy of silence was carefully maintained against the successive massacres committed against Jews since the Farhud of 1941 and the Arab defeat in 1948 War. In Iraq the conspiracy started immediately before the blood of the innocent victims dried, when army and police officers roved the streets of Baghdad, warning the Jews not to testify against the murderers and looters. Even the official report on the massacre was not published until 1958.Later, a few articles were published in Hebrew and English by well-known historians such as Dr. Haim Cohen of the Hebrew University in 1966 and Prof. Elie Kedourie of London University in 1970. These researches drew the attention of very few scholars. Read more ..


Health Care on Edge

Insurers Lobbying on the Fine Print may Erase Consumer Protections

March 14th 2011

Economy - Insurance policy fine print

One of the provisions of the health reform law that insurers hate most requires that they spend at least 80 percent of what we pay them in premiums for actual medical care. That provision alone is a major reason why insurance companies and their allies invested so heavily in Republican candidates last year.

The insurers knew that if their candidates won—and most of them did—they would have a better than even chance of getting Congress to weaken that provision to the point of being almost meaningless. And they are well on their way to getting what they want.

As recently as 1993, insurance firms on average spent 95 percent of premiums they collected to pay medical claims. Since then, as more and more insurers have converted to for-profit status, that percentage has dropped—like a rock. Read more ..


Health Care on Edge

Deficit Cutters Eye Health IT Stimulus Funds as Obama’s Point Man Leaves

March 14th 2011

Politics - Dr David Blumnthal
Dr. David Blumenthal Credit: Emma Schwartz/Center for Public Integrity

Billions of unspent stimulus dollars intended to jump-start health care providers’ transition from paper to electronic records have suddenly become a target for lawmakers looking in every corner of the federal budget for cuts.

But backers of health information technology will have to make their case for preserving the money without help from the Obama administration’s point man, Dr. David Blumenthal, who departs this spring.

The funds are rooted in the HITECH Act, part of the 2009 federal stimulus law, which allotted $27 billion in Medicaid and Medicare incentive payments to doctors, hospitals and other health care providers who adopt electronic health records and show they’re being used to improve patient care.  Read more ..



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