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Archive for November 2012

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South Africa on Edge

Somali Refugees Struggle in South Africa

November 30th 2012

Somali storekeeper

South Africa attracts more asylum seekers than any other country in the world.  There are 58,000 refugees in the country and more than 200,000 pending cases for asylum seekers. Somalis are among the most visible of the refugee communities as they usually are traders who operate in the most destitute places. But this leaves them vulnerable to very high levels of crime.

In the dry heat of the austral summer, 103th Street in Johannesburg recalls images from the other side of the continent. A veiled woman listens to Quran readings in her shop and Amin Salat, chairman of the Somali Association of South Africa, stops every two steps to shake hands with tall, lean men with the unmistakable bearing of people from the Horn of Africa. “We are in... we call it here “Mogadishio”, the street of Mogadishio and the suburb of Mogadishio, but in fact it's Mayfair, in Johannesburg," said Salat. Read more ..

Broken Promises

Staples Computer Tech Support Becomes Flop Squad--Leaves Customers Stranded and Stapled

November 30th 2012

Staples Superstore

It started as a reliable promises and quickly broke down into a typical Staples disappointment. The office supply superstore told its customers that it would not only service the hi-tech equipment it sold--but indeed any hi-tech gear in any office. Staples called its effort EasyTech. Unhappily, it was anything but easy. Unfortunately, the Staples attempt to compete with the Geek Squad created a laughable Flop Squad of broken promises, unreturned calls, and now a completely failed program that has left it customers stranded. Staples Customer Service won't even answer customers who ask what happened to their service guarantees and incomplete work projects.

In a typical case, a Washington, D.C. small business hired the aggressively-sold Staples EasyTech team to analyse and repair a RAID or Redundant Array of Independent Drives. RAIDs are comprised of mirrored drives that act as a fail safe system ensuring that even if one hard drive goes down, the duplicate retains the data. But the two must be perfectly synchronized. Getting them synchronized and keeping them synchronizing is daunting to the average user, but an easy task but a skilled tech. The Washington, D.C. corporate customer trusted Staples. Read more ..

Gaza and Israel

The Arab Atrocity Story Again, and Again, and Again

November 30th 2012

Hamas head

In the last two or three weeks, we have heard more stories from  Gaza about  Israel killing or hurting “innocent” Arabs or Western journalists. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyyeh took both the Egyptian prime minister and the Tunisian foreign minister to visit the dead body of a boy who was supposedly killed by  Israel so that the three leaders could symbolically dip their hands in the boy’s blood and condemn  Israel for murdering an innocent “martyr.”

Arabs from North Africa to the  Persian Gulf saw pictures of the child’s blood brandished on Arab TV and the front pages of Arab newspapers. Then it turned out the boy was killed when a Hamas rocket, launched at  Israel , misfired and landed on the boy’s house. Arab TV and Arab newspapers did not publish retractions.

That is because the Arab atrocity story is a best seller, but one should treat the Arab authors—the PLO, Hizballah, Hamas (and the journalists who often work with them or are used by them) —with great, great skepticism. When they cry “Israeli murder !!!” we should be careful not to get caught up in their narrative. “Ya-da ya-da ya-da”—as  Jerry Seinfeld  used to say. Read more ..

The Agricultural Edge

Wheat DNA Map Could Help Change the Way We Farm

November 30th 2012

wheat fields

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

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

The Battle for Syria

Syria Poised to Become A 'Failed State'

November 30th 2012


U.N.-Arab League Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi warned Friday that if a negotiated political settlement is not found for Syria, it could become a "failed state" with all the repercussions that entails. Veteran diplomat Brahimi told the U.N. General Assembly that he is "convinced" that there are only two alternatives in Syria.

The first is the formation of a political process that leads to the creation of a new Syria that ends the bloodshed and satisfies the aspirations of the people.  The second option is that Syria descends into the chaos of a failed state, with all the domestic, regional and international implications that entails. "Naturally, nobody wishes to see a failed state in Syria," Brahimi said. "Nobody wants to see the state and its institutions withering away, lawlessness spreading, warlordism, banditry, narcotics, arms smuggling, and worst of all, the ugly face of communal and sectarian strife take hold of Syria." Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Israel's Right to Defend Itself: Implications on Security and US Interests

November 30th 2012

Israeli Jet Dive Bombing

Madame Chairman, Members of the Committee,  it is my pleasure to join you for this timely hearing on the regional and national security implications of the recent hostilities between Hamas and the State of Israel. 

Over the last decade, the Middle East has undergone a transformation as dramatic as the one that shaped the post-war independence era in the Arab world.  While those changes are all familiar to the members of this Committee, it is worth reviewing them quickly if only to underscore their breadth and depth. Consider that a dictator has been ousted in Iraq and a new and democratically elected government has come to power. That from Tunisia to Libya to Yemen to Egypt, Bahrain and Syria, the people of the region have turned on their tormentors and – where they are able -- voted in new leaders.  That Iran has gone from nuclear ambitions to the threshold of a nuclear weapon. That Hezbollah now controls the government of Lebanon.  That the Hashemite dynasty in Jordan is at risk. And that the Arab League has taken a position against not one but two of its own for the first time in history.

And where is the United States in today’s Middle Eastern maelstrom? Unfortunately, largely on the sidelines, wringing its hands, hoping to restore, if not the status quo ante, then at least the pseudo stability of the age of Arab dictators. What should we be doing?  Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama's Latest Charm Offensive with CEOs Pays Some Dividends

November 30th 2012


President Obama is mounting his most concerted charm offensive yet toward the business community as he strives to build support for a debt deal and, more generally, assuage concerns that he is disdainful of corporate interests.

A meeting Wednesday with a group of leading CEOs at the White House was only one manifestation of an ongoing effort to ease the distrust that marked interactions between the administration and commerce during Obama’s first term.
There are some signs that the push is working, at least in terms of improving the mood music.

After the White House meeting, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson praised the White House as “resoundingly reasonable” in its approach to the "fiscal cliff" negotiations. The sentiment was particularly notable because Sorenson had donated to Mitt Romney’s campaign and to the Republican National Committee during this year’s election cycle. Joe Echevarria, the CEO of Deloitte, told reporters that Obama “clearly wanted to embrace business and all business leaders.” Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syria Suffers a Total Internet Blackout

November 30th 2012

Syria fighting injured baby

Internet service and cellular networks were blacked out in Syria on Thursday, disrupting communications traveling into and outside of the country, according to the State Department. 

Renesys, a U.S.-based firm that monitors Internet networks, reported on its blog that Syria's Internet connectivity was shut down early Thursday afternoon and all of the country's IP address blocks were unreachable. Google also reported on its Transparency Report tool that its Web services were inaccessible in Syria on Thursday. The search company tweeted: "Internet access completely cut off in Syria. This is why a #freeandopen Internet is so important."

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said during a Thursday press briefing that groups affiliated with the opposition within Syria have reported that the Syrian government "does appear to be resorting to cutting off all kinds of communication," which has affected Internet access, landline and cellular service across the country. Read more ..

Energy Politics

Green Groups Want Assurance Rice Will Dump Oil Sands Stocks

November 30th 2012

Environmentalists are pressing the White House to ensure that Susan Rice dumps shares in oil sands-related companies if she’s nominated for secretary of State. “The White House has gotten the message that people are very concerned about this,” said Jamie Henn, co-founder of the climate advocacy group 350.org.

Environmentalists are concerned over revelations that the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and her husband could own up to $600,000 worth of stock in TransCanada Corp., the company seeking to build the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline. The proposed pipeline to bring Canadian oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries, which environmentalists oppose, is currently under State Department review.

A 2011 financial disclosure form that Rice filed earlier this year lists the holdings in TransCanada, and valuable shares in energy companies that are developing oil sands such as Royal Dutch Shell and Suncor.

“We have conveyed very clearly that a conflict of interest, such as a candidate for this position, holding stock in TransCanada or other tar sands companies is not acceptable,” said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

She said NRDC expects that the holdings would be dumped as part of compliance with ethics rules if Rice were to be tapped to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who intends to step down early in President Obama's second term. “We fully expect that Ambassador Rice would get rid of holdings in those companies should she come into that position,” she said.

The Edge of Space

New Radio Telescope Could Save World Billions

November 30th 2012

Solar Flare

A small pocket of Western Australia’s remote outback is set to become the eye on the sky and could potentially save the world billions of dollars. The Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) radio telescope, unveiled today, Friday 30 November, will give the world a dramatically improved view of the Sun and provide early warning to prevent damage to communication satellites, electric power grids and GPS navigation systems. 

The $51 million low-frequency radio telescope will be able to detect and monitor massive solar storms, such as the one that cut power to six million people in Canada in 1989 during the last peak in solar activity. In 2011, experts warned that a major solar storm could result in damage to integral power supplies and communication networks of up to US$2 trillion - the equivalent of a global Hurricane Katrina.


Edging Toward the Fiscal Cliff

Dems Can’t Have It All

November 30th 2012

Capitol Hill

Somebody better tell the Democrats they can’t have it all. Yes, President Obama was reelected, but no, he doesn’t have a mandate for denying our fiscal crisis. Yes, Republicans will compromise on new taxes on the wealthy, but no, that new revenue is not enough to get us off the cliff.

As each day Republicans give more — from talk of ditching Grover Norquist’s no-new-taxes pledge to Oklahoma Republican Rep. Tom Cole’s call for Republicans to join Democrats in extending all tax cuts for those making $250,000 or less each year — Democrats dig in. They won’t budge on entitlement reform. No way. But they want a debt-ceiling increase. All at once.

How? With 33 days to go, Democrats have not proposed one spending cut. Yet the unions, the teachers and MoveOn.org are running ads about the need to block any changes to social programs. Republicans want to raise revenues by capping deductions and closing loopholes; Democrats — including Obama — say that won’t amount to enough money. Though Republicans have publicly declared they won’t raise income tax rates, they privately concede they will likely be forced to relent on rates if Obama moves the threshold for tax increases from those earning $250,000 to $500,000 or higher. Read more ..

Argentina on Edge

The Argentine Debt Saga Continues

November 30th 2012

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

In an alarming turn of events in the long-running Argentine debt saga, a U.S. appellate court “granted an emergency stay.”1 In doing so, the court has allowed itself the opportunity to fully examine the case appealed by Argentina, a case in which the country had been ordered to deposit $1.3. billion USD in order to realize payment to its holdout creditors. This is a critical development in what has become a decade-long fight between Argentina and its vulture funds creditors, financial entities that have twice failed to agree to terms with the sovereign in regard to debt restructuring. Yesterday’s stay by the appellate court of New York will not only give the court time to adequately examine the case, but will also function to permit Argentina to pay the next installment on its exchanged bonds that is scheduled for December 15.  Argentina did not see itself forced to cancel its debt with the primary vulture funds Elliot Management Corporation and Aurelius Capital Management; had the situation remained unaltered, a likely scenario would have reflected an expectation for Argentina to fall into technical default. However, the importance of this most recent move by the U.S. Judiciary is anything but final. While indeed Argentina has momentarily been saved from financial disaster, the country still must await a decision by the appeals court. The court is scheduled to make a ruling sometime after February 27, 2013, on the legitimacy of the district court’s decision, which in February of this year deemed Argentina responsible for all outstanding debt owed to its vulture fund creditors. Read more ..

The Congo on Edge

The Geopolitical Quagmire of the Eastern Congo

November 30th 2012

Congolese child

The situation in the eastern Congo is no less obscure than before the regional leaders met for negotiations over the weekend. M23 stated they would leave the city of Goma, captured on November 20, by November 27. They are still there. Now they claim they will hold a handover ceremony and pull back to Rutshuru, their original stronghold, on Friday, November 30; but only so long as M23 troops remain at the Goma airport. And possibly, that their political wing remain in Goma itself.

Rwanda and Uganda continue to vehemently deny that they back the M23 rebel group. This line becomes thinner each time they use it. Kris Berwouts provides a succinct analysis of the recent Rwandan/Congolese relationship.

Another player in the arena however is the UN, who stood by after the Congo army fled and watched M23 rebels march into Goma. Many are asking why the UN Mission in the Congo (MONUSCO) doesn’t push the rebels out. After all, the Christian Science Monitor and the Economist estimate that M23 numbers in the range of only 1,000-1,500 while there are 19,000 UN troops supported by 3,800 civilian staff in Congo, including 6,700 troops in North Kivu, of which Goma is the capital. As the Economist says, “the UN…has once again been humiliated.” Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Suspects in 9/11 May Be Tried In Civilian Courts Not Military Tribunals

November 30th 2012

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, had requested a complete study regarding the suitability of incarcerating and trying Guantanamo terrorism detainees on the U.S. mainland and switching jurisdiction for the trials from the military courts back to the civilian courts and the U.S. Justice Department. According to a study by the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress described the civilian custody and trial of Gitmo detainees "viable."

Fox News was successful in obtaining a Government Accountability Office document which is the result of "an investigation into whether domestic facilities could house the approximately 170 detainees remaining at the controversial facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba." Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

International Study Provides More Solid Measure of Melting in Polar Ice Sheets

November 30th 2012


The planet's two largest ice sheets have been losing ice faster during the past decade, causing widespread confusion and concern. A new international study provides a firmer read on the state of continental ice sheets and how much they are contributing to sea-level rise. Dozens of climate scientists have reconciled their measurements of ice sheet changes in Antarctica and Greenland over the past two decades. The results, roughly halve the uncertainty and discard some conflicting observations.

"We are just beginning an observational record for ice," said co-author Ian Joughin. "This creates a new long-term data set that will increase in importance as new measurements are made." The paper examined three methods that had been used by separate groups and established common places and times, allowing researchers to discard some outlying observations and showing that the results agree to within the uncertainties of the methods. Read more ..

Palestine and Israel

Bi-Partisan Legislation Introduced Urges Closure of Washington PLO Office, Possible Termination of Aid to PA

November 30th 2012

Mahmoud Abbas at parliament

Bi-partisan legislation has been introduced by U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Chuck Schumer (D-New York), John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), and Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) which calls for the immediate closure of the PLO’s office in Washington unless the Palestinians enter into peace negotiations with Israel and also eliminates American assistance to the PA if the International Criminal Court ”adjudicates any matter proposed or supported by the Palestinian Authority.”

“Senator Schumer is pushing to get a vote between today and tomorrow and encouraging both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate to support it,” Senator Schumer’s Press Secretary Marisa Kaufman stated in an email. Asked about the level of support for the bill in the Senate Kaufman said, “we’re optimistic we’ll get significant support.” Read more ..

Geologic Edge

More Evidence for an Ancient Grand Canyon

November 29th 2012

Ancient Grand Canyon

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

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

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

The Edge of Climate Change

CIA Finally Closes Multi-billion Dollar Climate Change Unit

November 29th 2012

Hurricane Isabel

More than three years later, and after spending billions of taxpayer dollars, an Inside-the-Beltway watchdog group reported on Tuesday that President Barack Obama ordered the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to quietly shutdown its example of government waste and duplication: the Center on Climate Change and National Security.

The scandal-plagued government agency responsible for providing national security intelligence to senior U.S. policymakers, the military, homeland security officials and law enforcement operated an insignificant special unit that focused on global warming, according to a watchdog group that's proudly been a thorn in the side of the Obama White House.

Regardless of the fact that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had already possessed a multi-billion dollar intelligence center for global warming, a new report by public-interest group Judicial Watch's blog claims that the Obama administration believed the nation’s intelligence community needed yet another taxpayer-funded entity to better determine the impact of climate change on U.S. national security. Read more ..

Broken Economy

Why Don’t U.S. Exports Create More Jobs?

November 29th 2012

Employee applications

When President Bill Clinton was trying to persuade Congress to pass the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993, administration officials frequently made the claim that each additional $1 billion in exports would produce 17,000 new jobs in the United States. Implicit in the claim was the idea that NAFTA and other free trade agreements would trigger a big growth in exports, and that exports would be an engine of job creation.

The claim turned out to be half true. U.S. exports to Mexico surged, growing nearly 400 percent since 1993, and Mexico is today the second largest recipient of U.S. exports after Canada. Overall, the value of U.S. exports to the world has increased nearly three-fold, from $627 billion in 1993 to $1.65 trillion last year. But the promised job growth never came; the number of U.S. jobs supported by exports is up only marginally from 1993, and is roughly the same number as existed in the mid-1990s.  Read more ..

Egypt's Second Revolution

Egypt Rushes Vote on Draft Constitution

November 29th 2012

Nov 2012 protests

Amidst ongoing clashes in response to Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's decree granting himself near-absolute power, Egypt's Constituent Assembly surprised the country and began voting Thursday on a draft constitution. The assembly will vote on each of the draft's 234 articles and, upon passing the document, will send it to Morsi for approval. Once approved by the president, the constitution will be put to a public referendum.

Today's vote comes after Morsi gave the assembly an additional two months -- until February -- to complete its work. But with protests mounting in the streets, Morsi's supporters in the assembly quickly wrapped up deliberations and prepared for the unscheduled Thursday vote. They seem to hope that rushing through the constitution will help stem the current crisis aimed at the president, as Morsi has said he would relinquish the powers he recently bestowed upon himself once the constitution is ratified in a referendum. Read more ..

The Vote Aftermath

Conservative Activist Threatens to Steer Donors from RNC if Gop Raises Taxes

November 29th 2012

Money Stack

Brent Bozell, a prominent conservative activist and fundraiser, is threatening to steer donors away from the Republican Party if GOP lawmakers sign a deal to raise taxes. Bozell sent a letter to Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus on Wednesday pledging to make it his mission to counsel conservative donors to shun the party if its leaders in Congress agree to raise taxes.

Bozell, the chairman of ForAmerica Inc., has been active in conservative political circles for three decades and estimates he has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for “an alphabet soup of conservative causes.”  “Reince, it pains me to say this, but if the Republican Party breaks its word to the American people and goes along with President Obama with tax increases, it will have betrayed conservatives for the final time,” Bozell wrote.

“I will make it my mission to ensure that every conservative donor to the Republican Party that I have worked with for the last three decades — and there are many and they have given tens of millions to Republican causes — gives not one penny more to the Republican Party or any member of Congress that votes for tax increases,” he warned. Read more ..

Palestine on Edge

Palestine at the UN: Mixed Messages

November 29th 2012

Mahmoud Abbas at parliament

On November 29, the anniversary of the 1947 UN General Assembly vote to partition the British Mandate of Palestine into "an Arab state and Jewish state," the assembly will vote on a new draft resolution recognizing Palestine as a nonmember observer state. A majority vote in favor is all but guaranteed given the near-automatic support from the nonaligned and Islamic blocs and some other delegations.

But in presenting the draft, Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority are defying U.S. and Israeli objections to this unilateral move. It fails the test of resolving all issues only by mutual agreement with Israel and could further complicate future negotiations. In addition, enhanced UN status could open the door to attempts at pressing Palestinian demands through such bodies as the International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice rather than through peace talks with Israel. Read more ..

Destination the World

After 201 Countries, Man Ends World Tour in South Sudan

November 29th 2012

Graham Hughes

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

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

The Edge of Terrorism

US Prisons Could House Gitmo Detainees Says GAO

November 29th 2012

Prison bars

Military and federal prisons in the United States could house the 166 detainees currently held in Guantánamo Bay, but there are legal and logistical complications that would require the facilities to be modified, a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found.

The GAO report, which was requested by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), investigated prisons run by the military and Justice Department for their viability to house Guantánamo detainees, many of whom are accused of terrorism charges.

The report found there were 98 federal Bureau of Prisons facilities that have custody of inmates charged with or convicted of terrorism-related crimes, and six Defense Department facilities that can house service members charged with crimes for more than one year. But to equip those facilities to house Guantánamo detainees, modifications would be needed to ensure the safety of U.S. personnel and to deal with legal issues housing foreign nationals. Read more ..

The Edge of Corruption

Rethinking the Fight Against Corruption

November 29th 2012

Money Bands=Happiness

Fighting corruption requires a new understanding of how the global problem has evolved, for it is bigger and broader than petty bribery or crooked deals in developing countries. Merely adopting a new anti-corruption law, creating another commission, or launching another 'campaign' will not get the job done. We can no longer fight corruption by simply fighting corruption alone.

Corruption is a symptom of a larger disease -- the failure of institutions and governance, resulting in poor management of revenues and resources and an absence of delivery of public goods and services. We must think beyond anti-corruption rhetoric and traditional tactics. We need to be more strategic and rigorous, identifying and addressing corruption's underlying causes and examining the weaknesses in key institutions and government policies and practices. We have to focus our efforts on the broader context of governance and accountability. Only then can we see the many other shapes and forms corruption can take and address this epidemic. Read more ..

Poland on Edge

Mimicking Breivik in Poland

November 29th 2012

Polish Security Forces

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

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

The Edge of Terrorism

Indonesia's Anti-Terror Arsenal

November 29th 2012

Indonesian security forces

The swift and near-simultaneous arrests late last month of 11 individuals allegedly preparing to bomb U.S. and other Western targets throughout Java, Indonesia's most populated island, should serve as a wake-up call to Asia's national security establishment, lawmakers and leaders. The foiled plot would have been just the latest in a flurry of terrorist activity by members of Islamist organizations, all of which are registered and legally sanctioned by the Indonesian government.

During the arrests, Indonesia's elite counter-terrorism squad found explosive material, a bomb-making manual, detonators and a list of targets that included the American and Australian embassies in Jakarta and the American consulate in Surabaya, according to Indonesian government officials. Each of those arrested appears to be a card-carrying member of the Sunni Movement for Indonesian Society, also known as Hasmi, an obscure Islamist organization few had heard of previously. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Synthetic Molecule Stores Solar Energy To Provide Sustainable Energy System

November 29th 2012

Rub al Khali Saudi Empty Quarter

A system which is based on a synthetic molecule that is changed by sunlight and is able to store solar energy in chemical bonds has been developed by researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and UC Berkeley. The molecule can be transported and stored for several years and then used to generate heat on demand. Many researchers believe that using the sun as the energy source offers the best opportunities for developing a sustainable energy system. One challenge in this area is to find efficient storage methods for saving the captured energy and transporting it to other locations.

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have made progress in developing an ‘all-in-one’ system for the capture, storage and use of solar energy. The method is known as the thermochemical process. It attracted a lot of interest during the 1980s, but researchers at the time were unable to resolve the issue. Two years ago, a group of American researchers demonstrated that the method is theoretically possible. Chalmers researchers Kasper Moth-Poulsen and Karl Börjesson, working with researchers from UC Berkeley in California, have now progressed from theory to practical devices. Read more ..

Gaza and Israel

Gaza is Not the Key, Philadelphi Is

November 29th 2012

Rafah crossing

The Second Hamas-Israel War, of November 10 to 21, inspired a mighty debate over rights and wrongs, with each side appealing to the large undecided bloc (19 percent of Americans according to CNN/ORC, 38 percent according to Rasmussen ). Is Israel a criminal state that has no right to exist, much less to deploy force? Or is it a modern liberal democracy with the rule of law that justifiably protects innocent civilians? Morality drives this debate.

To any sentient person, it is obvious that Israelis are 100 percent justified in protecting themselves from wanton attacks. A cartoon from the First Hamas-Israel War, of 2008 to 2009, symbolically showed a Palestinian terrorist shooting from behind a baby carriage at an Israeli soldier in front of a baby carriage.

The tougher question is how to prevent further Hamas-Israel wars. Some background: If Israelis are 100 percent justified in protecting themselves, their government also bears complete responsibility for creating this crisis. Specifically, it made two misguided unilateral withdrawals in 2005. Read more ..

Islam on Edge

Daghestani Brothers Struggle To Bridge Religious, Political Divides

November 28th 2012

Rustam Shaplyev

An uneasy peace holds between Ruslan and Rustam Shapiyev in the Daghestani village of Komsomolskoye. Younger brother Rustam, who has taken the name Abubakar, says he loves and respects his older brother, who has adopted the name Magomed.

"Of course, a brother is a brother. We are obligated to maintain kinship ties," Abubakar says. "Magomed is my older brother. When he enters the room, I stand. I serve him food. I respect him and seek his advice. We help one another."

But when it comes to religion, things are not so harmonious. "When he tells me, for instance, that I shouldn't celebrate the Prophet's birthday, I answer: 'Stop. This is where this conversation must end,'" Abubakar says. Twenty-eight-year-old Abubakar is a Sufi Muslim, a branch of Islam that is officially recognized in Daghestan. Magomed, 31, is a devotee of Salafism, a confession that is banned under the republic's 1999 law on Wahhabism and other perceived forms of extremism. Four of the brothers' cousins have also adopted Salafism. Read more ..


Amb. Rice Meeting with Lawmakers a Waste of Time

November 28th 2012

Susan Rice

Tuesday's much-anticipated closed-door meeting between a key member of the Obama administration and Republican lawmakers turned out to be a bust for getting the facts behind the alleged Benghazi-consulate cover up by members of the State Department, the CIA and the Defense Department.  Several members of the Senate and House denounced the meeting as being a waste of time.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice on met with three Republican senators who have criticized her comments about the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya. "I want to say that I'm more troubled today," Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) said after she and fellow GOP Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) met with Mrs. Rice for an hour on Capitol Hill. The CIA's Acting Director Michael Morell accompanied Rice to the meeting. Read more ..

Egypt's Second Revolution

President Morsi Acts Out Egypt's Tragedy

November 28th 2012


How should we understand the apparently erratic behavior of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi? In September, he seemed an unreliable ally, if an ally at all, after his tardy and diffident response to mob attacks on America's Cairo embassy. Morsi rose sharply in Western esteem after the November 21 Gaza ceasefire, only to earn the world's opprobrium by asserting dictatorial powers on November 23. Tahrir Square was filled with demonstrators for a seventh day at this writing and members of Morsi's cabinet have broken with the president's attempt to eliminate judicial review of executive actions.
It is possible that the Egyptian leader has a Jeykll-and-Hyde political personality, to be sure. But it is also possible that the exigent circumstances of Egyptian governance have pushed Morsi towards risky postures. In this reading, Egypt's present crisis is less a black comedy than a tragedy in which all available choices lead to a bad outcome.   Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Can US Keep Pressure on Persian Gulf?

November 28th 2012


Iran. Gaza. Syria. Political opposition in the Emirates and adjoining states. The Persian Gulf region simmers and America may have only one carrier group deployed there at the end of this year. Should we worry?

Let's examine the puzzle. The USS Nimitz's planned deployment to the Persian Gulf may be delayed. That is raising concern, since the Navy will be down to just one carrier in the region during the months of December and January.

But are carrier groups the only agents of US influence in the region? The U.S. Air Force has numerous bases and installations from which it operates. Indeed, Air Force tactical air is a key part of any joint air operations, while the real threat the United States poses to Iran's nuclear ambitions comes from Air Force heavy bombers and their massive ordinance loads, which are operated by Global Strike Command and based in the continental U.S., as well as in the region. Similarly, any theater air operations will be dependent on Air Force tankers in the skies off the battlefield. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Our Handling of Keystone Is a Smack in Canada's Face

November 28th 2012

Keystone Protest

The Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline, which would bring oil from Canada's oil-sands to refiners in the Gulf Coast is in the news again. An unlikely set of bedfellows have recently come out with strong statements of support for the pipeline. The American Petroleum Institute says exit polls during the last election showed 75 percent of Americans support building KXL. A bipartisan group of 18 senators also favors it, calling on the administration to issue a Presidential Permit as soon as Nebraska finishes re-routing the planned pipeline, a process that's nearly complete. And the Laborer's International Union of North America also wants KXL, arguing that there's "no rationale for further delay."

Standing foursquare against Keystone XL is the environmental lobby, led by the peripatetic Bill McKibben, of 350.org, a group devoted to limiting the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, the level they feel will only lead to moderate warming. McKibben's been dashing around the country in a biodiesel-fueled bus, warning of the perils of greenhouse gases and the Keystone pipeline. He also held an anti-Keystone rally in Washington on November 18th, that while smaller than previous such rallies, still attracted "hundreds" of supporters, according to Reuters. Read more ..

Broken Government

Kick the Cliff Down the Road, Then Start Negotiating

November 28th 2012

Home Foreclosure

With the election and Thanksgiving out of the way, the rest of the year is shaping up to be an epic showdown between Democrats and Republicans over tax policy and how to avoid going over the fiscal cliff. At this point there appears to be little room for optimism that either side will give enough ground to avert the spending cuts and tax hikes that will otherwise go into effect within weeks. How markets—and voters—will react to the resulting contractionary pressure will likely depend on the extent to which the "cliff" is recognized to be potentially no more than a slope and on the actions Democrats and Republicans take to make the downward slide a gentle one.

One thing is clear at this point, however: Democrats have won the game to frame the debate. Ostensibly, the 2011 budget deal that brought us to this point was about the proper size of government and about calibrating spending and revenues in order to stabilize long-term federal finances. However, the positions staked out by both sides have effectively narrowed the debate considerably. One side wants continued low taxes for the vast majority of Americans and higher taxes on top earners. The other prioritizes continued low taxes for rich and poor alike. Democrats want higher revenues and see little upside to propose spending cuts. Republicans want lower revenues and lower spending but would rather hold the line on taxes than emphasize the spending cuts laid out in their recent House budgets. Read more ..

China Rising

China Aircraft Carrier Landing Poses No Direct Threat, Say Analysts

November 28th 2012

Liaoning - China's first flattop

Western analysts say China's recent landing of a Russian designed fighter jet on an aircraft carrier, though significant, poses no immediate regional or international security threats. In reports published Sunday, China's state-run news agencies said the navy landed several Chinese-made J-15 jets on the carrier Liaoning in the past week. The reports said the warplanes also took off successfully.

Chinese military analysts described the daytime landings and take-offs as a "landmark" in the navy's efforts to develop the combat capability of the Liaoning, China's first aircraft carrier. Bonnie Glaser, senior Asia Adviser at the Washington D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said while this is a significant achievement for China, it needs to be put in perspective. "The landing took place in good weather and it took place in the daytime.  It is significantly more difficult to land an aircraft on a carrier at night and in bad weather." Read more ..

Book Review

How We Forgot the Cold War

November 28th 2012

How We Forgot the Cold War

How We Forgot the Cold War. Jon Wiener. California, 2012. 384 pp.

Jon Wiener has spent much of his career at the intersection between journalism and academe, in the process enriching both. Actually, his specialty has long been chronicling the life of the mind in the contemporary United States in books like Politics, Professors and Pop (1991), Historians in Trouble (2005), and the recently published e-book, I Told You So, a collection of interviews with the late Gore Vidal. In his latest book, How We Forgot the Cold War, Wiener makes his most systematic foray into the historiographic sub-discipline of collective memory with a counterintuitive look at a recently concluded chapter in American life.

The book is counterintuitive in a number of ways. One is that you don't often find a historian who can barely contain his glee over the way an entire society seems engaged in a process of "forgetting" the Cold War. As he makes clear, however, what's being forgotten is not the Cold War itself so much as a neoconservative interpretation of it. Which is also counterintuitive, given the way the political right has dominated national discourse in the last generation and has been able to literally institutionalize its views. Insofar as it has been remembered, Wiener shows how Cold War memory has in many cases been displaced -- folded into the history of World War II, for example, or cast in terms of a saga of (radioactive) environmental sustainability. This, too, is counterintuitive: Wiener shows us a series of historical sites that say they're about one thing but in fact show themselves to be about another.

Finally, what's counterintuitive here is that way Wiener takes a collection of what are essentially travel pieces -- the heart of the book consists of 20 approximately ten-page essays on specific Cold War museum exhibitions (plus one on the 1998 CNN documentary Cold War) and fashions them into a cohesive piece of scholarship. These essays range from the amusing "Hippie Day at the Reagan Library," where the counterculture lives on in the land of the Gipper, to "Cold War Elvis," where Sgt. Presley makes an appearance at the General George Patton Museum (and, we learn, scares the East German authorities more than the Third Armored Division ever did). He also includes a number of pieces involving nuclear waste that suggests anxieties continue to linger long after the reasons for such weapons, and their supporting infrastructure, have been dismantled. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Twin Car Bombs Rip Through Damascus

November 28th 2012

Damascus Car Bomb 11-28-12

Twin car bombs have ripped through a suburb in the Syrian capital, Damascus, killing at least 34 people.

Activists say the blasts Wednesday targeted the Jermana suburb, which is mostly populated by Christians and Druse. Television footage shows firemen hosing down the remains of charred vehicles. Debris from the blasts was scattered about the street. SANA state news agency called the attack an act of "terrorists." The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says violence across the country has killed more than 40,000 people since an uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March of last year.

Africa on Edge

Diabetes Explodes in sub-Saharan Africa

November 28th 2012

Diabetes, a life-long disease that increases sugar levels in the blood, affects over 366 million people worldwide. The NGO, Project Hope, based in the U-S state of Virginia, said in sub-Saharan Africa that diabetes, once a rarity for Africans, is now affecting over 12-million people. The organization said there is an urgent need to expand education about the disease in developing countries, and they recently opened a center in Johannesburg in partnership with the pharmaceutical company, Eli Lilly, that addresses the needs of patients at risk of developing diabetes, and those living with it.

Paul Madden, Project Hope’s senior advisor for non-communicable diseases, explained that diabetes is rapidly spreading throughout sub-Saharan Africa, and even other developing countries around the world, largely due to lifestyle changes.   People generally are not as active as previous generations, and they are in jobs that require them to sit or stand for long periods of time.  Another reason for the increase in the rate of diabetes is eating processed food.

“The way things are packaged, they’re often in bigger portion sizes than the body needs.  So it’s the portion sizes, lack of activity.  In some of the villages and towns and cities in Africa, it’s people are living longer, and as you live longer and get less active, and also taking in a few too many calories on some days, and if you do that over many years, you gain weight,” explained Madden. 

The Congo on Edge

M23 to Leave Goma, Rebel Chief Says

November 28th 2012

Congo M23 Rebels

The military chief of Congolese rebel group M23 says his forces have started to withdraw from the town of Masisi and plan to later leave the captured city of Goma. Sultani Makenga said Wednesday the rebels were leaving Masisi, a small town about 50 kilometers northwest of Goma, following an agreement brokered in neighboring Uganda. The group's political chief, Jean-Marie Runiga, told VOA on Tuesday that M23 forces will leave Goma by Friday as a sign of good will.  But he says a withdrawal does not mean the group will back down on its demands for foreign groups and the Congolese army to leave the region. ​​The rebels seized Goma last week and have also taken the town of Sake.

Late Tuesday, United Nations peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told reporters there are indications that the M23 rebels were starting to withdraw from Goma. Ladsous said the withdrawal would be confirmed by the United Nations peacekeeping mission on Wednesday.


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