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The 2012 Vote

Romney Gains Big in Swing State Polls After Debate Triumph

October 11th 2012

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney gaining in three key swing states one week after his strong debate performance, according to a new poll released late Wednesday. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls show Romney and President Obama in a statistical tie in Virginia and Florida with Obama holding a slight edge in Ohio, a third major battleground.

In Virginia, Romney now leads the president with 48-47 percent, a 3-point shift from the same poll released last week on the day of the debate. In Florida, Obama is holding on to his pre-debate, 1-point edge. Obama won 48 percent support in the new poll compared to 47 percent for Romney. In last week's poll, Obama had a 47-46 percent edge.

Among likely Ohio voters, Obama still leads Romney 51-45 percent, but the new figures show a 2-point bounce for the GOP challenger. Last week Romney trailed in the state 51-43 percent. The NBC/WSJ/Marist numbers are the latest in a slew of polls showing Romney enjoying a bounce post-debate, with a Gallup tracking survey of likely voters earlier this wek showing him leading nationally for the first time. A Pew Research poll also found Romney up nationally by four points. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Planet Made of Diamonds Discovered

October 11th 2012

Exoplanet candidate UCF-1.01

New research led by Yale University scientists suggests that a rocky planet twice Earth's size orbiting a nearby star is a diamond planet.

"This is our first glimpse of a rocky world with a fundamentally different chemistry from Earth," said lead researcher Nikku Madhusudhan, a Yale postdoctoral researcher in physics and astronomy. "The surface of this planet is likely covered in graphite and diamond rather than water and granite."

The planet — called 55 Cancri e — has a radius twice Earth's, and a mass eight times greater, making it a "super-Earth." It is one of five planets orbiting a sun-like star, 55 Cancri, that is located 40 light years from Earth yet visible to the naked eye in the constellation of Cancer. The planet orbits at hyper speed — its year lasts just 18 hours, in contrast to Earth's 365 days. It is also blazingly hot, with a temperature of about 3,900 degrees Fahrenheit, researchers said, a far cry from a habitable world. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

House Hearings on Benghazi Consulate Attack Reveals Ineptness and Waffling

October 10th 2012

Libyan rioters at US consulate Sep 2012 #1

A House Oversight and Government Reform Committee probe today into the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, is revealing an inept, uninformed and dishonest Obama administration and State Department.

Prior to the deadly terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Ambassador Chris Stevens' request for additional security officials was turned down by the Obama administration in order to project a friendly atmosphere to the distrusting Islamic population, a State Department security official in Washington, D.C., told a Congressional panel Wednesday.

"In the immediate aftermath of the attack, and then for several days, administration officials contended that the attack on the consulate was a spontaneous reaction to a crude anti-Islamic movie trailer posted to YouTube. The New York Times, Reuters, and Fox News have in the last few days published stories, based on what these news organizations said were reliable sources, that “within hours” of the attack, U.S. intelligence agencies submitted dozens of reports to high officials suggesting that an al Qaeda-affiliated Libyan militia was behind the attack," according to Homeland Security Newswire. Read more ..

North Korea's Nukes

North Korea Threatens Its Rockets can hit U.S. Mainland

October 10th 2012

North Korean Missile

The isolated North Korea regime has declared its rockets can hit the U.S. mainland. Reclusive North Korea has been enginering an ICBM missile with a range of more than 4,000 miles that can hit the American coastline. Two tests have failed, but development continues. North Korean rocket are capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.

"We do not hide (the fact) that the revolutionary armed forces ... including the strategic rocket forces are keeping within the scope of strike not only the bases of the puppet forces and the U.S. imperialist aggression forces' bases in the inviolable land of Korea [South Korea], but also Japan, Guam and the U.S. mainland," KCNA said.

In Washington, the State Department declined to comment. "Certainly rather than bragging about its missile capability, they ought to be feeding their own people," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, adding that "threats or provocations" by North Korea would only undermine its efforts to seek more engagement with the international community. Read more ..

Israel's Looming Strike

Is a Joint US-Israeli Strike Against Iran in the Offing

October 9th 2012

B-2 Bomber

In Mitt Romney's "Hope Is Not a Strategy" speech at the Virginia Military Institute, the Republican challenger zeroed in on the current unrest in the Middle East as a sign that President Barack Obama's foreign policy is not working. The most biting implication in the speech is the assertion that al Qaeda is resurgent -- in other words that killing Osama bin Laden, emotionally satisfying as it was, was not the game-changer in the region that the Obama administration has implied it was.

But of equal importance to the Republican critique of Obama is Romney's assessment that Obama's efforts to reverse Iran's course toward gaining nuclear weapons have been unsuccessful. In the hours before the speech was delivered, neoconservative Romney foreign-policy advisor Dan Senor suggested on MSNBC's Morning Joe that Obama effectively had to be dragged against his will toward tougher sanctions on Iran -- the same tough sanctions for which the administration is now regularly taking credit because they have started to work. Senor noted that both Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and former Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg pushed back against bipartisan congressional support for the sanctions out of concern that they would have unintended negative consequences for the U.S. and global economies. Read more ..

Inside Venezuela

Venezuela's President Chavez Re-elected--Aims for 20 Years in Office

October 8th 2012

Hugo Chavez infirm

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez emerged victorious Sunday from the presidential election. If he completes his six-year term, the South American leader will have held the reins of power in the oil-rich country for 20 years. President Chavez was not able to campaign as vigorously this year as he has in the past. He has been fighting cancer and that battle has left him weak and exhausted. The president has not given specific information about the cancer other than it was in the pelvic region and is currently in remission. Analysts have questioned whether the 58-year-old leader is strong enough to continue to preside over South America's largest oil exporting country and also find solutions for Venezuela's crumbling infrastructure and high murder rate.

The leftist leader has nationalized much of Venezuela's economy since he took power in 1999.  He says he wants to improve the life of the country's poor majority.  Critics say his policies are scaring off investors.  For many poor voters, his socialist vision is a fresh start after decades of governments that paid scant attention to their needs. Read more ..

China and the US

China's Expanding Economic Influence Within the Critical National Infrastructure of the United States

October 7th 2012

The East is Red

In June 2012, the People's Republic of China held approximately $1.1643 trillion in U.S. Government debt, which was up slightly from the $1.1640 trillion in debt during the previous month of May. However, Chinese ownership of U.S. Government debt hit an historical peak of $1.3149 trillion in July 2011. The slight decline in U.S. debt to China  is attributed to increased purchase of U.S. Government debt by Japan during the past twelve months.

The U.S. financial debt to China has only been one area of concern during the past several years. Events during the last six months for example, have given rise to new concerns regarding China's interest in expanding its economic influence in the United States. These concerns include the purchase by the Chinese National-owned Ralls Corporation and its interest in the Oregon wind farms it had purchased earlier this year, and its planned development and expansion of state-of-the-art telecommunications facilities within the U.S. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Turkey Retaliates as Syrian Refugees Stream over the Border

October 7th 2012

Syrian Rebels in Aleppo

Turkey launched retaliatory artillery fire at Syria for a fifth straight day on October 7 after another mortar round exploded in the Turkish village of Akcakale, in the southwestern region of the Anatolian country. Last week, five civilians were killed by a previous Syrian strike. According to Turkish TV reports, a mortar round landed very close to a public building. There were, however, no reports of casualties followed the attack.

A rebel flag flew over a Syrian government army outpost near the Turkish border province of Hatay on the same day after rebels seized the building. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels took control of the area near the Syrian town of Khirbat al-Joz on October 6 after a 12-hour battle. Syrian troops continued their offensive on to retake areas controlled by rebels in Aleppo, Homs, and towns in the periphery of Damascus, the Syrian capital. They were also seeking to bring the southern villages to heel on the border with Jordan. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Iranian Money Becomes Worthless

October 6th 2012

Iranian Rial Close-Up

The Iranian currency is in a free fall, the economy is in shambles, and Iranian citizens across the country are bearing the brunt. To get an idea of how average Iranians are coping with the currency crisis, we spoke to Hamid (not his real name), a student in his mid-20s who works in a computer shop near Tehran, and to Reza, a 20-something living in Iran's second city of Isfahan. Hamid says uncertainty, anxiety, and fear of the future have become part of the daily life of many middle-class Iranians and those from the lower strata of society.

"Life has become so difficult," he says with a sigh, lamenting that he and others are struggling to make ends meet. "We don't know what the future will bring. We actually don't even know how things will be in the next few hours," he says. "Our money has become worthless, affecting all aspects of life." Iranians feel the sting of the plunging rial when they go shopping. Prices of food staples and other goods, including imported medicines, have doubled or even tripled, in some cases. The price of home appliances and electronic devices has skyrocketed. Prices increase every day, Hamid complains. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Evolution Occurs Every Day Around Us

October 6th 2012


Take a good look around on your next nature hike. Not only are you experiencing the wonders of the outdoors – you're probably also witnessing evolution in action. New research from the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) on the effect of insects on plant populations has shown that evolution can happen more quickly than was previously assumed, even over a single generation.

"Scientists have long hypothesized that the interaction between plants and insects has led to much of the diversity we see among plants, including crops, but until now we had limited direct experimental evidence," says Marc Johnson, Assistant Professor in the UTM Department of Biology. "This research fills a fundamental gap in our understanding of how natural selection by insects causes evolutionary changes in plants as they adapt, and demonstrates how rapidly these changes can happen in nature." Read more ..

The Battle for Jordan

Jordan Bracing for Muslim Brotherhood Protests

October 5th 2012

Muslim Brotherhood Jordan

Tomorrow, a loose coalition of Jordan's Islamist and tribal opposition factions will hold a demonstration in downtown Amman to demand faster and deeper political and economic reform. The movement's leaders predict that 50,000 protestors will take part. Their "Inkath al-Watan ("Save the Homeland") march will be countered by an "initiative of gratitude" to the king, a pro-monarchy rally titled "Ihna Maak" ("We Are with You"). It is unclear whether the Friday demonstrations -- which promise to be the largest outpouring in the kingdom since the start of the region-wide Arab uprisings -- will lead to violence. The opposition turnout and the palace's handling of the protestors may provide some indication of Jordan's trajectory. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

The Specter of Turkish-Syrian War

October 4th 2012

Turkish Tanks

The Syrian regime grew markedly weaker this week, and will get weaker still as Turkey paves the way for action against Assad one strike at a time. On Wednesday Turkey shelled a military outpost across its border with Syria. The move was retaliation for Syrian mortar fire earlier that day that hit the Turkish border town of Akcakale, killing at least five civilians.

The shelling, which continued on Thursday, marks the first military action by a foreign state in Syria since the uprising against Bashar Assad began last spring. Assad's forces have hit several Turkish targets since the start of the Syrian conflict, in which Ankara has shown increasing support for the anti-regime rebels.

Unless Damascus reacts recklessly to this week's exchange, which doesn't appear likely, the two countries probably aren't headed for a full-scale war -- yet. Nevertheless, the escalation with Turkey only bodes ill for the Assad regime, which is as alienated abroad as it is weak at home. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Romney Scores Knock-Out in First Debate Completely Dominating Obama

October 4th 2012


Mitt Romney dominated the critical first presidential debate Wednesday night, landing punch after punch on a noticeably subdued President Obama. The GOP nominee came into the evening needing to shake up the narrative of the race, and he appeared to succeed. Throughout the 90-minute debate in Denver, the first showdown of the presidential contest, Romney aggressively questioned the president's record while defending his own economic priorities. Meanwhile, as Obama offered a safe defense of his record and policies, Romney often interrupted and seemed eager to engage. He spent the evening on the offensive and came off well-prepared for his encounter with Obama, who seemed hesitant and forced.

And while Romney hit his marks, Obama missed opportunities when he failed to mention two of his campaign’s most effective attacks against Romney — the GOP nominee's tenure at the private equity firm Bain Capital and the comments about the "47 percent" captured on video at a private fundraiser. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syrian Shelling Strikes Turkish Town--Ankara Rushes Forces to Border

October 3rd 2012

Turkish Tanks
Turkish Tanks on the Move

Turkey says its armed forces have fired on targets inside Syria in retaliation for a Syrian mortar attack that killed five Turkish civilians in a Turkish border town. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's office said Turkish forces in the border region immediately shelled Syrian targets spotted by radar Wednesday, in response to what it called a "heinous" attack on the Turkish town of Akcakale. Official Turkish sources confirmed a mobilization of its forces at the border.

“Our armed forces at the border region responded to this atrocious attack with artillery fire on points in Syria that were detected with radar, in line with the rules of engagement,” the Turkish statement said. “Turkey, acting within the rules of engagement and international laws, will never leave unreciprocated such provocations by the Syrian regime against our national security,” it said. Turkey’s NTV television said Turkish radar had pinpointed the positions from which the shells were fired on Akcakale, and that those positions were hit. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

National Intelligence Fusion Centers Have Been Useless--Senate Report

October 3rd 2012

National Fusion center

An alarming report published by the Department of Homeland Security in March 2010 called attention to the theft of dozens of pounds of dangerous explosives from an airport storage bunker in Washington state. Like many such warnings, it drew on information gathered by one of the department’s “fusion centers” created to exchange data among state, local and federal officials, all at a cost to the federal government of hundreds of millions of dollars.

There was just one problem with that report, and many others like it: the theft had occurred seven months earlier, and it had been highlighted within five days in a press release by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which was seeking citizen assistance in tracking down the culprits. The DHS report’s tardiness and its duplication of work by others has been a commonplace failing of work performed by fusion centers nationwide, according to a new investigation of the DHS-funded centers by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.


The Edge of Climate Change

High-Arctic Heat Tops 1,800-Year High

October 2nd 2012


Summers on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard are now warmer than at any other time in the last 1,800 years, including during medieval times when parts of the northern hemisphere were as hot as, or hotter, than today, according to a new study in the journal Geology.

“The Medieval Warm Period was not as uniformly warm as we once thought--we can start calling it the Medieval Period again,” said the study’s lead author, William D’Andrea, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “Our record indicates that recent summer temperatures on Svalbard are greater than even the warmest periods at that time.”

The naturally driven Medieval Warm Period, from about 950 to 1250, has been a favorite time for people who deny evidence that humans are heating the planet with industrial greenhouse gases. But the climate reconstruction from Svalbard casts new doubt on that era’s reach, and undercuts skeptics who argue that current warming is also natural. Since 1987, summers on Svalbard have been 2 degrees to 2.5 degrees C (3.6 to 4.5 degrees F) hotter than they were there during warmest parts of the Medieval Warm Period, the study found. Read more ..

Turkey on Edge

Kurdish Woes Brings Turkey Closer to the United States

October 1st 2012

Turk flags

Ankara is re-embracing its old allies in Washington at the expense of Tehran and Damascus.

The Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, has made a bloody comeback in Turkey. According to a recent report by the International Crisis Group, PKK-related violence has killed some 700 people since the summer of 2011. This deadly toll recalls the horrors of the 1990s, when thousands of civilians were killed in PKK terror attacks and a brutal war in eastern Turkey between the government and Kurdish militants.

The resurgence of PKK violence is no accident. It is directly related to Turkey's defiant posture in support of the Syrian uprising and against the Assad regime and its patrons in Iran. The upside for the West is that Ankara is starting to re-embrace its old friends in Washington. Read more ..

Israel's Looming Attack

Responding to an Israeli Strike on Iran's Nuclear Complex

September 29th 2012

Israeli Jets Parked

Although an Israeli military strike against Iran’s nuclear program is far from certain, the potential consequences for the United States are clear. Such a development would present major crisis-management challenges—and, perhaps, opportunities to advance U.S. interests.

The immediate challenge would be to limit escalation by constraining Tehran’s freedom to act, minimizing the damage caused by its retaliation, and keeping Hizballah and other Iranian proxies out of the fray. Moreover, by curbing Iran’s escalatory options in the Persian Gulf, Washington might prevent a prolonged spike in oil prices. This could in turn help preserve international support for efforts to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. To accomplish these objectives, Washington would need to take a number of steps both prior to and immediately after a strike. It must also be prepared to respond quickly to miscalculations—whether its own or those of friends and adversaries—as well as other unintended consequences that could complicate poststrike diplomacy. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Canada PM Sees Iran as “Clear and Present Danger”

September 28th 2012

Iran centrifuges

Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, said the government of Iran constitutes, “unambiguously, a clear and present danger and thus demands a very sober assessment.”

Speaking after receiving the World Statesman Award from Rabbi Arthur Schneier’s Appeal of Conscience Foundation, Prime Minister Harper said: “I speak not merely of its appalling record of human rights abuse, or its active assistance to the brutal regime in Syria, or its undeniable support of terrorist entities, or its determined pursuit of nuclear weapons, rather it is the combination of all these things with a truly malevolent ideology.”

“I believe that the appeal of our conscience requires us to speak out against what the Iranian regime stands for,” the Canadian Prime Minister said to nearly 1,000 black-tie guests at a dinner in his honor at the Waldorf-Astoria, in New York City. “It likewise requires us to speak in support of the country that its hatred most immediately threatens, The State of Israel.”

Introducing the prime minister, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, spoke of the UN Security Council, where “the five permanent members, for the past 10 years, have been discussing how Iran’s nuclear proliferation is unacceptable, and now it’s time to define what unacceptable behavior means.” Read more ..

The Edge of the Universe

Hubble Shows Earliest Galaxies, Closes in on Big Bang

September 28th 2012

Hubble XDF image, Sep 2012
Hubble XDF image (credit: NASA; ESA; G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and
P. Oesch (UC Santa Cruz); R. Bouwens (Leiden University); and
the HUDF09 Team)

NASA’s Hubble space telescope has captured the deepest view to date of the universe, a photograph showing galaxies going back almost to the beginning of time. Hubble’s latest view of the universe, called the eXtreme Deep Field (XDF), is a photograph combining 10 years of data and showing about 5,500 galaxies, the oldest of which is about 13.2 billion years old. The universe is estimated to be about 13.7 billion years old.

“The XDF is the deepest image of the sky ever obtained and reveals the faintest and most distant galaxies ever seen,” said Garth Illingworth of UC Santa Cruz, a scientist working on the project. “XDF allows us to explore further back in time than ever before.”

The XDF image is even more detailed than the original Hubble Ultra Deep Field image, thanks to the additional observations, and contains about 5500 galaxies, even within its smaller field of view. The faintest galaxies are one ten-billionth the brightness that the unaided human eye can see. Hubble repeatedly focused on a tiny patch of southern sky during the past decade, with a total exposure time of two million seconds. More than 2000 images of the same field were taken with Hubble’s two primary cameras, which were then combined to form the XDF. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Prime Minister Netanyahu Addresses United Nations General Assemply

September 27th 2012


Speaking at the General Assembly of the United Nations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resorted to graphics to indicate where Iran may reach by the middle of 2013 in its quest for nuclear weapons.

It’s a pleasure to see the General Assembly presided by the Ambassador from Israel, and it’s good to see all of you, distinguished delegates.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Three thousand years ago, King David reigned over the Jewish state in our eternal capital, Jerusalem. I say that to all those who proclaim that the Jewish state has no roots in our region and that it will soon disappear. Throughout our history, the Jewish people have overcome all the tyrants who have sought our destruction. It’s their ideologies that have been discarded by history. The people of Israel live on. We say in Hebrew, “Am Yisrael Chai,” and the Jewish state will live forever.

The Jewish people have lived in the land of Israel for thousands of years. Even after most of our people were exiled from it, Jews continued to live in the land of Israel throughout the ages. The masses of our people never gave up the dreamed of returning to our ancient homeland.

His full speech follows.

Iran's Nukes

Inside Iran's Nuclear Warhead

September 27th 2012

Edwin Black

Since the last century, Iran has been methodically pursuing the in-house capability of developing a missile-delivered nuclear bomb. The regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is now closer than ever and probably in the latter stages of perfecting an atomic bomb with a multipoint detonation mechanism, compact enough to insert into a Shahab-3 missile nosecone.

For years, the Obama administration, Western governments, the United Nations, and the International Atomic Energy Administration (IAEA) have been fully aware of the specific details of Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, down to the blueprints and names of the engineers. Whether or not Iran will complete the last leg of its decades-long journey toward a deliverable atomic bomb is still unknown. The difference in viewing the cannon is whether you are staring down the muzzle or observing it through a telescope from a perch six thousand miles away. Israel is peering into the muzzle, hence its assessment is different than Washington’s.

Protracted multilateral negotiations, crippling international sanctions, and even elaborate programs of sabotage have delayed but not derailed the nearly autarkic program. Now the world teeters at the brink of a regional war with profound global ramifications because the threat may have been ignored too long.

Here are the four determining factors, the dynamics of which will govern whether Israel launches a preemptive attack against Tehran’s massive nuclear infrastructure.

The four technological achievements are key to completing Tehran’s nuclear weapon are: 1) accretion of enough nuclear materials, highly enriched to 90 percent, to make the bomb; 2) machining that highly-enriched material into metal for a spheroid warhead so it can fit into a missile nosecone for detonation; 3) a trigger mechanism to initiate the atomic explosion at the precise moment of missile reentry; and, of course, 4) a reliable rocket delivery system to carry such a weapon. Read more ..

The Edge of the Universe

The Rich Colors of a Cosmic Seagull

September 26th 2012

Seagull Nebula, Sh 2-292 from ESO
Part of the Seagull Nebula, Sh 2-292 (credit: ESO)

Nebulae are among the most visually impressive objects in the night sky. They are interstellar clouds of dust, molecules, hydrogen, helium, and other ionised gases where new stars are being born. Although they come in different shapes and colours, many share a common characteristic: when observed for the first time, their odd and evocative shapes trigger astronomers’ imaginations and lead to curious names. This dramatic region of star formation, which has acquired the nickname of the Seagull Nebula, is no exception.

This new image from the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile shows the head part of the Seagull Nebula. It is just one part of the larger nebula known more formally as IC 2177, which spreads its wings with a span of over 100 light-years and resembles a seagull in flight. This cloud of gas and dust is located about 3700 light-years away from Earth. The entire bird shows up best in wide-field images.

This object has received many other names through the years; it is also known as Sh 2-292, RCW 2, and Gum 1. The name Sh 2-292 means that the object is #292 in the second Sharpless catalogue of HII regions, published in 1959. The RCW number refers to the catalogue compiled by Rodgers, Campbell, and Whiteoak and published in 1960. This object was also the first in an earlier list of southern nebulae compiled by Colin Gum, and published in 1955. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Hizbullah Threatens to Strike Strategic Israeli Targets in Response to an Attack on Iran’s Nuclear Facilities

September 26th 2012

Click to select Image

The intensive public discourse in Israel about an approaching attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities has led Iran and Hizbullah to ramp up their threats of harsh retaliation. Hizbullah is a central component of Iran’s deterrent and offensive strategy toward Israel and is considered Iran’s first line of defense in the spatial dimension of its conflict with Israel. Senior Iranian spokesmen say so publicly, and Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah backs them up. 

The military adviser of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, made clear on September 8, 2012, that Hizbullah would respond to any Israeli attack on Iran. “If the Zionist regime does anything against us, resistance groups – especially the Lebanese Hizbullah – as our strategic defensive depth, will give response to this regime more easily.” Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Business and Labor Face-Off in Battleground Michigan Ballot

September 25th 2012

Michigan labor protesters

After two bruising years for organized labor in the Midwest, the movement has managed to land two pro-union measures on the November ballot in Michigan.

Michigan locals and their national leaders now face an ad campaign by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and its friends, urging voters to resist “D.C. union bosses.” Unions, however, have far outraised their detractors, bringing in a quarter of the $30 million total raised for the state’s six ballot initiatives, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

Labor wants to repeal Gov. Rick Snyder’s landmark emergency manager law, which has been a bane to public sector unions, and to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state constitution to stave off future attacks. Efforts to curtail union rights “really did spike” since the GOP swept into power in 20 more state legislative houses in 2010, said Jeanne Mejeur, labor expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures. “Last year we saw about 950 [labor-related] bills nationwide, compared to about 100 a year over the last 10 years.” What happens in Michigan may be an even greater measure of the labor movement’s influence than its unsuccessful attempt to remove union-busting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker from office earlier this year. Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

How Jihadism Took Root in Libya

September 24th 2012

Libya Voter

The tragic death of U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other diplomatic personnel in the recent attack on the American consulate in Benghazi was the latest episode of violence attributed to Islamist extremists in Libya.

A small contingent of local jihadists has emerged since Muammar Qadhafi's ouster, and they have applauded the recent attacks, though it is not clear how much responsibility they bear for carrying them out. The growth of such groups is a worrisome development that reinforces the importance of active U.S. engagement with the new Libyan authorities.


Prior to the 2011 uprising, the country's main organized jihadist movement, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, had already deradicalized and retired. Founded after the anti-Soviet jihad, the LIFG attempted to overthrow the Qadhafi regime in the mid-1990s but began to move away from armed conflict in 2006. In 2009, the group's shura council members -- some in Libyan prison, others in exile in Europe -- negotiated an end to conflict with the regime via Qadhafi's son Saif al-Islam. The minority that disagreed with that decision joined al-Qaeda in Pakistan, leaving no organized presence in Libya. Therefore, on the eve of last year's war, organized violent jihadism in Libya was more or less extinct. Read more ..

The Edge of the Universe

Quasars Mark the Universe's Expansion

September 23rd 2012

Five quasar gravitational lens
Five quasar gravitational lens
(credt K. Sharon, Tel Aviv U; E. Ofek, Caltech; ESA; NASA)

Scientists can’t travel deep space the way Columbus sailed and charted the New World or Lewis and Clark mapped the west. But, researchers at Case Western Reserve University and two partnering institutions have found a possible way to map the spread and structure of the universe, guided by the light of quasars.

The technique, combined with the expected discovery of millions more far-away quasars over the next decade, could yield an unprecedented look back to a time shortly after the Big Bang, when the universe was a fraction the size it is today.

Researchers found the key while analyzing the visible light from a small group of quasars. Patterns of light variation over time were consistent from one quasar to another when corrected for the quasar’s redshift. This redshift occurs because an expanding universe carries the quasars away from us, thus making the light from them appear redder (hence the term), and also making the time variations appear to occur more slowly. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Iran's Nuclear Program and the Red Line

September 23rd 2012

Iran holy missiles

Debate is growing on curbing Iran's nuclear development as the Israelis ratchet up pressure on the United States on a so-called "red line" on what would constitute the need for military action. Though Iran has made considerable progress on developing "a fairly robust nuclear weapons capability," David Albright, a leading expert on Iranian nuclear issues, says, "The key issue is that they haven't made a decision to do that." Albright says that even though Israel has concerns about Iran's uranium enrichment program, he believes an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear enrichment sites would not eliminate the Iranian ability, but would push them further toward nuclear weapons. "I think the Israelis, by attacking, could make the situation much worse, whereas if the United States makes it clear to Iran, 'don't cross that line or else there will be horrendous consequences,' that strategy may be able to keep Iran from building the bomb over the next year or two." Read more ..

The Edge of Earth

Did A “Forgotten” Meteor Have A Deadly, Icy Double-Punch?

September 22nd 2012

Arctic Terrain

When a huge meteor collided with Earth about 2.5 million years ago and fell into the southern Pacific Ocean it not only could have generated a massive tsunami but also may have plunged the world into the Ice Ages, a new study suggests.

A team of Australian researchers says that because the Eltanin meteor – which was up to two kilometres across - crashed into deep water, most scientists have not adequately considered either its potential for immediate catastrophic impacts on coastlines around the Pacific rim or its capacity to destabilise the entire planet’s climate system.

“This is the only known deep-ocean impact event on the planet and it’s largely been forgotten because there’s no obvious giant crater to investigate, as there would have been if it had hit a landmass,” says Professor James Goff, lead author of a forthcoming paper in the Journal of Quaternary Science. Goff is co-director of UNSW’s Australia-Pacific Tsunami Research Centre and Natural Hazards Research Laboratory. Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

Muslim anti-West Riots Worldwide Continue to Burn

September 22nd 2012

Tahrir Square 22 nov 2011

Muslim demonstrators in Islamic countries and elsewhere held new protests Saturday against an Internet video that mocks the Prophet Muhammad. In Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka, at least 10 people were injured in clashes between police and protesters. Security forces fired tear gas and used batons to disperse hundreds of stone-throwing protesters who were part of an alliance of about a dozen Islamic groups.  Witnesses say the protesters burned vehicles, including a police van.  Some demonstrators were arrested. The alliance that led the demonstration called for a nationwide strike Sunday to protest the Internet video, which was produced in the United States. In Pakistan, a government minister announced a $100,000 award for the death of the person who made the film.  The minister urged the Taliban and al-Qaida to help locate and kill the filmmaker. Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

Arab Spring Investor Excitement Fizzles Out Amid Anti-U.S. Backlash

September 21st 2012

Mohammed Morsi

Only a short while ago, Arab Spring economies were fluttering their eyelashes at global investors considering opportunities in the new democracies. Foreign investment, international aid agreements and other economic stimuli to plump up central banks and ailing economies in the region had become a popular trend since the countries - namely Egypt, Libya and Tunisia - began their transitional phases. But excitement over new economic prospects that the countries had been touting has come to an abrupt standstill.

Recent political unrest involving protests against an anti-Islam film which have hit Muslim nations throughout the world, have jolted countries who were involved in a separate bout of political upheaval last year. Analysts agree that Arab Spring states are still far from closing the chapter on their transitional phases, following the 2011 backlash against autocratic governments. The former regimes had left them mired by decades of retrograde economic policies and countless episodes of fiscal corruption. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Committee Chairs Want Answers on Blind Sheikh Release

September 20th 2012

Blind Sheikh

Eight House committee leaders have written to Obama administration officials asking about reports the administration is considering an Egyptian request to release blind Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman from prison.

“If these reports are true, such considerations would be extremely disconcerting as release of this convicted terrorist should not happen for any reason,” the letter from U.S. Reps. Lamar Smith, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., Mike Rogers, R-Mich., Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., Peter King, R-N.Y., Hal Rogers, R-Ky. , Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Kay Granger, R-Tex., said. Each chairs a significant House committee.

The query was prompted by a story published Monday by The Blaze and discussed by talk show host Glenn Beck. A Blaze staffer said an unnamed Obama administration told him Abdel-Rahman’s release was being “actively considered.”

Abdel-Rahman is serving a life sentence for plotting a series of bombing attacks on New York tunnels and landmarks. And he is considered the spiritual influence behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing that killed six people. His imprisonment has become an obsession for some in Egypt, with new President Mohamed Morsi promising to lobby Washington for Abdel Rahman’s release when he meets U.S. officials. Read more ..

Broken Helathcare

Hospitals Grab At Least $1 Billion In Extra Fees For Emergency Room Visits

September 20th 2012

ER Entrance

Judging by their bills, it would appear that elderly patients treated in the emergency room at Baylor Medical Center in Irving, Texas, are among the sickest in the country — far sicker than patients at most other hospitals.

In 2008, the hospital billed Medicare for the two most expensive levels of care for eight of every 10 patients it treated and released from its emergency room — almost twice the national average, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis. Among those claims, 64 percent of the total were for the most expensive level of care. But the charges may have more to do with billing practices than sicker patients. A Baylor representative conceded hospital billing for emergency room care “did not align with industry trends,” but said that the hospital since 2009 has reined in its charges.

The Texas hospital’s billing pattern is far from unique. Between 2001 and 2008, hospitals across the country dramatically increased their Medicare billing for emergency room care, adding more than $1 billion to the cost of the program to taxpayers, a Center investigation has found. The fees are based on a system of billing codes — so-called evaluation and management codes — that makes higher payments for treatments that require more time and resources.


The Afghanistan War

Taliban Inflicts $200 Million in Damage in One Attack

September 19th 2012

After Taliban gunmen destroyed eight Harrier jets at a US camp in Helmand Province, the US military has suffered its worst air loss in one day since the Vietnam War. The Taliban attacked Camp Bastion, the main strategic base in southwestern Afghanistan, on Sept. 14, causing $200 million in damage in the single most destructive strike on a Western base during the war, according to military officials. Two Marines were killed, nine coalition personnel were wounded and six jets costing between $23 million and $30 million were completely destroyed.

The approximately 15 insurgents, dressed in US Army uniforms, had penetrated the base Friday night and instantly began shooting and setting fire to parked Navy-AV-8B Harrier jets when they were inside. Three refueling stations were severely damaged during the attack. “It was a running gun battle for a while, two and a half hours, nonetheless they were able to get to the aircraft before we could intercept them,” a military official told the New York Times. Using machine guns, rocket propelled grenades and possibly mortars, most of the aircrafts were demolished. Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

The Silent Hand of Saleh

September 19th 2012

Embassy Attacks 9-12-12
Yemen Embassy attacks

As black smoke billowed into the sky above the U.S. embassy in Sanaa on Thursday, Sept. 13, demonstrators hacked at the thick glass windows of the security office entrance with pick axes. To the cry of "Death to America!" the angry mob burned an American flag and set SUVs alight inside the heavily guarded compound.

But something was not quite right. How had a few hundred unarmed protesters managed to breach the security of one of the most fortified embassies in the world?

The beginning of the answer to that question lay at the outer perimeters of the security cordon and at roadblocks on the streets approaching the U.S. embassy. As protesters stood chanting on low concrete blocks designed to stop vehicles approaching the compound, Yemen's Central Security Forces, in their camouflage uniforms, blue berets, and distinctive bright blue-and-orange arm patches looked on. Fifty-caliber machine gun "dushkas" mounted on the back of pick-up trucks, stationed under sun-protecting shelters, menacingly faced the crowd. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Scientists Model the Big Bang

September 18th 2012

First stars form after Big Bang
Artist's conception: First stars forming after Big Bang (credit: NASA)

Since they can’t turn back time to witness the creation of the universe almost 14 billion years ago, scientists are working on the next best thing: creating a virtual universe, starting at the beginning with the Big Bang.

With the help of the world’s third-fastest computer, physicists from the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory are developing simulations that will take them on a trip from the origins of the universe until today.

Over the years, scientists have scanned the night skies with telescopes which produced maps of the universe. With the advances in astronomical technology, more details about the cosmos have emerged from these surveys. Taking data from the best sky surveys and running it through Argonne’s Mira Supercomputer, the team plans to produce some of the largest high-resolution simulations of the distribution of matter in the universe. Given the improvements in technology, Salman Habib, one of the project leaders, says it makes sense to try to understand the universe on the biggest possible scale. Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

From Gadhafi to Benghazi

September 18th 2012

Libya protesters

Last week, four American diplomats were killed when armed men attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The attackers' apparent motivation was that someone, apparently American but with an uncertain identity, posted a video on YouTube several months ago that deliberately defamed the Prophet Mohammed. The attack in Benghazi was portrayed as retribution for the defamation, with the attackers holding all Americans equally guilty for the video, though it was likely a pretext for deeper grievances. The riots spread to other countries, including Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen, although no American casualties were reported in the other riots. The unrest appears to have subsided over the weekend.

Benghazi and the Fall of Gadhafi

In beginning to make sense of these attacks, one must observe that they took place in Benghazi, the city that had been most opposed to Moammar Gadhafi. Indeed, Gadhafi had promised to slaughter his opponents in Benghazi, and it was that threat that triggered the NATO intervention in Libya. Many conspiracy theories have been devised to explain the intervention, but, like Haiti and Kosovo before it, none of the theories holds up. The intervention occurred because it was believed that Gadhafi would carry out his threats in Benghazi and because it was assumed that he would quickly capitulate in the face of NATO air power, opening the door to democracy. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Iran Admits Its Elite Forces in Syria

September 17th 2012

Iranian Revolutionary Guard

Iran says advisers from its elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps are providing non-military assistance in Syria - and that Tehran may take military action if its closest ally is attacked by outside forces. The statement by guards' commander Mohammad Ali Jafari on Sunday is the first official acknowledgement that Iran has a military presence in Syria, where warfare during a government crackdown on an 18-month-old opposition uprising has left thousands dead. Iranian media quoted Jafari as saying that a number of "Quds Force" members "are present in Syria." He did not indicate how many but said they are providing "intellectual and advisory help."

The Quds Force is a Revolutionary Guards' unit set up to export Iran's ideology. It has been accused of plotting attacks inside Iraq since the ouster of the late dictator Saddam Hussein. U.S. officials this month said Iraq was facilitating the transfer of weapons to Syria by opening its airspace to Iranian aircraft. Baghdad has denied the accusation. Jafari also said any Israeli attack on Iran would trigger retaliatory action against U.S. bases in the region and that trade through the Strait of Hormuz would be disrupted. Read more ..

The Edge of the Universe

World’s Most Powerful Camera Records First Images of Dark Energy

September 17th 2012

gaseous ring on star

Eight billion years ago, rays of light from distant galaxies began their long journey to Earth. That ancient starlight has now found its way to a mountaintop in Chile, where the newly-constructed Dark Energy Camera, the most powerful sky-mapping machine ever created, has captured and recorded it for the first time. That light may hold within it the answer to one of the biggest mysteries in physics – why the expansion of the universe is speeding up. Scientists in the international Dark Energy Survey collaboration announced this week that the Dark Energy Camera, the product of eight years of planning and construction by scientists, engineers, and technicians on three continents, has achieved first light. The first pictures of the southern sky were taken by the 570-megapixel camera on Sept. 12.

“The achievement of first light through the Dark Energy Camera begins a significant new era in our exploration of the cosmic frontier,” said James Siegrist, associate director of science for high energy physics with the U.S. Department of Energy. “The results of this survey will bring us closer to understanding the mystery of dark energy, and what it means for the universe.” Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

How Doctors And Hospitals Have Collected Billions In Questionable Medicare Fees

September 16th 2012

medicine and money

Thousands of doctors and other medical professionals have steadily billed higher rates for treating elderly patients on Medicare over the last decade — adding $11 billion or more to their fees and signaling a possible rise in medical billing abuse, an investigation has found.

Medical groups argue that the fee hikes are justified because treating seniors has grown more complex and time-consuming, both due to new technology and declining health status. The rise in fees may also be a reaction, they say, to years of under-charging, and reflect more accurate billing. The fees are based on a system of billing codes that is structured to make higher payments for treatments that take more time and effort.

But an analysis of Medicare claims from 2001 through 2010 shows that over time, thousands of providers turned to more expensive Medicare billing codes, while spurning use of cheaper ones. They did so despite little evidence that Medicare patients as a whole are older or sicker than in past years, or that the amount of time doctors spent treating them on average was rising.

While it’s impossible to know precisely why doctors and hospitals moved to better-paying codes in recent years, it’s likely that the trend in part reflects “upcoding,” — the practice of charging for more extensive and costly services than delivered, according to Medicare experts, analysis of the data and a review of government audits. And Medicare regulators worry that the coding levels may be accelerating in part because of increased use of electronic health records, which make it easy to create detailed patient files with just a few mouse clicks. Many health policy experts have long believed that billing errors and abuses, from confusion over how to pick proper payment codes to outright overcharges, are common in Medicare. But the Center’s year-long examination has outlined their scope in an unprecedented manner, uncovering a range of costly medical coding mistakes and abuses that have plagued the government-paid health care plan for years and are worsening amid lax federal oversight.


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