Archive for May 2009
|See Earlier Stories 1 2 |
America's Economic Collapse
Center for Public Integrity
A little more than a decade ago, William Brennan foresaw the financial collapse of 2008. As director of the Home Defense Program at the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, he watched as subprime lenders earned enormous profits making mortgages to people who clearly couldn’t afford them.
The loans were bad for borrowers — Brennan knew that. He also knew the loans were bad for the Wall Street investors buying up these shaky mortgages by the thousands. And he spoke up about his fears. “I think this house of cards may tumble some day, and it will mean great losses for the investors who own stock in those companies,” he told members of the Senate Special Committee on Aging in 1998.
It turns out that Brennan didn’t know how right he was. Not only did those loans bankrupt investors, they nearly took down the entire global banking system.
Washington was warned as long as a decade ago by bank regulators, consumer advocates, and a handful of lawmakers that these high-cost loans represented a systemic risk to the economy, yet Congress, the White House, and the Federal Reserve all dithered while the subprime disaster spread. Long forgotten Read more ..
America and Israel
|Robert Satloff||May 25th 2009|
This week's White House meeting between President Barack Obama and Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu was both uneventful and momentous -- and because of this, its ramifications are likely to ripple throughout U.S. and Middle East politics far into the future.
Unmet Expectations of Conflict
The party most upset by the outcome of the Oval Office tete-a-tete was surely the press corps—both U.S. and Israeli—which had seemed eager to see these two savvy, confident politicians locking horns. In fact, both Obama and Netanyahu were effusively warm toward each other in public, with the former extolling their "extraordinarily productive" 105-minute private discussion and the latter calling his host a "great" leader no fewer than four times (and this, just over 100 days into his presidency!)
Indeed, each leader dismissed, with brief remarks, disputes that existed largely in the imaginations of newspaper columnists and bloggers. By committing himself to "simultaneous and parallel" pursuit of Arab-Israeli peacemaking and efforts to prevent Iran's acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability, Netanyahu resolved a thorny chicken-and-egg dispute over which comes first. Read more ..
Edge on Palestine
|Mohammad Yaghi||May 25th 2009|
Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas has just reappointed Dr. Salam Fayad as PA prime minister. Although Fayad headed an interim government since his resignation on March 7, his formal reappointment carries with it important changes to the composition of the government.
Signaling the failure of Fatah and Hamas reconciliation efforts, the reshuffled cabinet also reflects Abbas and Fayad's desire to expand the government's base to include more Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) factions and independents. The success of the new government will depend to a large extent on how the Abbas-Fayad coalition addresses the challenges ahead -- especially within Fatah itself.
Expanding the Abbas-Fayad Base
Fayad's previous government was criticized for drawing ministers from a narrow political spectrum that included Fayad's Third Way faction, Fatah groups that fled Gaza following Hamas' June 2007 coup, and largely unknown independents. Hastily formed after the Hamas seizure of Gaza, the former government included only fourteen ministers, many of whom directed two ministries simultaneously. The cabinet's composition and makeshift/ nature limited its support among Fatah, independents, and other PLO factions, and led to increasing calls, especially within Fatah, to expand its scope.
The new government seems to have overcome these problems. Comprising twenty-two ministers, the new government includes ten Fatah ministers; one new minister each from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Fida, and the Popular Struggle Front; and three new independents well known at the national level. The most prominent of these independents, Dr. Ali Jarbawi, a professor of political science at Birzeit University and the president of the Palestinian Central Election Committee, is the new minister of planning. Read more ..
|Marianne Lavelle||May 25th 2009|
Center for Public Integrity
They’ve brought coal above ground.
They’ve put the black rock on billboards in the swing states, and they’ve splashed it on full-page ads in CQ Weekly, Roll Call, Politico, and The Washington Post. They sponsored presidential debates on CNN, and their "clean coal" boosters were a fixture on the campaign trail. They’ve rolled out a series of TV spots from the firm that promised that what happens in Vegas will stay in Vegas.
They’re the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a collection of 48 mining, rail, manufacturing, and power-generating companies with an annual budget of more than $45 million—almost three times larger than the coal industry’s old lobbying and public relations groups combined. ACCCE (pronounced "Ace") is just celebrating its first birthday, but it has already become a juggernaut shaping the terms of the climate change debate on Capitol Hill—even while weathering a high-profile assault by critics who accuse it of peddling hot air.
ACCCE’s considerable impact will be on display this week at House Energy and Commerce Committee hearings on a new draft climate bill penned by panel chairman Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, and Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat. Just a year ago, Waxman and Markey backed a moratorium on new coal-fired electricity plants. But their latest draft would allow new coal plants through 2015, if they are retrofitted to cut carbon dioxide output some 40 to 60 percent within another decade. The technology to do that does not yet exist, but not to worry: the new measure would set up a $1 billion-a-year clean coal research fund to help.
While not, of course, endorsing an approach that could fundamentally reduce U.S. coal demand, ACCCE has nevertheless declared itself "encouraged that the... draft focuses on the key role that coal plays in meeting growing U.S. electricity needs." Greenpeace, meanwhile, has objected to "the untold billions of dollars in handouts [to the coal industry] for the false promise of carbon capture and sequestration." Read more ..
Jerusalem Post correspondent
|Iranian Sejil-2 missile|
Iran is in the midst of a multi-year plan that it hopes will culminate in the production of several hundred missile launchers and over 1,000 long-range ballistic missiles within the next six years, according to estimates in the Israeli defense establishment.
Teheran is believed to currently have an arsenal of 100-200 long-range Shihab missiles that have a range of up to 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) and carry up to one-ton warheads.
In recent days, Iran successfully fired the Sejil-2, a missile with a range of at least 2,000 kilometers.
In addition, the Iranians last year test-fired a missile called Ashura believed to have recently entered production, the goal being to eventually replace the Shihab. The Ashura is a solid-fuel missile, giving it a long shelf-life. Unlike the Shihab, it does not need to be fueled shortly before launching. Read more ..
|Bryan Marquard||May 25th 2009|
Boston Globe writer
At his regular Wednesday night basketball game a few weeks ago, some three years into a battle with pancreatic cancer, Ed Bromfield played as hard as ever and only told his friends in an e-mail afterward that it was his last game. Perhaps that was just as well.
"He made the winning basket, and he had a kid in a candy store grin on his face," said Dutch Henry, his next-door neighbor in Newton and a player in the Wednesday games. "This sounds really corny, but it really happened. His wife said, 'You guys weren't cutting him any slack, were you?' And I said, 'No, he never wanted anyone to cut him any slack.' "
No slack was discernible in any aspect of Dr. Bromfield's life. A physician who founded the epilepsy program at Brigham and Women's Hospital, he was just as well known for teaching students and colleagues how to balance family, work, and hobbies as he was for showing them how to be better doctors.
Dr. Bromfield, chief of epilepsy and sleep neurology at the hospital, died May 10 at his Newton home. He was 58.
In a eulogy, Terry Bromfield said her husband found out he had cancer on her birthday and called to tell her before they met for dinner. "When I sat down at the table to join him, he took both of my hands, looked into my eyes, and said, 'I have no regrets,' " she wrote. "Can you imagine living a life and having no regrets?" Read more ..
The Edge of Jihad
|Joseph K. Grieboski||May 25th 2009|
Cutting Edge Foreign Desk
Somalia’s Islamist rebels have launched a major offensive against the central government, reviving long-standing concerns that the country could fall entirely to militants with alleged ties to al-Qaeda.
The situation is exacerbated by Eritrea’s support for the Islamists. The U.N. Security Council expressed anxiety over reports that Eritrea has been supplying arms to Islamist militants intent on toppling Somalia's new government and condemned the recent violence. The council insisted that Somali Islamist extremist groups immediately end the violence and join reconciliation efforts
"The Security Council ... expresses its concern over reports that Eritrea has supplied arms to those opposing the (government of) Somalia in breach of the UN arms embargo," the statement said.
While Eritrea rejects accusations that it sends weapons to the al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants fighting Somalia's government, Somalia's government said earlier this month that Asmara continues to support al Shabaab militants with planeloads of AK-47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons. The accusation was backed by diplomats and security experts. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Eduardo Szklarz and Martin Barillas||May 25th 2009|
Cutting Edge Correspondents
|Wanted: Salman El Reda|
Salman El Reda, a Colombian national and key figure in Argentina, has been linked to the terrorist attack on the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) in 1994 that claimed 85 deaths. This was the finding by Argentina’s chief prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who issued an international warrant for El Reda's arrest on May 20.
In a press conference, Nisman said that El Reda participated in the “preparations and consummation of the attack” that, according to the prosecutor, was on the orders of the government of Iran and organized by Hezbollah—the pro-Iran terrorist organization.
United States Ambassador Earl Anthony Wayne in Buenos Aires noted Nisman’s arrest warrant saying “We applaud and support all efforts directed at bringing to justice those responsible for the international terrorist attack on the AMIA that killed 85 people in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994.”
The arrest order has complicated Argentina’s already strained relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. In 2006, Argentina presented an international arrest warrants for Mohsen Rabbani and seven other Iranian operatives for their alleged participation in the 1994 attack. Among those being called to justice are former Iranian president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, former foreign minister Ali AkbarVelavati and former information and security minister Ali Fallahijan, as well as former Revolutionary Guard commandant Mohsen Rezai. Argentina has also accused Iran of organizing the St. Patrick’s Day massacre in 1992, which took the lives of 29 people at the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. Read more ..
The Obama Edge
|Rick Shenkman||May 25th 2009|
Cutting Edge Contributor
Exactly one year ago this week the hardback of Just How Stupid Are We: Facing the Truth About the American Voter was published by Basic Books. Is the book still relevant? After Barack Obama's election friends emailed me wondering if I still believed the voters are uninformed. Didn't Obama's election mean they were pretty smart?
Alas, the answer is no, I believe. And I am baffled that anybody could reach a different conclusion after the campaign we lived through. The highlights of the 2008 election included controversies over Obama's bowling score, his middle name Hussein, and Hillary's crying. These were not exactly issues of much weight at a time when the financial collapse of the country was happening before our eyes. And yet they drew extended media commentary.
The media was to blame for the deplorable low quality of much of the campaign. But I am firmly convinced that you get the campaign you deserve. If that is so we should be asking ourselves why did we deserve the campaign of 2008? Was it not because the voters found it easier to debate issues like Obama's bowling score than the complicated questions involving high finance? Read more ..
Cutting Edge Contributor
The University of Michigan's historian Sidney Fine died in Ann Arbor on the last day of March at the age of 88. To a great many alumni, that news will surely trigger a jolt of sadness and memory. Each department has had its great figures, of course, its important scholars and popular teachers. But few can claim a figure like Fine, who combined the roles of teacher, scholar and mentor so memorably, and who exerted an influence for good in so many lives.
Fine was a native of Cleveland who became a Michigan man through and through. A Navy veteran of World War II, he earned his Ph.D. at U-M in 1948, then taught in Ann Arbor for the next 53 years, one of the longest spans of any U-M faculty member ever. He loved the University in all its dimensions (though never with uncritical eyes), from the Bentley Historical Library on North Campus, where he was an indefatigable researcher and adviser, to Michigan Stadium, where he seldom if ever missed a home game.
Famed U-M football coach Bo Schembechler himself presented Fine with an autographed football at his retirement party in 1991—an occasion that turned out to be premature, since the Michigan legislature did away with its mandatory retirement rule for college professors principally to allow Fine to keep teaching beyond the age of 70. He did so for 10 more years. By the time he left the classroom in 2001, he had taught between 25,000 and 30,000 students, and there is no doubt that he was one of the most popular teachers in the University's history.
He was also an influential and prolific writer. He began his career as a student of intellectual history—his Laissez Faire and the General-Welfare State: A Study of Conflict in American Thought, 1865-1901 remains a classic of that field—then turned to labor history, where he made his largest mark as a scholar. Many of his books told the story of 20th-century U.S. history as seen through the prism of urban, industrial society in Michigan—its labor strife in the 1930s, its racial turmoil in the 1960s, its public policy in the 1950s and '60s. Read more ..
Edge of Terrorism
|Walid Phares||May 25th 2009|
Cutting Edge Terrorism Analyst
After Mumbai, what's next?
Today, post-Mumbai, the expectation of repeat attacks and copycats is eerily high. Indeed, the jihadists who seized a few buildings in India's financial center and who wreaked havoc at several locations in the city have brought a concept for the future to the attention of national security analysts: Urban Jihad.
Projections of al Qaeda and other jihadi tactics should be based on a patient and thorough observation of their literature and actions over the past decades. By now, the public realizes that such scenarios are not just possible, but highly likely in the future. In all countries where Jihadi cells and forces have left bloody traces over the past eight years, at least counter-terrorism agencies have been put on notice: it can happen there as well.
But the Mumbai Ghazwa (raid) reveals a more sinister shadow hovering over the entire subcontinent, if not all of Central Asia. Although a press release was issued by the so-called "Indian Mujahideen," many traces were left—almost on purpose—to show Pakistani involvement, or, to be more precise, a link to forces operating within Pakistan, one of them being Lashkar-e-Toiba. Investigators suspected that elements within the intelligence service in Pakistan were involved, even if the cabinet wasn't aware of it. This strong probability, if anything, gave rise to much wider speculation, since this attack took place in the midst of dramatic regional and international developments. Read more ..
Fighting Fire with Fire
|Jessica Berman||May 25th 2009|
An international group of researchers is calling for the creation of a separate scientific discipline devoted to the study of fire. The scientists say there's a basic lack of understanding about fire, which impacts virtually every aspect of life on earth.
Uncontrolled fires cause billions of dollars a year in damage to health, livelihoods and biodiversity, yet experts say relatively little is known about this primitive element and its impact.
In a paper published this week in the journal Science, co-author Steve Pyne and colleagues say there's currently no systematic, scientific way to study fire.
Pyne, a fire historian at Arizona State University in Tempe, says a separate fire science is long overdue.
"Fire is an enormous large ancient presence and it has not been considered in our disciplines. There is no fire topic as a discipline. You know the other ancient elements—earth, air and water—all have disciplines devoted to them but fire doesn't," he said.
Pyne and nearly two dozen other researchers compiled current data on fire's impact on global warming to underscore the need for a new fire discipline. The scientists report that all fires combined—from the intentional blazes farmers use to clear forest to the accidental wildfires sparked by both man and nature—release an amount of carbon dioxide equal to half the CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. They say that fires also pump other potentially climate-changing pollutants into the atmosphere, including methane gas, aerosols and soot. Read more ..
|Frank Beaver||May 25th 2009|
In Spite of Myself. Christopher Plummer. 656 pages. Knopf. 2008.
The autobiographies of most movie stars, like those by Tony Curtis and George Hamilton, are epics of egotism. I am beginning to wonder if there's anybody from Hollywood's olden days who hasn't been urged on by publishers to turn out a tell-all memoir. The number of autobiographies by film personalities arriving at bookstores in the past several months is nothing short of astounding, and given the aplomb of some of the authors a bit amusing.
Tony Curtis was bold enough to declare himself a royal by titling his memoir "American Prince," while the perennially-tanned George Hamilton claimed his entitlement by naming his book "Don't Mind If I Do." Both are ego exercises, to be sure—typical reminiscences about a mythic rise to celebrity, followed by "insider" reflections on alliances—at work and at play—with other legendary celebrities.
Neither Curtis nor Hamilton hesitates in pointing out his irresistible appeal to females, young and older. Autobiographies like these offer little real insight into motion picture culture and history, and the titillation comes off as excruciatingly bland at best.
Somewhat loftier in intention and less prone to tales of romantic conquest are Robert Wagner's "Pieces of My Heart," Roger Moore's "My Word Is My Bond," and Robert Vaughn's "A Fortunate Life." I found some provincial interest in Robert Wagner's account of his childhood years in Michigan; plus the retelling of the life and tragic death of his wife, Natalie Wood, is deeply poignant. Vaughn's memoir embraces the obligatory celebrity-insider impulse but also recounts the actor's quest for a Ph.D. and his stance as an outspoken early opponent of the Vietnam War and consequent involvement in Presidential Democratic politics of 1968.
For James Bond fans there's a worthy amount of behind-the-scenes lore about Roger Moore's tenure as 007. There's even an aura of wisdom in this autobiography written by a celebrity in his 80s. Yes, Roger Moore is 81! Read more ..
|Clark Isaacs||May 25th 2009|
Cutting Edge Contributor
The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire. C. M. Mayo. Unbridled Books, 2009. 432 pages.
Fictional accounts of history often take liberties with how things really happened, but when C. M. Mayo wrote The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, she first traveled to the places whence the stories emanated. Mayo traversed Mexico, the United States, and many European countries to tell the engaging story of love, betrayal, and ultimately the death of one of the members of a royal family.
Reading achieves in the Library of Congress in Washington led her to other locales where she read many documents in the original language and translated them herself so that her characters could speak words as originally spoken.
With this strong factual foundation, the story of a young prince, Maximilian, and those intertwined in the royal family's lives, becomes a spellbinding tale of deceit and selfishness. Mayo gives us a glimpse into an era not far removed from today. 1866 was a time when healing from the civil war had begun in the United States and also when the French occupied Mexico. Staying clear of entanglement with another battle was foremost in the minds of Americans. A civil war in Mexico was brewing, and this novel gives an inside look at the motives and the opulence, and at the same time, describes the extreme poverty endured by the Mexican people on a daily basis, while the ‘visitors’ lived luxurious lives. These ‘visitors’ included Maximilian; French Generals, and their entourages.
What may appear as free flowing dialog describing actions that did take place is based upon a meticulous approach to real facts. Getting inside a person’s mind and describing their feelings is somewhat difficult. The brilliance of this novel is the manner in which Mayo achieves this incredible task by using flowery language, which is believable considering the turbulent times and the seriousness of the circumstances. Read more ..
“In 1985, a seizure almost ended my life,” recalls JoyceBender. “That experience led to a whole new purpose in life for me." Now Epilepsy Foundation’s Board of Directors has elected Bender as its new chair for a two-year term. Bender founder of based Pittsburgh-based Bender Consulting, national company that works with the disabled. She also hosts Disability Matters with Joyce Bender, a radio show airing on www.voiceamerica.com.
"It is the greatest honor to be appointed as board chair of the Epilepsy Foundation," said Bendxer, "and I will work to serve and represent all Americans living with epilepsy.”
When Bender founded her first company, its focus was on matching the right people with the right technology and management positions. When she suffered a life-threatening, epilepsy-related accident, she created a new business to help talented people with disabilities find rewarding professional careers.
“Joyce has been a dedicated member of the board of directors and supporter of the Foundation for 10 years,” said Eric Hargis, president and CEO of the Epilepsy Foundation. “We are fortunate that she shares her resources, passion, and knowledge to help further our mission to ensure that people with epilepsy are able to participate in all life experiences.” Read more ..
|Brendan Mittler||May 25th 2009|
I have studied the Holocaust a decade and for some reason during those years I was simply never aware of the American corporate connections to the murder of six million Jews and hundreds of thousands ofd Gyspies. Thanks to Edwin Black and his book Nazi Nexus
, which I viewed on C-SPAN Book TV, my eyes have been opened. We have to thank not just Hitler but Hitler's power and profit driven helpers. Ford Motor, General Motors, the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation and International Business Machines. Obviously, I have a lot of Edwin Black books to read. The world must never forget what the Nazis did. It must never forget who knowingly and deliberately advanced, accelerated, organized, financed and systemized the crimes that were committed.
Author Edwin Black is going to have a big Saturday.
His latest appearance on C-Span’s Book TV, devoted to his new book Nazi Nexus, will be rebroadcast on May 23 at 2:15 pm EST. The documentary based upon Black’s bestselling, award-winning book, War Against the Weak will be screened at a Florida film festival a little more than an hour after the television appearance concludes.
Nazi Nexus details the direct corporate complicity in the Holocaust undertaken by five leading American commercial icons: Ford Motor Co., General Motors, the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation, and of course International Business Machines. The author maintains that when one connects the dots, the emerging picture makes clear that while there always would have been a “Hitler Holocaust,” American corporate involvement pivotally influence the size and scope of the genocide. Or as the author stated in a recent series of syndicated articles: “Adolf Hitler was completely responsible for the Holocaust. But Hitler had help.”
Newsweek called the research woven into the book, “Simple and Stunning.” The Miami Herald called Nazi Nexus “Powerful and Astounding.”
The C-Span Book TV rebroadcast nationally will be particularly handy for South Florida residents who follow Black’s work because C-Span experienced a near total cable blackout during the original airing.
Black’s C-SPAN presentation of Nazi Nexus was delivered during a Yom Shoah memorial, that is, a Holocaust Day commemoration, recorded several weeks earlier at the Park East Synagogue in New York before a leading grass-roots Holocaust survivor group known as NAHOS—the National Association of Jewish Child Holocaust Survivors. Black’s original event was cosponsored by the State of California Center for the Study of the Holocaust, and a coalition of other groups, as well the Spero Forum, the Auto Channel, Energy Publisher, and History Network News. Read more ..
America and Israel
In the wake of the recent meeting between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, four senators have circulated an letter to colleagues urging Obama to support the Jewish State's efforts to achieve peace.
Read the letter here.
At press time, seventy-six senators have signed the letter. The House version bears almost 195 signatures and is at 195, as of press time. The letter, crafted April 30 before the summit is designed to send a clear message to the White House about Israel’s security, its determination to control its own Palestinian negotiations as it confronts an Iranian nuclear threat. The notion that Obama was linking Jerusalem's negotiations with Palestinians to its ability to thwart nuclear annihilation rankled many in the Jewish and non-Jewish Israel support community. In a word, Israel has gone over the president’s head and appealed directly to the Congress. Read more ..
America's Economic Collapse
|John Dunbar and David Donald||May 18th 2009|
Center for Public Integrity
The top subprime lenders whose practices are largely blamed for triggering the global economic meltdown were owned or bankrolled by banks now collecting billions of dollars in bailout money—including several that have paid huge fines to settle predatory lending charges.
These big institutions were not only unwitting victims of an unforeseen financial collapse, as they have sometimes portrayed themselves, but enablers that bankrolled the type of lending that has threatened the financial system.
These are among the findings of an analysis of government data on nearly 7.2 million "high-interest" or subprime loans made from 2005 through 2007, a period that marks the peak and collapse of the subprime boom. The computer-assisted analysis also reveals the top 25 originators of high-interest loans, accounting for nearly $1 trillion, or about 72 percent of such loans made during that period.
Investigation found that U.S. and European investment banks invested enormous sums in subprime lending due to unceasing demand for high-yield, high-risk bonds backed by home mortgages. Those banks made huge profits while their executives collected handsome bonuses until the bottom fell out of the real estate market. Read more ..
Inside Latin America
|Mylene Bruneau||May 18th 2009|
In a country perennially struggling with issues of lack of social justice, equality and corrupted by successive inept governments, Honduras’ Ramón Villeda Morales (or as his supporters dubbed him, “little bird”) fought to free his country from self-destructiveness and to alleviate the problems afflicting a nation better known for its repeated revolutions and annual coups.
Ramón Villeda Morales was born on November 26, 1909 in Ocotepeque, a southwestern Honduran department bordering Guatemala and El Salvador. While studying pediatric medicine at Honduras’ Universidad Nacional Autónoma in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, Villeda Morales also served as president of the prestigious Federation of University Students. After graduating in 1938, he moved with his wife, Alejandrina Bermudez de Villeda, to Germany, where he attended medical school.
He returned to Honduras in 1940 and, at age 31, opened a pediatric clinic in Santa Rosa de Copán, in western Honduras, and then a second one in Tegucigalpa.
With an intense interest in politics, Villeda Morales soon joined the Partido Liberal de Honduras Honduran Liberal Party (PLH), where he quickly demonstrated charisma and exceptional oratorical talents. His prodigious public speaking capabilities soon earned him his lifetime nickname “Pajarito,” meaning little bird, from his supporters inside the party. Read more ..
The following research arose from the bestseller Internal Combustion: How Corporations and Governments Addicted the World to Oil and Derailed the Alternatives (Dialog Press). Buy it here.
In the fifteen hundreds, peat fuel was surpassed by an even more distasteful alternative: coal. The same millennial process that produces peat also yields coal after final eons of geological pressure. Known for its noxious, smelly smoke and grime, coal, in spite of its repulsiveness, trapped more concentrated carbon energy per pound than firewood, charcoal or peat. True, it was mined from the ground in hazardous operations. True, this dismal fuel alternative transformed England into a sootscape. But by virtue of its immense power yield, coal defined centuries of English industrial life and concomitantly allowed that country to preserve her rapidly dwindling forest lands for more important things, such as building naval warships.
Coal use began not with the well-known ore extracted from subterranean seams, but with a similar substance called "sea coal" that washed up along the coast near Durham in England's northeast. Later, the more familiar rock was also discovered inland, exposed in the hillsides and the banks of the nearby River Tyne. The Romans certainly employed it in the early centuries of the Common Era. The combustible nuggets produced the fuel to forge Roman military metal and operate Caesar's war fortifications. By the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the peasant class, especially those without access to peat, was compelled to rediscover coal as a substitute for wood.
The royal wood monopolies and hoarding regimens had made the repugnant sea coal a necessity for the average man's survival, as well as for industrial and commercial growth. In the last four decades of the thirteenth century, the cost of wood increased about 70 percent, while sea coal only increased only 23 percent. Coal became affordable. For most in London, wood was not. Even though the New Forest had been dismantled, cartel hoarding kept the woodlands out of reach of most households and manufacturing concerns. Read more ..
The Violent Edge in Latin America
|Martin Barillas||May 18th 2009|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
|Rodrigo Rosenberg lies dead in Guatemala|
Thousands of Guatemalans took to the streets on May 17; some to demand the resignation of President Alvaro Colom, some to show support. The embattled national leader is accused of ordering the murder of a local lawyer. The accusation stems from a damning YouTube video (view it here).
More than 40,000 of the president’s supporters thronged Constitution Plaza in front of the National Cathedral and the National Palace of Culture. Many of them were brought from outside the capital city of Guatemala by the ruling National Unity for Hope.
“Colom, we’re with you!” “Alvaro, friend/president, Guatemala is with you.” and “With Colom to the death” read some of the posters held aloft by supporters who came on buses to Guatemala City for the rally. Elsewhere, Colom’s opponents assembled at Plaza Italia, bringing together 15,000 Guatemalans who are demanding his resignation. The so-called “March for Peace” was apparently orchestrated by the powerful agribusiness sector of Guatemala along with other business sectors. Failed presidential candidates, such as Otto Pérez Molina and Alejandro Giammattei, were among the protesters.
Alvaro Colom, scion of a wealthy family and the nephew of a slain politician, is facing the gravest crisis of his presidency since coming to power in January 2008. He has been tied by his opponents to criminal organizations even while he has taken steps to address widespread crime and the influence of narco gangs known as “maras.” So far, the aristocratic Colom has been unable to stem the violence which has struck down politicians and ordinary citizens alike. The murders of hundreds of women, presumably killed by gang members, remain unsolved. Read more ..
Caribbean on the Edge
|David Rosenblum Felson||May 18th 2009|
|Dirt Bicuits in Haiti|
In April, delegates from 28 countries gathered in Washington for the International Donors’ Conference on Haiti and agreed to pledge $324 million in additional aid to Port-au-Prince over the next two years. At the meeting, which was hosted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), contributors promised $15 million in emergency food assistance, $20 million to improve infrastructure, and $2 million to help fight drug trafficking through the U.S.-backed Merida Initiative. Additionally, the recovery plan will target creating an estimated 150,000 desperately needed jobs in the country—a stimulus scenario that would considerably reduce the country’s dependence on foreign assistance in the years ahead.
Former President Bill Clinton appealed to the donor forum’s participants to alleviate the plight of the stricken nation. “Haiti has a chance. Haiti has good leaders. Haiti has a good plan,” he insisted. Read more ..
Crime in America
|David B. Muhlhausen and Brian Walsh||May 18th 2009|
Created in the middle of President Bill Clinton's first term, the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program promised to put 100,000 new state and local law enforcement officers on the street by 2000. Critics said that COPS would fail to meet this goal and that state and local governments would do what they always do when the federal government subsidizes any core responsibility of state or local governments: stop paying for it themselves and become dependent on funding from Washington.
The critics were right on both counts.
As a crime-reduction policy, the COPS program failed to live up to its sponsors' rhetoric and promises, never putting 100,000 additional police officers on America's streets. Undaunted by the program's failure to meet its most important public goals and in response to considerable lobbying by state and local law-enforcement officials, the House of Representatives recently passed the "COPS Improvements Act of 2009" (H.R. 1139), which is estimated to cost $5.4 billion from 2010 through 2014 plus an additional $3.6 billion thereafter. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Michael Jacobson||May 18th 2009|
In April 2009, the U.S. State Department and the European Union released their annual terrorism reports, which paint a varied picture of international counterterrorism efforts to date, with clear progress in some areas and deterioration in others. The reports also illustrate how the rapidly evolving terrorist threat presents an ongoing and significant challenge to the United States and its allies, as terrorists continually adapt to international pressure. One positive aspect of the reports is that Americans and Europeans appear to have similar views on the threat posed by international Islamist terrorism, which may offer opportunities for the Obama administration as it attempts to improve transatlantic ties.
According to both the State Department and Europol, the EU's law enforcement organization, the major terrorist threat to the West now emanates from the tribal areas in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda's leadership is safely ensconced. The numbers released by the National Counterterrorism Center for the State Department's report demonstrate markedly the growth of the terrorist threat within Pakistan. Read more ..
The Chavista Threat
|Luis Fleischman||May 18th 2009|
Cutting Edge Contributor
|Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales|
When President Barack Obama was criticized for his over friendly interaction with Hugo Chavez during the Summit of the Americas, he responded by saying that the U.S. has nothing to fear from a country that has an economy six hundred times smaller than ours.
This curious remark by our President brings another logical question to mind: how big is Al Qaeda’s economy in comparison to ours? It is likely that Al Qaeda’s assets are substantially smaller than oil-rich Venezuela’s. Likewise, Iran’s economy is not comparable to the American economy, even in a time of recession and economic crisis.
It is then logical to ask whether national or regional security is endangered in relation to economic capability or in an era of asymmetric wars. Does a country or an entity need to be economically or (even militarily) superior to those who oppose it in order to generate a situation of instability and threat?
The Obama Administration knows the right answer. Otherwise, the President and his national security team would not be so aggressively pursuing a war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. What this Administration most fears in that area of south-central Asia is the collapse of the state in Pakistan and the inability to produce governability in Afghanistan. Both countries are located thousands of miles away from the United States but still the U.S. government recognizes that a situation of anarchy or Taliban rule in both countries would lead to regional instability. where state authority vanishes, a real danger exists that nuclear weapons can be developed and that but terrorists and drug lords could take over. Read more ..
The Edge of Energy Independence
The European Union has signed an agreement with four nations to move ahead on creating new gas pipelines to reduce its energy dependence on Russia.
The European Union signed the new energy deal during a summit in Prague with four countries: Egypt, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia. The agreement aims to help pave the way toward creating a series of gas pipelines from central Asia and the Middle East through Turkey and into Europe.
Two of the countries which signed the deal, Azerbaijan and Egypt, are gas rich. Two others, Turkey and Georgia, would host the pipelines carrying the gas. Europe hopes that one of the planned pipelines, known as Nabucco, will be up and running by 2014.
At a press conference in Prague, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso hailed the agreement. Read more ..
|Jessica Berman||May 18th 2009|
A group of scientists has unveiled what they say is the most comprehensive study ever of African genes which they say gives new insight into the origins of humans.
The genetic study, a compilation of two big studies, confirms theories that modern humans evolved in Africa and then migrated through Europe and Asia to reach the Pacific and Americas. The study also shows that Africans have the most diverse DNA, and the fewest potentially harmful genetic mutations.
Published in the journal Science, researchers examined genetic material from 121 African populations, as well as four African-American populations and 60 non-African populations. The study aims to teach Africans on population history and aid research into why diseases hit particular groups.
The researchers found that after a population of humans migrated off the African continent, the group shrank for some unknown reason. Later populations grew and spread from this smaller genetic pool of ancestors.
Populations that remained in Africa kept their genetic diversity. Read more ..
|David G. Major||May 18th 2009|
The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad. Walid Phares. Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. 304 pages.
The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad is the third book in Walid Phares's trilogy that began with Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies against the West (2005-2006) and continued in The War of Ideas (2007). In the first book, the author uncovers the historical evolution of the jihadi movements and strategies against America and the West. In the second book, Phares explains how the jihadists delayed the Western counteroffensive for decades until 9/11. In the third book, he proposes strategies and policies to win the confrontation.
Redefining the War
In his first chapter, Phares puts the finger on the wound: We must define the war. In fact, he calls for a "re-definition" of the eight-year-old confrontation that began officially on September 11, 2001, but has started historically decades earlier. The classical definition used by the United States government, "war on terror" has served its purpose even if it wasn't intellectually accurate. The foes of America and other democracies, namely the jihadists, aren't confining themselves to military activities and acts of terror. Rather, they have a global agenda they seek to attain which would lead to collapse of international law. Though many have doubted the ability of democracies to eventually win the confrontation with the jihadi forces, the author maintains that the free world can still win. But to win, he argues "you must define the threat and the enemy." At a time when the United States and Great Britain's governments are gradually dropping the term "war" from the lexicon of foreign policy, the author reviews the pillar-arguments of the debate and suggests identifying the actual enemy by referring to its ideology and goals, not to cater to our public relations needs. It is neither a war "on terror," nor is it just an overseas effort against individuals and particular organizations. It is a confrontation with an ideological movement which uses terror as one of its means, Phares correctly argues. Read more ..
|Patrick Serfass||May 18th 2009|
The National Hydrogen Association (NHA) and U.S. Fuel Cell Council (USFCC), which collectively represent more than 200 companies and organizations, are concerned about the Obama Administration’s FY 2010 budget request for the U.S Department of Energy.
The cuts proposed in the DOE hydrogen and fuel cell program threaten to disrupt commercialization of a family of technologies that are showing exceptional promise and beginning to gain market traction. Fuel cell vehicles are not a science experiment. These are real vehicles with real marketability and real benefits. Hundreds of fuel cell vehicles have collectively logged millions of miles.
Both the National Academy of Sciences and NHA’s recent Energy Evolution report conclude that a portfolio of vehicle technologies is needed to achieve the nation’s energy and environmental security goals and that hydrogen is essential to success. Hydrogen also advances the Obama Administration’s goals of greener power generation and a smarter power grid. The newest fuel cell vehicles get 72 miles per gallon equivalent with no compromise in creature comforts. Fuel cell buses operating in revenue service achieve twice the fuel economy of diesel buses. Hydrogen production costs are already competitive with gasoline. Projected vehicle costs have been reduced by 75 percent. These are accomplishments of the Department’s own program in partnership with industry. It would truly be a government waste to squander them by walking away just as success is in sight. The National Academy recommended a portfolio approach and we are frankly puzzled at the Energy Department’s decision to ignore that recommendation even as the Department uses other material from the same report to justify its proposed cut. We are also concerned that the Department appears to be walking away from its Market Transformation activities, which support fuel cell deployment in early commercial applications. This Congressionally-mandated program is demonstrating the ability of fuel cells to provide a competitive and green alternative to battery-based systems in vehicles and in power supply.
Finally, we are concerned that the Department has proposed to cut funds for the Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance (SECA). SECA success could dramatically lower the cost of carbon sequestration, improve power plant efficiency, and enable a virtually pollution-free coal plant in the future. Additional funding will hasten SECA progress.
The writer is the director of Technology and Communications for the National Hydrogen Association.
Author Edwin Black will make his latest appearance on C-Span’s Book TV on May 16 at 7 pm EST and again on May 23 at 2:15 pm EST. This time his presentation covers his new book Nazi Nexus. The book details the direct corporate complicity in the Holocaust undertaken by five leading American commercial icons: Ford Motor Co., General Motors, the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation, and of course International Business Machines. The author maintains that when one connects the dots, the emerging picture makes clear that while there always would have been a “Hitler Holocaust,” American corporate involvement pivotally influence the size and scope of the genocide. Or as the author stated in a recent series of syndicated articles: “Adolf Hitler was completely responsible for the Holocaust. But Hitler had help.”
Black’s C-SPAN appearance recorded several weeks earlier at the Park East Synagogue in New York before a leading grass-roots Holocaust survivor group known as NAHOS—the National Association of Jewish Child Holocaust Survivors. Black’s event was cosponsored by the State of California Center for the Study of the Holocaust, and a coalition of other groups, as well the Spero Forum, the Auto Channel, Energy Publisher, and History Network News.
After the book lecture, Black conducted a dramatic, no-holds-barred question-answer session with Holocaust survivors on a range of Holocaust-era issues. The author was given a standing ovation at the end of the presentation.
Newsweek called the research woven into the book, “Simple and Stunning.” The Miami Herald called Nazi Nexus “Powerful and Astounding.”
Find C-SPAN Book TV information on the appearance here.
Find further information on Nazi Nexus here.
Buy the book here.
If you have news of an author appearance, send the information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Legal Edge
The persistent, years-long efforts of the National High School Mock Trial Championship to ignore the scheduling needs of orthodox Jewish student teams has once again been ruled out of order.
Stubbornly impervious to the demands of a condemning resolution unanimously adopted by the House of Representatives, refusals to obey by the New Jersey Bar Association and the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers, admonitions from the attorney general of Georgia and the Anti-Defamation League, resignations by prestigious members of its own organization, and rebukes by a host of eminent legal personalities, the National High School Mock Trial Championship has clung to its policy of not permitting scheduling changes for the orthodox Jewish teams. Orthodox school teams that observe the Friday sundown to Saturday sundown Sabbath need to compete during the Thursday, daytime Friday, Saturday night and Sunday sessions as opposed to the sessions on the Sabbath. Religious school teams in increasing numbers—from the Jesuit High School in Louisiana to the Christian Heritage Academy in Oklahoma—compete in the national mock trial championships. Read more ..
The Obama Edge
|Nathan Guttman||May 11th 2009|
“You’re not going to like my saying this,” Vice President Joe Biden told 6,000 delegates from the podium of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference — a spot that politicians usually vie over vigorously for the privilege of telling the crowd what they want to hear.
But Biden, after sending up his rhetorical warning, used his May 5 keynote speech to the pro-Israel lobby to convey the Obama administration’s insistence on a number of policies directly conflicting with those of the new government in Israel — and some policies held by previous Israeli governments, too.
Other speakers, such as Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, underlined Biden’s points on the need for Israel to stop expanding settlements in the West Bank and accept the necessity of a two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Read more ..
|David Horovitz||May 11th 2009|
Jerusalem Post editor
There is no reason for so much as a "crack" in relations between our government and Obama's, Shimon Peres said this week. He's wrong. On Iran, the Israeli and American red lines are drawn in very different places.
Welcoming the 2002 Arab League peace initiative, all but endorsing a two-state solution, insisting that the new Israeli government was determined to make peace, President Shimon Peres turned in a vintage performance at the AIPAC annual Policy Conference this week.
He sent chills with his warnings about the aggressive Iranians' nuclear threat and hegemonic ambition, warmed hearts by talking of his two great-grandchildren, Ella and Ari, as their adorable features flashed on the giant video screens, and served as the model visitor by paying a warm tribute to the host nation and its new leader.
Barack Obama's election, he declared, had unleashed a "tsunami" of hope - and we in Israel, he promised, were going to help Obama realize it by opening our arms to reconciliation with the Arab world. Read more ..
Edge of Terrorism
|Rolf Mowatt-Larssen||May 11th 2009|
As Mohamed El-Baradei's term as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) draws to a close, the organization is struggling to choose a new leader. After deadlocking on an initial vote in March, a new round of nominations closed on April 27, with the next vote scheduled in the coming months.
While the IAEA sorts out changes at the top, the United States should try to expand the agency's mandate and responsibilities. One such change would be the establishment of a full-fledged intelligence office, which would dramatically improve the agency's ability to identify and deter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Post-September 11 Urgency
After the September 11 attacks, the CIA faced the daunting prospect of al-Qaeda seeking a nuclear bomb and collaborating with Pakistani nuclear scientists in an effort to build one. A mood of grim determination gripped the U.S. intelligence establishment, a sentiment highlighted by CIA Director George Tenet when he stated that "We are behind the eight ball" in tracking al-Qaeda's efforts to obtain WMDs. Read more ..
Pakistan on the Edge
|Simon Henderson||May 11th 2009|
Both the establishment of sharia (Islamic law) in Pakistan's Swat valley and last month's advance by Taliban militants to within sixty miles of the capital, Islamabad, have raised concerns about increased terrorist threats to the United States as well as the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons.
It appears that Pakistan, whose president, Asif Ali Zardari, has just met with President Barack Obama in Washington, is becoming the first major foreign policy challenge for the new administration. Intense discussions have already taken place in the White House. Early thinking on the issue suggests that events in Pakistan also affect many aspects of U.S. Middle East policy.
The size of the safe havens available to terrorists along the Afghan-Pakistani border has evidently expanded beyond the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the region adjacent to Afghanistan where tribal rather than national law applies. Although Pakistan has launched air and artillery strikes to force the retreat of Taliban fighters, FATA and the surrounding region are likely to remain outside full government control. Read more ..
|Alex Sanchez||May 11th 2009|
It is no illusion that the tone and substance of the Argentine military seems to have deteriorated in the last several decades, from imprudently aspiring to control the nation in the 1970s and early 1980s (during which time it committed massive human rights abuses, rendering it the worst human rights violator in the hemisphere), to an ill-advised escapade in 1982 to re-claim the Falklands/Malvinas Islands from British jurisdiction. As a result of this veritable collapse, the Argentine military appears to have become a broken institution. The capstone on the various calamities debilitating the nation during recent times was the crippling influence of the 2001 meltdown of the Argentine economy, which crushed the entire nation, including its increasingly brittle security forces.
Two recent events can be seen as illustrating the skidding tendencies of the Argentine military and help to underscore its currently calcified condition. In early November, the Argentine federal police detained Jorge Antonio Olivera, a retired army major. He is accused of the "forced disappearance, kidnapping and torture" of Franco-Argentine citizen Marianne Erize in 1976 during the commencement of the country’s military dictatorship and the "Dirty War." This conflict unleashed the Argentine military against the nation with barbarous results, ending up in thousands of casualties. Almost at the same time in early November, London decreed a new constitution for the disputed Falklands. Read more ..
The Bear is Back
|Sally McNamara||May 11th 2009|
|Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin|
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with President Obama at the White House in recent days, a privilege normally reserved for fellow heads-of-state. Moscow has reciprocated this extraordinary display of friendship by pulling out of the NATO-Russia Council meeting set for May 19, and expelling two NATO officials from their Moscow offices after NATO expelled two Russian diplomats suspected of spying.
After meeting President Obama, Minister Lavrov delivered a public speech outlining multiple Russian concerns, including deployment of U.S. missile defenses in Europe and NATO's eastern expansion. Lavrov also stated that Moscow is open for cooperation with NATO allies and regional powers on Afghanistan.
Timed to coincide with Minister Lavrov's visit, Russia's permanent representative to NATO and notorious ultra-nationalist, Dmitry Rogozin, published an op-ed in The New York Times lambasting U.S. policy on key issues, specifically NATO expansion.
Although President Obama has pledged to push the reset button to renew relations with Russia, U.S. policy towards Moscow must be based on a realistic--not rhetorical--agenda which prioritizes the NATO alliance and emphasizes the indivisibility of the transatlantic security alliance. President Obama must also make clear that the United States will not bargain away U.S. support for NATO enlargement to include Georgia and Ukraine, or missile defenses in Europe in exchange for Russian cooperation on other issues, such as its negotiations to stop Iran's nuclear program. Read more ..
America's Economic Collapse
"A long, giddy boom fueled by irrational investment bubbles...lax regulators looking the other way...then rapid-fire crises and a downwar-spiraling slowdown..."
In the minds of many Americans, the economic crises of recent months displayed striking parallels to the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression. One couldn't help but wonder: Is this the start of a New Depression? What would it be like?
Our collective memory of that era now consists of Littlemore than time-encrusted clichés and scratchy newsreel images— grim men in soup-kitchen lines and a jaunty Franklin Roosevelt declaring: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” As the parents of the Baby Boomers pass from the stage, firsthand knowledge of 1930s America is vanishing.
To summon the Ann Arbor of that era, we need only turn to a vivid memoir, now little remembered, by the Michigan-born writer Edmund G. Love (’36). Published in 1972 by William Morrow & Co., the book was titled Hanging On: Or How to Get Through a Depression and Enjoy Life. In spite of its happy-go-lucky subtitle, it is a searing recollection of what the term “hard times” really means. One puts it down shorn of any glib nostalgia about “the greatest generation.”
Love, born in 1912, was a journalist, screenwriter, and novelist, who published some 20 books, including Subways Are For Sleeping, which became the basis of a hit Broadway musical in the late 1950s. But the two books of his most likely to last are his memoirs of growing to maturity in Michigan. The first of these, titled The Situation in Flushing, is about Love’s boyhood outside Flint — an evocation of small-town life that the New York Times’ reviewer called “enchantment, pure and solid.” Read more ..
Pakistan on the Edge
|Aftab Mughal||May 11th 2009|
Taliban forces have seized the homes and businesses of Sikhs living in the Northwestern Frontier Province of Pakistan. Infidels must pay a head tax. Many Sikh families have been forced to leave their homes in the Orakzai area of Pakistan.
Sikhs constitute a tiny religious minority in Pakistan. The latest Sikh nightmare began when Pakistan’s parliament passed the Sharia law for the Malakand Division of the Northwestern Frontier Province. On the very next day, April 14, 2009, the Taliban imposed a prodigious multi-million rupee Jazia (an Islamic tax to non-Muslims) on the Sikh community.
The Taliban said Sikhs are an unwanted minority and must pay the head tax in exchange for living in the area under the rule of Sharia. Following the Taliban’s threat, many Sikh families of the Feroze Khel area of Merozai in Lower Orakzai Agency simply fled.
The Taliban had also forcibly occupied shops of two Sikh businessmen and houses of several Sikhs to force them to pay the Jazia. Some families paid as much as 20 million rupees to Taliban forces to avoid further retaliation. After receiving Jazia tax, the Taliban released Sikh leader Sardar Saiwang Singh and vacated the occupied homes. Read more ..
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