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Archive for November 2009

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Brazil on the Edge

Brazil Caught Between Oil, Politics, and Carbon Growth

November 30th 2009

Environment Topics - Sao Paolo Pollution
Sao Poalo

"This is the second independence of Brazil," declared an enthusiastic President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as he raised the first barrel of oil extracted from the Tupi Basin, a vast reserve of crude recently discovered under the salt layer of the Atlantic Ocean some three miles deep and 200 miles off the São Paulo coast.

That was on May 1, the Labor Day holiday in Brazil. Months before, in the same place, Lula had soaked his hands in oil and stamped them on the backs of jumpsuits worn by his aides.

Brazil lives a paradox. On the one hand, it is the tenth largest economy in the world and an emerging regional leader with a highly popular president. On the other, it ranks 75 in human development based on measures of literacy, education, and life expectancy. It is home to the biggest chunk of the Amazon rain forest, once called the "lungs of the world," but it is also responsible for mass deforestation, an environmental, social, and economic scourge that is blamed as a factor in global warming. The country's continued economic development requires more and more construction—growth that will only increase demand for energy and thus carbon emissions. This puts Brazil under pressure from all sides in relation to global climate change: from political opponents and supporters, businesses and NGOs, the federal capital Brasília and the states. Read more ..

The Flu’s Edge

Swine Flu Mutates Into New Diseases and into Political Issues

November 30th 2009

Europe Topics - Yuliya Timoshenko
Yuliya Timoshenko

Reports in Europe and elsewhere are rife of a mutation of the H1N1 “swine flu" virus that apparently first appeared in Ukraine and has now popped up in numerous other countries. As of November 28, two fatal cases of the mutated virus emerged in France, following two deaths caused by the virus identified in Norway on November 20. According to the World Health Organization, the same virus has been identified in patients in other countries including Brazil, China, Japan, Mexico, and the United States.

So far, in France, 76 deaths have been recorded for H1N1. Worldwide, deaths blamed on the epidemic rose by 1,000 during the week of November 21-28. But in the Ukraine, the total figure surpassed 300 in early November 2009, with as many as 16 deaths caused in one day.

The mutated virus appears to be able to penetrate further into the passages of victim’s lungs, thus making it more dangerous. However, there is yet no evidence to show that it can be spread between people. As long as there is no proven “person-to-person” contagion, the relative risk posed by the mutation is low, experts insist. Read more ..

Inside Iran

Iran Ups the Nuclear Confrontation Announcing Ten New Sites

November 30th 2009

Iran - Ahmadinejad Nuke
Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inspects nuclear equipment

The Iranian government stunned the world community by announcing a plan to build 10 new uranium enrichment facilities—this just after being rebuked for duplicity and non-cooperation by a resolution of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The plan to expand was decided upon in a Cabinet meeting headed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad told those at the Cabinet meeting that, “We should be able to produce 250–300 tons of fuel per hour and to attain the goal we need more new modern centrifuges with higher speed.” The Iranian President claimed the Islamic Republic needs the new facilities to produce 500,000 nuclear centrifuges and 20,000 megawatts of electricity within the next 20 years. Iran will commence construction of five uranium enrichment sites within two months and seeks to develop five additional locations to begin shortly thereafter. Read more ..

Arab World Elections

Iraq's Elections Challenge: A Shifting Political Landscape

November 30th 2009

Arab Topics - Iraqi Election

On November 18, Iraqi vice president Tariq al-Hashimi vetoed an elections law passed by parliament just ten days earlier, likely delaying elections that had previously been slated for January 2010. Such elections are a factor in the planned U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, with U.S. military officials stating that they will gauge the pace of the troop withdrawal after the national polls.

When the elections take place, they will test the durability of several political trends manifested by the January 2009 provincial elections, including the modest shift toward cross-sectarian political coalitions and the emergence of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as the nation's dominant politician.

The Vetoed Elections Law

In creating new elections legislation, the Iraqi parliament amended law number 16 of 2005, which compelled Iraqis to vote for lists—rather than individuals—chosen by party leaders in a non-transparent process. Under the new provisions, the election would be based on a modified open-list system, in which voters would have the choice of voting for an individual or for a list, creating greater accountability on the part of elected officials and lessening the influence of unelected party functionaries. Read more ..

The Edge of Lithium

A Grey Goldmine: Lithium and Alt Energy in Bolivia

November 30th 2009

Latin American Topics - Bolivian Miner
Bolivian miner

According to Bolivian President Evo Morales, lithium is not only important to his country’s economic future but is “the hope of humanity,” as the lightweight metal efficiently stores energy capable of powering the eco-friendly cars of the future. Bolivia’s lithium reserves have made headlines in the past and once again currently. The country holds a total of 5.4 million tons of lithium, which is nearly half of the world’s known supply.

The Bolivian government now appears to be moving ahead with increasingly concrete plans for extraction and production of the metal. Experts from around the globe who recently gathered in Bolivia discussed new scientific findings and the possibilities herein contained.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and many other nations are preparing to meet in Copenhagen this December to discuss climate change and alternative energy policies. In order to understand recent developments in Bolivia’s lithium policy, it is necessary to examine new advancements in lithium technology, Morales’ overall policy of nationalization, alternative energy plans in the U.S. and Spain, and some of the concerns that have been raised.

New Lithium Technologies

According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), one quarter of the lithium mined last year was used solely for lithium batteries, which operate portable electronic devices. The already rapidly increasing demand for lithium, the world’s lightest metal, which has a prodigious capacity for storing energy, is expected to rise dramatically as demand for electric cars, an alternative to gas-powered vehicles, are mass-produced and take to the roads. Read more ..

Chavez on Edge

New Information Emerges on U.S. Leases of Colombian Military bases

November 30th 2009

Latin American Topics - Colombia/US base

On October 30, U.S. and Colombian officials signed the controversial Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA), granting the U.S. armed forces access to seven Colombian military bases for the next ten years. The deal has been the subject of anxious speculation and heated debate since talks were first confirmed over the summer, as many policymakers throughout the hemisphere are now grappling with the reality of a heightened U.S. military presence in South America.

Though details were not released to the public prior to the signing of the agreement, official statements from both governments have continuously affirmed that the leased facilities would be exclusively used to support counternarcotic and counterinsurgency initiatives within Colombia.

However, a recently publicized U.S. Air Force document presents a far more ominous explanation for massive congressional funding for the forthcoming military construction at the Colombian bases. It emphasizes the “opportunity for conducting full spectrum operations throughout South America” against threats not only from drug trafficking and guerrilla movements, but also from “anti-U.S. governments” in the region. Read more ..

Inside Africa

Is the End Near for The Lord's Resistance Army?

November 30th 2009

Africa Topics - Kids with Guns

The hounds seem to be closing in on Joseph Kony and his horde of dreadlocked young rebels, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which has created havoc in Central Africa for over twenty years. Will the dreaded captor soon become a helpless captive?

On November 17, the UN Security Council condemned the increasing attacks of the LRA in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Sudan. The Austrian ambassador, Thomas Mayr-Harting, who this month holds the council’s presidency, said, “The attacks have resulted in the death, abduction and displacement of thousands of civilians.” Read more ..

Edge of Climate Control

Oil Companies Press Industry-Enviro Group on Refinery Emissions

November 30th 2009

Environment Topics - Smokestacks

An internal document circulating among members of an industry-environmental coalition that favors action on global warming provides a window into the oil industry's fight to scale back mandates in Democratic climate-change bills.

The U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), formed with a huge splash in early 2007, helped provide an early push for cap-and-trade legislation by uniting several big green groups, large utilities, and major oil companies Shell, ConocoPhillips and BP. But the oil industry says current Capitol Hill plans would create costly burdens and companies inside and outside the group are seeking major changes to requirements for refiners. The document circulating within USCAP offers a different approach for addressing emissions from car and truck tailpipes.

Sources inside the group say the document has been circulated by ConocoPhillips and BP, but that it also reflects concerns voiced by other companies in the refining industry. Refiners object to Democratic bills that require them to obtain emissions allowances to cover both their facilities' direct greenhouse gas output and the larger emissions from the use of their products in transportation. Read more ..

Detroit's Bailout

The General Motors Bankruptcy and Bailout Scam Must be Investigated—But by Whom?

November 30th 2009

Economy - GM Towers

With the recent announcement that Koenigsegg Group has terminated its agreement to buy Saab from GM, that makes at least three GM units that were supposed to be sold that have not been: Penske's deal to buy Saturn didn't go through; the deal to sell Opel (with maybe Vauxhall included) collapsed and now the German government is threatening (at least commercial) war; and now the Saab news. Who knows what will really happen with Hummer and the Chinese; there's no reason to believe that that will continue. You may recall that the carmaker's bailout was contingent on GM successfully unloading these brands.

So here's the problem: General Motors took billions of dollars from the American people to stave off disintegration. By doing so, GM was virtually paid, again, for many of the vehicles that were already bought and paid for over the years. The company split into two: one with all the ostensibly positive assets, and the other with all the negative assets along with the creditors and shareholders. Company A, the company with the “positive” assets would move ahead producing such family favorites as a new Buick Regal, while the company with all the negative assets, debts and shareholders would be left out in the cold. And in between, those brands that were expendable (Saturn, Opel, Vauxhall, Saab and Hummer) would be sold off to outside suckers to the benefit of Company A. Read more ..

Inside Islam

Spanish Crewmembers Recount Horror of Captivity and Rape by Somali Pirates

November 30th 2009

Piracy - Somali Pirate

In the Basque city of Guernica, northern Spain, crewmembers of the fishing vessel Alakrana, which was captured by Somali Muslim pirates in October 2009, testified before a judge investigating the incident. The Spanish Basque fishermen spent 47 days as the prisoners of the pirates after being waylaid near the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean. On November 24, eight of the 36 crewmembers of the Alakrana tuna-boat appeared in a Guernica court where they recounted the horror of their abduction by pirates. In a press conference, machinist Victor Bilbao said “We were frightened because at any moment they might have shot us.” Bilbao also criticized Spanish President Jose Rodriguez Zapatero for mishandling the management of the crisis.

The Alakrana and crew were freed on November 17 following the payment of a $4 million ransom. They were captured in early October, and had repelled a similar attack in September. Since the Alakrana incicent, Spain has given permission to its fishing fleets to utilize military armaments by onboard security. President Rodriguez Zapatero defended his government's handling of the incident saying that Spain did what it had to do. Read more ..

Book Review

What's Wrong with the World's Leading Media Companies?

November 30th 2009

Book Covers - The Curse of the Mogul

The Curse of the Mogul: What's Wrong with the World's Leading Media Companies. Jonathan A. Knee, Bruce C. Greenwald, Ava Seave. Portfolio. 320 pages.

The first word that you usually hear when seemingly disparate corporate entities unite is ``synergy,'' but the authors of this new book demonstrate that there usually isn't much of that after the fact.

Early in The Curse of the Mogul, the authors cite a full-page ad by Vivendi Chairman Jean-Marie Messier published upon that media conglomerate's acquisition of venerable publisher Houghton Mifflin. The Frenchman mused about the new opportunities that were going to emerge, including a movie featuring Curious George, the venerable kid lit character whose exploits were published by Houghton Mifflin. That Messier was blissfully unaware that such a project was already underway, and seemingly clueless, as well, about the general nature of intellectual property, served as apt foreshadowing of the disaster ahead.

But most of new media clusters were illogical amalgamations to begin with. And clumsy execution guaranteed their failure, even with the best of intentions. Inevitably, the value of the properties quickly bled out. For example, the following passage, although a bit clunky, thoroughly describes the numerous flaws of the Time Warner/AOL merger and how it all unraveled:

``Time Warner announced in May that it plans to spin off its AOL division by year end. The new AOL's value will likely be barely 1 percent of the market price of the inflated stock that Time Warner accepted in the original $175 billion merger almost a decade ago -- despite the inclusion of numerous subsequent expensive add-on acquisitions. While extreme, the Time Warner-AOL combination was no aberration. The deal represents less than half the financial damage done during an unprecedented era of excess in the media business. Since 2000, the largest media conglomerates have collectively written down more than $200 billion in assets, a record that would make even Citigroup blush. These write-downs reflect a broad-based legacy of value destruction from relentlessly overpriced acquisitions, `strategic' investments and contracts for content and talent.'' Read more ..

The Plant World

When Camouflage Is A Plant's Best Protection

November 30th 2009

Science - Camouflage Plant

It is well known that some animal species use camouflage to hide from predators. Individuals that are able to blend in to their surroundings and avoid being eaten are able to survive longer, reproduce, and thus increase their fitness (pass along their genes to the next generation) compared to those who stand out more. This may seem like a good strategy, and fairly common in the animal kingdom, but who ever heard of a plant doing the same thing?

In plants, the use of coloration or pigmentation as a vital component of acquiring food (e.g., photosynthesis) or as a means of attracting pollinators (e.g., flowers) has been well studied. However, variation in pigmentation as a means of escaping predation has received little attention. Now Matthew Klooster from Harvard University and colleagues have empirically investigated whether the dried bracts on a rare woodland plant, Monotropsis odorata, might serve a similar purpose as the stripes on a tiger or the grey coloration of the wings of the peppered moth, namely to hide.

"Monotropsis odorata is a fascinating plant species, as it relies exclusively upon mycorrhizal fungus, that associates with its roots, for all of the resources it needs to live," notes Klooster. "Because this plant no longer requires photosynthetic pigmentation (i.e., green coloration) to produce its own energy, it is free to adopt a broader range of possibilities in coloration, much like fungi or animals." Read more ..

Edge of Economic Recovery

Black Friday Spells a Bleak Future

November 30th 2009

Economy - Black Friday

Black Friday represents just about everything that is wrong with our country and our culture. It is a disgusting example of our debt-based materialistic society. People getting killed in human stampedes to grab one of the 50 HDTVs on sale in a Wal-Mart are revolting. The mainstream media whips the boorish masses into a materialistic frenzy. The day brings out the worst in Americans.

The financial pundits refer to us as “consumers.” What a repulsive term to apply to human beings. Indeed, retailers see Americans as nothing more than animals that consume their products. Advertisers manipulate the young and uneducated through misleading advertising and false promises. Virtually the entire population has bought into this consumer idea. Read more ..

Oust Holocaust Museum Bosses if They War Against Survivors

November 30th 2009
I am not Jewish or a Holocaust survivor, but members of my family fought in World War II and helped liberate camps. The thought that the executives at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum are refusing to provide the Bad Arolsen files to survivor communities--that so many died for--is an outrage. Therefore, I wish to add my name to those calling for these Museum executives to be ousted from their jobs. This is after all an American federal museum. Its job is to serve the community first and its own designs of exclusivity second--or not at all.

Edge of Climate Change

Is India "the Next China" as It Confronts Climate Change?

November 23rd 2009

Environment Topics - India Air Pollution

The image of the new India is that of a nation on the move: rapid economic growth, a rising middle class, big infrastructure projects, and global business deals. All these suggest that India may be the next China, the next economic superpower to emerge from the developing world.

But there is another side to the world’s largest democracy: About 60 percent of Indians live on less than $2 per day. Over half the country’s billion-plus people lack formal access to electricity. In some of India’s more crowded states, like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, with a combined population of 250 million residents, have no electricity for a good part of the day. Villages in much of India’s outback are not connected to a power grid at all.

It is against this stark backdrop — against the pressing national imperative to reduce poverty and improve education and healthcare — that India grapples with how to address climate change. For years, the Indian government has viewed global warming through this domestic lens, arguing that mandated caps on greenhouse gas emissions would stunt its explosive economic growth and that, in any case, the industrialized world should bear the responsibility of relieving a problem it started decades ago. Read more ..

Coke and Confiscation

Coca-Cola Claims Nasser Regime Persection of Jews Was Legal--Coke Plant Seizure OK

November 23rd 2009

Jewish Topics - Coke Poster

In a downtown Manhattan courtroom, where the lawyers and clients up front outnumbered the observers seated in the back, where a forgotten Jewish Egyptian victim challenged an omnipresent multibillion dollar multinational, in a case where history itself was both on trial and being made, the Coca-Cola Company was publicly accused of being criminally enriched following the Nasser regime’s Nazi-style expropriation of Jewish property. More than that, Coca-Cola was accused of obstructing, belittling and stonewalling a decades-long effort to obtain justice, and indeed trying to create a new revisionism that questions whether anti-Jewish persecution actually took place in Egypt in 1950s and 1960s.

On November 10, 2009, Refael Bigio, exiled from Egypt, drove down from Montreal, his attorneys Nathan Lewin and Sherrie Savett trained in from Washington D.C. and Philadelphia, Coca-Cola’s chief of litigation John Lewis flew up from Atlanta and the company’s defense counsel, Richard Cirillo, only needed to make a short trip from midtown to argue whether the Coca-Cola Company quietly but consciously benefitted when the Nasser regime nationalized Jewish property. The Bigios’s property had long been leased by Coca-Cola and their bottle cap factory made the caps for Coke’s products. This factory, the property, and related business ultimately became a multimillion dollar asset in the giant Atlanta beverage conglomerate’s overseas portfolio.

The Egyptian government takeover of the Bigio family bottle cap and tin plating factory occurred in 1962 during the openly anti-Jewish regime of President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Egypt’s government subsequently ruled its Nasser-era seizure of the Bigio property was indeed illegal. Later, however, over the Bigio’s objections, Coca-Cola entered into a joint venture to operate what is now the Coca Cola Bottling Company of Egypt on the Bigios’s seized property, without compensating the Bigios, according to court papers. The Bigios claim that Coke is and has been trespassing on stolen property. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Missing Iranian General May Have Been Kidnapped, Held by Mossad

November 23rd 2009

Iran - Asgari
Ali Reza Asgari

Approximately three years ago, a retired Iranian general and former deputy defense minister disappeared in Turkey amidst claims of defection. Ali Reza Asgari worked in the Iranian reformist government headed by President Muhammad Khatami. There are conflicting reports regarding when Asgari was last seen. Some state December 2006; others claim early 2007.

The Iranian media is now reporting that Asgari was abducted by Mossad and Western intelligence agencies. Furthermore, Iranian media reports claim that Asgari is currently being held in an Israeli prison. These reports were picked up by Israeli Army Radio last week.

Although no sources have been named, Iranian media reports, “Two years of investigations by relevant institutions show that Ali Reza Asgari is kept in the Zionist regime's prison... [Ali Reza Asgari] was kidnapped by Mossad, German and British intelligence agencies and taken to Israel.”

The Israeli government refuted any association with Asgari's disappearance when reports of his defection began circulating in 2007. There is now speculation that Asgari was abducted by Israeli Mossad and Western intelligence agencies in an effort to obtain information regarding missing Israeli Air Force navigator Ron Arad and the Iranian nuclear program. Read more ..

The Race for Hydrogen

New Molecular Hydrogen Storage Method can Boost Energy Programs

November 23rd 2009

Energy Topics - nickel-hydride battery

Scientists at the Carnegie Institution have found for the first time that high pressure can be used to make a unique hydrogen-storage material. The discovery paves the way for an entirely new way to approach the hydrogen-storage problem. The researchers found that the normally unreactive, noble gas xenon combines with molecular hydrogen (H2) under pressure to form a previously unknown solid with unusual bonding chemistry. The experiments are the first time these elements have been combined to form a stable compound. The discovery debuts a new family of materials, which could boost new hydrogen technologies.

Xenon has some intriguing properties, including its use as an anesthesia, its ability to preserve biological tissues, and its employment in lighting. Xenon is a noble gas, which means that it does not typically react with other elements. Read more ..

Family Life

Childhood Abuse Can Accelerate Aging

November 23rd 2009

Social Topics - Child Abuse

Children who suffer physical or emotional abuse may be faced with accelerated cellular aging as adults, according to new research from Butler Hospital and Brown University.

The new findings draw a direct connection between childhood psychological trauma and accelerated reduction in the size of telomeres, the “caps” on the end of chromosomes that promote cellular stability. Telomeres typically shorten with age.

After measuring DNA extracted from blood samples of 31 adults, researchers found accelerated shortening of telomeres in those who reported suffering maltreatment as children, compared to study participants who did not.

“It tells us something. It gives us a hint that early developmental experiences may have profound effects on biology that can influence cellular mechanisms at a very basic level, said Dr. Audrey Tyrka, the study’s lead author. Tyrka is assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, and associate chief of the mood disorders program at Butler Hospital in Providence, R.I.

The work of Tyrka and the other authors builds on previous research that established psychological stress and trauma as risk factors for a number of medical and psychiatric illnesses. Other work has linked some of these psychiatric and medical problems with shortened telomere length. This study now establishes a link between early psychosocial stress and shorter telomere length.

Researchers have also found that telomeres shorten at a higher rate when exposed to toxins, such as radiation or cigarette smoke. Other studies have looked at adult female caregivers who are responsible for children with developmental delays, determining a link between accelerated telomere shortening and the higher stress levels the caregivers faced. Read more ..

Mideast Peace

Syria is Still Not Ready for Peace Talks

November 23rd 2009

Lebanon Topics - Basher Assad
Syrian President Basher Assad

In November 2009, after meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that he would meet Syrian President Basher Assad for direct negotiations, anywhere, anytime, without preconditions to discuss a permanent peace treaty between Israel and Syria. Assad, after meeting with Sarkozy two days later, flatly rejected Netanyahu's offer and half-heartedly countered with the possibility of restarting indirect negotiations through Turkey.

This was vintage Assad. Typically, he meets with world leaders who praise him for privately expressing an interest in peace before he publicly declares he has no intention of negotiating with Israel. This pattern actually began with Assad's father as early as the mid-1970s, when President Carter met with Hafez Assad and extolled his virtues only to recall later in his memoirs that Assad subsequently did everything he could to sabotage his peace efforts. In those years, Israel was reluctant to offer any concessions on the Golan Heights, but starting with Yitzhak Rabin in the early 1990s, successive Israeli prime ministers have offered to withdraw from the area in exchange for peace. Read more ..

The Race for Alt-Fuel

International Expedition Investigates Climate Change, Alternative Fuels in Arctic

November 23rd 2009

Energy / Environment - USCG Polar Sea

Scientists from the Marine Biogeochemistry and Geology and Geophysics sections of the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) organized and led a team of university and government scientists on an Arctic expedition to initiate methane hydrate exploration in the Beaufort Sea and determine the spatial variation of sediment contribution to Arctic climate change.

Utilizing the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Sea as a research platform, three cross-shelf transects were surveyed and sampled off Alaska's North Slope at Hammerhead, Thetis Island and Halkett, representing three regions of the Alaskan shelf. The expedition integrated expertise in coastal geophysics, sediment geochemistry, dissolved and free methane fluxes through the water column and into the atmosphere, sediment and water column microbiology and biogeochemistry and detailed characterization of the sub-seafloor geology.

“The objective of the sampling is to help determine variations in the shallow sediment and water column methane sources, methane cycling and the subsequent flux to the atmosphere,” said Richard Coffin, chief scientist, NRL Chemistry Division. Read more ..

Inside Saudi Succession

Succession and the U.S.-Saudi Relationship

November 23rd 2009

Arab Topics - King Abdullah2
King Abdullah

Given Saudi Arabia's strategic position and its leadership roles in both Islam and international energy markets, the close relationship between Riyadh and Washington is crucial to a range of U.S. policy concerns: Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East peace process, and energy.

The character of the U.S.-Saudi relationship has often been dictated by the personality and style of the king at the time. King Fahd, who ruled from 1982 to 2005 (thought he was plagued by poor health after a stoke in 1995), was seen as pro-American and cooperated closely, although often discreetly, with Washington on a range of foreign policy concerns, including in Central America, Afghanistan, and on the middle East peace process. King Abdullah, whose rule began in 2005 but who had stood in for Fahd after 1995, has protected the relationship but has been more cautious and at times even confrontational. In 2002, with relations in turmoil because of the involvement of Saudis in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the kingdom, apparently trying to deflect attention away from itself by spotlighting clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians, was even prepared to privately threaten a temporary cutoff of oil exports because of U.S. support for Israel. Read more ..

Chavez on the Edge

Uruguayan Elections: Will the Country Join the Chavista Sphere?

November 23rd 2009

Latin American Topics - Jose Mujica
Jose Mujica

As in Honduras, Uruguayans will go to the polls to elect a new president on Sunday; November 29. The most likely candidate to win the elections is Jose Mujica, a leader of the former guerilla movement “Tupamaros” and a likely ally of Hugo Chavez. However, before reaching conclusions, it is important to understand the characteristics of this small country in order to evaluate the situation correctly.

Uruguay is a small country sitting as a buffer between Argentina and Brazil.

Uruguay evolved differently than neighboring Argentina. While in Argentina, Perón ruled undemocratically, Uruguay maintained a vibrant democracy which continued until its collapse in 1973. Uruguay also established a benevolent state early in the twentieth century aimed at preventing class conflict by redistributing goods and providing employment. The state later expanded its economic activities by creating their own companies. Thus, state bureaucracy grew under the multi-tasking role of the government as an entrepreneur and an employer. Political democracy and social welfare led to Uruguay becoming known as “The Switzerland of South America.” Read more ..

The Ft. Hood Massacre

Death by Political Correctness

November 23rd 2009

Military - Ft Hood Shutdown Poster

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is now conscious and being nursed back to health by hospital staff, just days after opening fire on crowds of unarmed American soldiers at the Fort Hood Readiness Center. Hasan reportedly shouted "Allahu Akbar!"—a phrase meaning "God is great!"—before discharging 100 bullets at some 300 unarmed American soldiers who had gathered for pre-deployment processing. By the time his rampage ended, Hasan had massacred 13 servicemen and women, and injured 30.

In all likelihood, this tragedy would have been avoided if political correctness hadn't led military and government officials to turn a blind eye to clear signs that Hassan had become an Islamist extremist. As far back as a year ago, at least three government agencies—the Army, the Department of Defense, and the FBI—learned that Hasan had sent 10 to 20 e-mails to al Qaeda propagandist, Anwar Aulaqi. Aulaqui is the radical imam from Virginia who had ties to several of the 9/11 hijackers. In those 2008 correspondences with Aulaqui, Hasan sought advice about how to reconcile his membership in the armed forces with his increasingly radical beliefs. Read more ..

Book Reviews

I am Justice: A Journey out of Africa

November 23rd 2009

Book Covers - I Am Justice 2

I am Justice: A Journey out of Africa. Paul Kenyon. Preface (Random House). 2009. 256 pages.

A new book, “I am Justice. A journey out of Africa”, by BBC tele-journalist, Paul Kenyon, highlights the precarious plight of migrants from West and Central Africa to Europe. While no unemployed Kenyan, Tanzanian or Ugandan would think of making his way to Libya over land as the first stage of migration to Europe, that’s what hundreds of thousands of Nigerians, Ghanaians, Congolese, Ivorians, and men from Burkina Faso, Niger, Togo and Central African Republic do every year.

They make two crossings: first of the Sahara Desert, which begins in Niger. If they manage that, and reach Tripoli safely they plan the next stage: crossing the Mediterranean, by boat. Their dream? To reach Sweden, where there’s work and a generous welfare system, or Britain where they can meet plenty of their own people, land a job, talk soccer all day, and perhaps get Wayne Rooney’s autograph.

According to the IOM (International Organisation for Migration) at this moment between 750,000 and one million African migrants, mostly young men, are waiting on the Libyan coast for a passage to Italy. May–June is the time of bright, calm weather after the storms of the northern spring, and the people-smuggling business starts another season. Hundreds of thousands more will be waiting hundreds of miles to the west, mainly from Senegal, to take the shorter passage to mainland Spain or the longer one to the Canary Islands. Read more ..

Super Bunker Buster Coverage Scoops CNN by Weeks

November 23rd 2009
A few days ago, I saw a CNN Breaking News piece about a Super Bunker Buster, that is the Massive Ordinance Penetrator... nicknamed MOP. I went looking online for more news and discovered The Cutting Edge News has broken the story and covered it extensively on September 21. Several other publications merely reference or repeated your coverage. Did no one tell CNN that this was old news?

Saudi Succession Series Welcomed

November 23rd 2009
For more than a month now, you have been running a series on the subject of Saudi Succession. You came it in great detail from different angles. I for one found it fascinating. Please continue your excellent coverage of Mideast issues.

Poste Brasserie (Washington D.C..)


Iran in the Middle East Conflict

Israel’s Interception of The Francop and the Iran and Hezballah Axis

November 16th 2009

Israel Topics - francop02
The Francop

On November 3, 2009, Israeli naval forces intercepted an Antigua-flagged cargo ship approximately 100 miles off Israel's coast. The ship, the Francop, was brought to the port of Ashdod and searched, leading to the discovery of some 500 tons of weapons reportedly from Iran. Israeli officials believe the cargo was bound for Hezbollah via Syria. While Iran has been sending arms to Hezbollah through Syria for years, this case has important military and political implications.

Iranian arms supplies underwrite Hezbollah's political position in Lebanon, increase the risk for a conflict with Israel, and ensure that any such conflict will be more intense and lengthier than if Hezbollah lacked such support. This most recent affair also shows Iran's willingness to risk embarrassing exposure in its support for Hezbollah, even as it engages in sensitive negotiations with the international community over its nuclear program. This underlines the strategic nature of the Iran-Hezbollah relationship and the importance Iran attaches to Hezbollah as a component of its own deterrent arm. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Saudi Oil Policy--An Unlikely Weapon for Pressuring Iran

November 16th 2009

Arab Topics - Saudi Oil

Among the policy suggestions for heading off Iran's emergence as a military nuclear power is the notion that Saudi Arabia should use its position—as the world's largest oil exporter and effective leader of the OPEC oil cartel—to apply pressure. The kingdom is increasingly concerned that nuclear weapons capability would confer on Iran the status of regional hegemon. But any hope that Saudi Arabia would intervene to stop that possibility, by pumping extra supplies to lower prices and decrease Iran's oil revenues, is probably misplaced.

Historically, Saudi Arabia has claimed that it will not use its leading role in the oil market for political purposes. In a June 2001 interview with the Financial Times, then Crown Prince Abdullah said: “Oil is a strategic commodity upon which the prosperity of the industrial as well as the developing countries depends. Our oil policy is a prudent one, seeking a balance between the interests of producers and consumers. It serves no purpose to speak about oil outside this framework.” Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Holder Dials Back his Commitment to Pushing Assault Weapons Ban

November 16th 2009

Politics - Assault Weapons

Attorney General Eric Holder is retreating on his commitment to pursue a controversial gun-control measure. Holder's statements, recently delivered to senators in writing, clearly indicate the Obama administration is in no rush to reinstate the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004.

In response to written questions from Senate Judiciary Committee members, Holder adopted a much different tone on the ban than he did in February, when he said, “As President Obama indicated during the campaign, there are just a few gun-related changes that we would like to make, and among them would be to reinstitute the ban on the sale of assault weapons.” That comment attracted many headlines, but the nation's chief law enforcement officer is now downplaying his earlier remarks. Read more ..

Homegrown Terror

How the Saudis Radicalized U.S. Troops

November 16th 2009

Contributors / Staff - Gal Luft

The tragic killing of the 13 U.S. soldiers in Fort Hood by Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is one is a string of events involving Muslim soldiers and veterans who have gone astray, raising delicate questions about the role and trustworthiness of the 3,000 Muslim soldiers in the U.S. military. The major incidents include the March 2003 attack in Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait by an American Muslim soldier, Asan Akbar, who rolled grenades into three tents where officers of the 101st Airborne’s 1st Brigade were sleeping, killing one serviceman and wounding 15; the six Islamic radicals who in May 2007 plotted to storm New Jersey’s Fort Dix Army Base with automatic weapons and execute as many soldiers as possible; and John Allen Muhammad, the Beltway Sniper, a Gulf War veteran and convert to Islam who was responsible for 16 shootings and 10 murders and who was executed on November 14.

It would be inappropriate to malign or even question the loyalty of the hard-working Muslim men and women wearing the uniforms of the United States. But it would be equally irresponsible to ignore the amassing evidence that subversive and combustible elements with radical Islamic persuasion have infiltrated our military, often putting our personnel at bigger risk in their own bases than from their enemies on the battlefield.

While Muslim soldiers have served in uniforms loyally for decades, it is the rising number of Wahhabi-trained and converted Muslims that is a relatively recent phenomenon. Since Wahhabism is one of the most radical and puritan strands of Islam, the penetration of Wahhabi thinking into the ranks of the military must be treated with care. Read more ..

Argentina on the Edge

Argentina and the "Vulture Funds"

November 16th 2009

Environment Topics - Vulture

The Argentine government recently announced a plan to offer a debt swap to investors still holding $20 billion (plus interest) in unpaid bonds from the country’s 2001 debt default. Economy Minister Amado Boudou stated on November 7 that a proposal would be made within 30 days, which, once accepted, will likely enable the Argentine government to begin to access vital international capital markets of which it has been excluded since that year.

While three banks, Barclays, Citigroup, and Deutsche Bank, representing roughly $10 billion of the remaining defaulted bondholders, appear ready to accept this deal, a group of “vulture funds” continues to render negotiations difficult by pushing to receive the full face value of the bonds that they bought on secondary markets for pennies on the dollar. These organizations, the majority of which are based offshore of the U.S. beyond effective regulation and taxation, have been using U.S. courts and unremitting Congressional pressure to compel the Argentine government to pay the full face value of these bonds.  Read more ..

Heatlh Care Reform

Legislative Malpractice

November 16th 2009

Contributors / Staff - Armstrong Williams Headshot

It has famously been said that America is a nation of laws not people. Not the case when it comes to applying the laws of this country to its elected leaders. Amazingly, Congress is not covered by many of the statutes that they apply to the rest of the country.   Exhibit A: Health care reform. On a recent Saturday night the House voted to enact President Obama’s health care proposal. The administration hailed the passage as the first step toward ensuring that the public receive the same health care benefits provided to members of Congress. This means that the public would enjoy a wide selection of consumer driven options and lower fee-for-service plans. 

Notably, Mr. Obama explicitly campaigned on the idea of providing the American public with the same health care options available to members of Congress. “You’ll be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves,” promised Mr. Obama during his election campaign. With the House vote, it is worth noting that the administration’s government-run health care experiment will NOT actually provide the public with the same health care benefits provided to members of Congress. The administration’s current health care proposal specifically exempts members of Congress from participation. Despite the rousing rhetoric to the contrary, congressional health plans, with their wide choice of provider options, will not be available to the general public.

If the bill passes in the Senate, the public would receive a watered down version of the benefits available to members of Congress — and at a cost that would dramatically increase the deficit, and ultimately lead to a tax hike on the middle class.

Congress needs to man-up and provide the public with the same health care benefits that they receive. If Congress thinks that having limited choices for health care providers is tolerable, then its members should accept those same limited options for themselves. Instead, they offer rousing rhetoric about giving the American populace the same health care options that are available to Congress, then, in almost the same breath, they turn around and exempt themselves from the plan.

The Way We Are

Thoughtful Words Help Couples Stay Fit When Arguing

November 16th 2009

Social Topics - Couple

Couples who bring thoughtful words to a fight release lower amounts of stress-related proteins, suggesting that rational communication between partners can ease the impact of marital conflict on the immune system.
"Previous research has shown that couples who are hostile to each other show health impairments and are at greater risk of disease," said Jennifer Graham, assistant professor of biobehavioral health, Penn State. "We wanted to know if couples who use thoughtfulness and reasoning in the midst of a fight incur potential health benefits."

Individuals in a stressful situation -- as in a troubled relationship -- typically have elevated levels of chemicals known as cytokines. These proteins are produced by cells in the immune system and help the body mount an immune response during infection. However, abnormally high levels of these proteins are linked to illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, arthritis and some cancers.

"Typically, if you bring people to a lab and put them under stress, either by engaging them in a conflict or giving them a public speaking task, you can see an increase in proinflammatory cytokines such as Interleukin-6 (Il-6) and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha)," explained Graham. Read more ..

The Edge of Terror

A Marine Batters a Greek Orthodox Priest he Thought was an "Arab Terrorist"

November 16th 2009

Crime Topics - Jasen Bruce

A Greek Orthodox priest was severely beaten by a U.S. Marine Reservist in Tampa Florida in an apparent if not bizarre case of mistaken identity. Lance Cpl. Jasen D. Bruce, 28, was arrested on a charge of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon after chasing and beating a man he thought was a terrorist.

On the evening of October 9, Father Alexios Marakis, 29, was visiting the Greek community and an ailing fellow priest in Tampa. Father Alexios ot lost while driving northbound on Interstate 275 and wandered into downtown Tampa. Exiting his car at the Seaport Channelside Apartment complex, he asked Bruce for directions. Instead of providing assistance, Bruce allegedly beat the Orthodox priest in the head with a tire iron.

The Greek Orthodox priest then fled on foot with Bruce in pursuit while the Marine phoned 911 emergency services to report that he was going to "take an Arab" into custody. When police finally arrived, Bruce allegedly declared that the priest was actually a terrorist. According to Tampa police, Bruce claimed that the priest had shouted “God is great!” in Arabic. The bearded priest speaks Greek and was wearing a black cassock at the time of the incident.

Father Alexios was taken to hospital and there a translator helped to unravel his story for police. When police went to Bruce's apartment, he was already lawyered up and would not speak to them. The priest was treated and released from Tampa General Hospital. Alleged assailant Bruce was arrested on the evening of November 9 and released from the Hillsborough County jail at 8 AM on November 10 on a $7500 bond. Read more ..

Book Review

The Fall of the Soviet Empire - A House of Cards

November 16th 2009

Book Covers - Fall of Soviet Union

Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire. Victor Sebestyen. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. London. 480 pages.

It is rare to read an historical study that is unalloyed good news. Victor Sebestyen, a journalist specialising in East European affairs, whose own family fled Hungary when he was a boy, has provided the reader with a dramatic account of the death throes of Communism in the six Soviet satellite countries comprising the Warsaw Pact: Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany, Romania and Bulgaria. (Yugoslavia is not included as the author rightly judges that it requires a book on its own.) Of course it is a complex story; but still a story in which "good" -- the right of a country to govern itself -- triumphs over "evil" -- a tyrannous empire determined to control it. In the democratic West we have belatedly discovered the greedy shadow side of capitalism; learning here of daily life under Communism is still a salutary reminder of our own good fortune.

The author begins with an arresting quote from Lenin: "It is impossible to predict the time and progress of revolution. It is governed by its own more or less mysterious laws. But when it comes, it moves irresistibly." Lenin was more right than he could have known and in a way that he would never have foreseen: in a fine irony it was his own vaunted "proletariat", the ordinary working people of Eastern Europe, who voted with their feet and in mass peaceable demonstrations, to throw off the intolerable yoke that the Communist system had imposed on them. The puzzle is that what to western observers looked like a permanent monolithic structure finally folded up in a matter of months. Read more ..

Edge of Archaeology

Alexander the Great Comes Alive at International Archaeological Dig in Israel

November 16th 2009

Archaeology Topics - Tel Dor
Tel Dor dig site

The archaeological season in Israel has produced startling discoveries that sheds light on religious practices during the 6th century AD in Israel, as well as the influence of Hellenistic culture from the 4th century BC when Alexander the Great passed through the region. The University of Haifa and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in cooperation with academic institutions and foundations of the United States, Poland, and Israel, carried off a significant finish to the archaeological season.

A rare and surprising archaeological discovery at Tel Dor: A gemstone engraved with the portrait of Alexander the Great was uncovered during excavations by an archaeological team directed by Dr. Ayelet Gilboa of the University of Haifa and Dr. Ilan Sharon of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "Despite its miniature dimensions – the stone is less than a centimeter high and its width is less than half a centimeter – the engraver was able to depict the bust of Alexander on the gem without omitting any of the ruler's characteristics" notes Dr. Gilboa, Chair of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Haifa. Read more ..

Arab World Democracy

One Wall Falls, Another Rises

November 16th 2009

Contributors / Staff - Walid Phares new
Walid Phares

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was a benchmark that made an impression on me, as it did on millions of people around the world. The sight of thousands of East Germans pouring into West Berlin, particularly the youths who had never experienced freedom before, was a surreal scene not only for the people of Europe, but also for those of us born in the Middle East.Westerners looked with shock at the peoples of East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and the Soviet Union surging against totalitarianism. Central Europeans stared with awe at the countries who never surrendered their liberties to Communism. Soviet propaganda told Western Europe for many years that the comrades on the other side of the Iron Curtain were happy with their status and wanted nothing to do with the West and its "bourgeois" freedoms.

During those November days twenty years ago, the free world learned that behind the wall of shame, people wanted nothing more than freedom. The apologist machine lied for decades. The Soviet peoples were similarly indoctrinated by the Marxist version of madrassas to believe that America and NATO were at war with the proletariat and were plotting to destroy the great achievements of Stalin and his successors. None of that was real, and the long-fooled citizens on both sides of the separation line came together to celebrate freedom.

The day when the Wall came down in Berlin, I and many other advocates for liberty in the greater Middle East hoped to see the wave of liberation hit our shores too. The region's peoples had been suffering from totalitarianism fully as much as the Soviet bloc's nations throughout the twentieth century. But unlike the luckier societies rising to freedom in Europe, the populations south and east of the Mediterranean had been oppressed nonstop for centuries and ignored by the international community during the Cold War. Read more ..

Coverage of Africa and Middle East

November 16th 2009
I am a recent reader discoverer of The Cutting Edge News and I am extremely pleased to see the diversity of thought and information in your articles. I am particularly struck by your coverage of the nightmares and social deprivation of Afircan society, something our mainstream media ignore while millions suffer. Why do we not hear about these issues on the nightly news? At the same time, your articles on the Middle East, Jews, Arabs, and the conflict with a nuclear Iran, offer a dimension to the problems in this area that I cannot get elsewhere. This includes your excellent articles on Turkey, the seemingly inevitable showdown with a nuclear Iran, and the history and archaeology of the region. Thank you for making the effort to include all this information, and give us more.

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