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Archive for February 2010

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Hotel Review

Marcel Hotel Subverts its Attraction with Failures

February 25th 2010

Travel - Marcel Hotel
Marcel Hotel New York City

This hotel could be a major address for the informed traveler on a budget. Certainly, the rooms in this beat-up building are updated, sleek, bright and even playful. Travelers will find the accommodations warm and cozy with a flare. Service is exemplary as the friendly staff tries hard. A rooftop patio has enormous potential.

But two major problems rule this property out as a first, second, or third choice. Management has chosen to make the coffee machine inoperable during the breakfast hours and turns it on only after say 10 AM or 11 AM. This means groggy people waking up with typical early morning departures or commitments cannot grab a cup of coffee easily as they would expect at the public access coffee machine. This is deliberate. Management wants to drive morning coffee and breakfast to the expensive restaurant connected to the property. Anyone who wants to go outside for coffee can cross a few busy intersections for a Starbucks--but this is not inviting as a wake-up. Hence, management is willing to inconvenience their customers to score a meal for the rental property. Read more ..

Edge of Homeland Security

Homeland Security Bets Billions on Better Communications-- But Are First Responders Better Off?

February 22nd 2010

Transportation Topics - Fire Engine

When a cop or a fire fighter pulls out a radio in a television police drama, his message goes through, whether he’s in the basement of a building or deep in a forest. In the real world, clear communication is rarely so easy, particularly among first responders from different disciplines and jurisdictions. This reality was dramatically brought home at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, when crucial observations from the police department’s helicopters did not reach fire chiefs, commanders lost radio contact with responders who ascended the towers, and brigades in the north tower did not hear calls to evacuate.

Since then, an unprecedented amount of federal money has been spent on communications gear and technology, expenses traditionally borne by state and local governments. The goal is to fix the communication problems faced on 9/11 — to create “interoperability” that allows first responders from different disciplines and jurisdictions to communicate. From 2004 to 2008, the only years for which detailed figures are available, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) approved more than $4.3 billion in grant money to improve interoperability among first responders nationwide. DHS officials have said that more grant money has gone to interoperability than to any other initiative, and it continues to be a major focus for DHS grant programs, while also drawing funding from the economic stimulus package.

The Obama Edge

US Downplays Obama's Meeting with Dalai Lama as Part of Chess Game with the Chinese

February 22nd 2010

Obama Admin Topics - Dalai Lama at White House
Dalai Lama Exits White House Among Garbage Bags

The unceremonious departure of the Dalai Lama from the White House on February 19 gained almost as much currency as the actual meeting between the Tibetan Buddhist leader and President Barack Obama. While leaving the Executive Mansion, the Dalai Lama was captured on film exiting through a door usually used by household staff where the West Wing meets the main presidential residence. The saffron-robed monk, a recipient of the Nobel Prize and revered icon for Buddhists and lovers of liberty was seen walking around trash bags in his sandals in chilly Washington DC.

The photo promptly went all over the world, sparking criticism and bewilderment. For its part, the White House released only one photo of the actual meeting between the two leaders, showing them in conversation.

China, which has occupied the mountainous nation of Tibet since the 1950s, duly registered its diplomatic pique over the visit. The American ambassador in Beijing was summoned for a consultation with the Chinese foreign ministry in protest. A Chinese spokesman averred that the Tibetan spiritual leader’s visit with Obama had “seriously harmed” Sino-American relations. The Chinese registered its “solemn representation” to the U.S. diplomat that international relations had been damaged because of Obama’s refusal to heed Chinese warnings. “We believe the actions of the U.S. side have seriously interfered in Chinese internal affairs, seriously hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, and seriously undermined China-U.S. relations,” said the Chinese spokesman. Read more ..

Edge of Mideast Politics

Haiti is No Gaza

February 22nd 2010

Israeli Military - Israeli Rescue team in Haiti

Dubai-based columnist Aijaz Zaka Syed recently penned an op-ed that appeared in multiple publications claiming that Israel was hypocritical for sending medical teams to earthquake-ravaged Haiti while ignoring the plight of Gazans.

“If the Israelis have reached out to the Haitians by swiftly dispatching a medical team, it’s laudable,” he wrote. “But why those moved by a tragedy on the other side of the world can’t see what’s been happening right under their noses for years?”

Syed also mentioned the “plane-loads of relief and aid supplies” that Arab and Muslim countries have sent, suggesting that the lack of publicity is not known because Arab countries are not particularly media-savvy. Read more ..


Argentina and Britain Rev Up Naval Forces over South Atlantic Petroleum Deposits

February 22nd 2010

Latin American Topics - Welcome to Falklands

Relations between Argentina and the United Kingdom have entered a period of renewed tension since Buenos Aires on February 16 began to restrict the travel of seagoing vessels between the South American republic and the archipelago known to the British as the Falkland Islands. Known to Argentina—and the rest of Latin America—as the Malvinas Islands, the tiny South Atlantic archipelago has long been disputed between the land of tango and Old Blighty and was the subject of a war in 1982. The British easily mopped up the “Argies” in two months: a defeat that hastened the end of the military dictatorship then reigning in Argentina.

The most current measure was taken just days before the arrival of a British oil drilling platform “Ocean Guardian,” owned by Desire Petroleum, that arrived in the area on February 20, some 30 to 60 miles from the storm-tossed Falklands/Malvinas.

Experts have been cited as saying that some 60 billion barrels of oil may be found in the strata around the islands. Desire Petroleum spokesmen say that they will drill despite objections by Argentina. There are reports that Argentine naval or coast guard vessels buzzed the oil rig on its way to the islands from Scotland.

Signed by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the decree calls for “any seagoing ship or vessel that proposes to transit” between the ports on the shore of continental Argentina and those in the Falklands/Malvinas Islands, South Georgia and Sandwich Islands “must request previous authorization issued by a competent national authority.” Read more ..

The Edge of Justice

Federal Court Requires Washington State to Allow Felons in Prison to Vote

February 22nd 2010

Politics - Federal Court Building
Federal Court Building Ninth Circuit

You may have seen a headline like the one above following a January 5 decision issued by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (usually shortened to "Ninth Circuit"), the federal appellate court which handles appeals from federal district (that is, trial) courts in the State of Washington, California, and other western states. The headline seemed, shall I say odd, so I was prompted to read this Ninth Circuit decision (Farrakhan v. Gregoire), as well as other decisions on the same problem issued by three other federal appellate courts: Johnson v. Governor of the State of Florida (Eleventh Circuit 2005); Hayden v. Pataki (Second Circuit 2006); and Simmons v. Galvin (First Circuit 2009).

As we all learned from the Bush v. Gore Supreme Court case following the 2000 presidential election, most of the law governing the eligibility of individuals to vote is state, not federal, law. One such federal law, however, is the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was enacted to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, one of the amendments that followed the Civil War. Read more ..

Electric Edge

Can Electric Cars Supply the Grid While Parked?

February 22nd 2010

Automotive - Plug-in Vehicle

Think of it as the end of cars' slacker days: No more sitting idle for hours in parking lots or garages racking up payments, but instead earning their keep by helping store power for the electricity grid.

"Cars sit most of the time," said Jeff Stein, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Michigan. Stein added, "What if it could work for you while it sits there? If you could use a car for something more than just getting to work or going on a family vacation, it would be a whole different way to think about a vehicle, and a whole different way to think about the power grid, too." The University of Michigan is home of the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute, which develops, coordinates and promotes multidisciplinary energy research and education at the Ann Arbor-based institution.

Stein leads a National Science Foundation-funded team exploring plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) that not only use grid electricity to meet their power needs, but also the car's potential to store electricity from the wind or sun, or even feed electricity back into the grid, earning money for the owner. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Muslim Group Wants Government To Call Plane Attack Terrorism

February 22nd 2010

Terrorism - Austin TX plane crash

A leading Muslim advocacy group is pushing government officials to call the suicide plane crash in Texas “an act of terror,” saying that if a Muslim had been flying the plane there would be no hesitancy to call it terrorism.

On Thursday, Andrew Joseph Stack III flew a small plane into the IRS's four-story office building in Austin, killing himself and at least one federal employee. Before the incident, Stack allegedly left a series of messages on a website expressing his disgust with the IRS, saying at one point that “violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.”

“Whenever an individual or group attacks civilians in order to make a political statement, that is an act of terror,” said Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

“Terrorism is terrorism, regardless of the faith, race or ethnicity of the perpetrator or the victims,” said Awad, adding in a statement that “if a Muslim had carried out the IRS attack, it would have surely been labeled an act of terrorism.” Read more ..

Edge of Mideast Politics

Beyond Bogus: “International Opinion”

February 22nd 2010

UN Topics - Human Rights Council Meeting
UN Human Rights Council

In recent days, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren was heckled relentlessly and interrupted vociferously by members of University of California at Irvine's Muslim Student Union. Such negation of civility, discourse and decorum, which was noisily and gleefully celebrated by still other members of this group, is often defended by solemn-sounding references to United Nations resolutions.

This case was no exception. In a subsequent statement, the Muslim Student Union said it opposed having university departments sponsor a speaker representing a country that “is condemned by more UN Human Rights Council resolutions than all other countries in the world combined”—which is, in fact, the case. Those who use this type of argument rely on the halo effect of the United Nations, which is held, implicitly or explicitly, to embody “international opinion,” a term that can be invoked with reverential awe to dignify a bad, dishonest argument. Read more ..

Genetic Edge

Genetic Breakthrough Traces Human Ancestry in the Americas to Siberia

February 22nd 2010

Archaeology Topics - Ancient American

Professor Eske Willerslev and his PhD student Morten Rasmussen, from Centre of Excellence in GeoGenetics, The Natural History Museum at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, led the international team of scientists responsible for the findings. Willerslev and his team grabbed international attention last year when they reconstructed the complete mitochondrial genomes of a woolly mammoth and an ancient human.

However, the current discovery is the first time scientists have been able to reconstruct the 80 percent of the nuclear genome that is possible to retrieve from fossil remains. From the genomic sequences, the team has managed to construct a picture of a male individual who lived in Greenland 4,000 years ago and belonged to the first culture to settle in the New World Arctic. Read more ..

China on the Edge

Chinese Schools Accused in Google Cyberattack Deny Involvement

February 22nd 2010

Computer Topics - Shadowy Computer User

A Chinese university thought to be at the center of last month's cyberattack on Google is denying any involvement in the scheme.

Representatives from Shanghai Jiaotong University this weekend described those reports to Xinhua, China's state-run news agency, as "baseless allegations which may harm the university's reputation." While the school did admit its computers could have been involved in the plot, which targeted Google, other U.S. businesses and human rights activists in China, the university's spokesperson dismissed any possibility the attack started there. Read more ..

Book Review

Customer Service Key to Building Business

February 22nd 2010

Book Covers - Flip the Funnel

Flip the Funnel: How to Use Existing Customers to Gain New Ones. Joseph Jaffe. Wiley, 2010. 286 pages.

It's bizarre and baffling to me that companies expend so much time, money and energy on customer acquisition and then follow it up with crappy service after the sale.

Think about it: Advertising, marketing, and sales departments are all geared toward convincing prospects to buy the company's products and services. But after asking for the order and getting it, the customer—especially if it's a consumer and not a business—is often ignored. Worse, they're frequently forced to deal with incompetent, unhelpful, or ignorant people several continents away when they have a problem.

There's nothing inherently wrong with outsourcing customer service to India or South America. For example, I've had exceptional service, in fact, from friendly and well informed people in those places. But I've had also awful ones, too. Every interaction with a customer holds the potential to not only serve their needs, but turn them into evangelists and advocates for your company and continued sources of sales and revenue. So why is this not obvious to every enterprise?

Joseph Jaffe wonders the same thing. In this new book, he looks at every aspect of the client experience, including, obviously, “customer service” interactions. But he goes well beyond that, too. Engaging people is the challenge. Your product is secondary. After all, they're not buying what you're selling; they're buying a solution to a problem or a fulfillment of a need. Read more ..

Edge on Mental Health

Wounded Warriors Have a New Weapon to Fight Depression

February 22nd 2010

Military - Soldier Crying

The University of Michigan Depression Center is partnering with the Real Warriors Campaign, a successful United States Department of Defense public education initiative designed to combat the stigma associated with seeking care for PTSD, depression, sleep disturbances, and traumatic brain injury. Originally geared toward servicemen and women, the partnership seeks to encourage athletes to also get the care they need, and to use their powerful voices to convey that getting help is a sign of strength.

Players on the football field have expressed similar concerns to real warriors on the battlefield, and have been rapidly learning that real strength comes from seeking help and returning to their team.

“The stigma around seeking care for PTSD, depression, TBI and related issues can be overcome,” says John Greden, M.D., executive director of the U-M Depression Center. “Players and veterans in sports, and soldiers and veterans in the military are learning that they are not alone, that treatment works, that buddies and teammates can help, and that getting help is a sign of real strength. As a center that has developed special programs specifically to help members of the military and athletes overcome these barriers, we are proud to be partnering with the Real Warriors Campaign.” Read more ..

Shame on Obama for Dalai Lama's Exit Through the Garbage Bags

February 22nd 2010

I was never so ashamed of this country as when the White House forced the revered Dalai Lama to exit through a side entrance through piles of garbage bags after out of his meeting with President Obama. Everyone knows the Chinese protested loudly over Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama. Everyone one knows we must now kow-tow to the Chinese because they own almost a trillion dollars worth of our debt. But no one could imagine how low we would stoop to satiate our creditors the Chinese. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry gets to walk out the front door. But a man of peace such as the Dalia Lama must exit through the service door in the middle of a brutal winter because our government is afraid of upsetting the Chinese masters. I have now seen it all.

See US Downplays Obama's Meeting with Dalai Lama as Part of Chess Game with the Chinese.

Optimism is Possible After Dalai Lama's Visit to White House

February 22nd 2010

The visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and President Barack Obama has far more far reaching significance than many commentators are giving credit. The President, despite Chinese objections, is showing the Dalai Lama greater respect than any president before him and this is also a meeting of two very special people.

First of all the Dalai Lama is meeting with the first African-American to hold that office, a symbol of how intolerance and repression can give way to freedom and high achievement. Secondly we see two men, both leaders of their people and both winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, sitting together. As they talked, we cannot imagine them doing other than attempting to map a strategy of understanding between Tibet and China, two peoples of such character, learning and spiritual development. Thirdly, President Obama is the first American President to formally invite the Dalai Lama to the White House on an official visit. This meeting was not planned as a casual encounter during a walk in the park.

As I watched the interviews following the meeting my outlook for the results of this visit was optimistic. My sense is that Chinese government members and negotiators are feeling some pressure to make a breakthrough in their Tibetan stance. A few months ago while President Obama was in China talking with President Hu, many critics at home were complaining that our President was snubbing the Dalai Lama for economic and political reasons. My reading is different. The White House had already sent two envoys to Dharamsala to discuss and carefully plan a visit by His Holiness to Washington. These discussions did not seem like a haphazard, spur of the moment apology for a snubbing. Neither man is ever unmindful of what he must do nor what he must say to achieve the goals he desires and avoid the pitfalls that lie in wait. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Setback for Iran's Opposition as Khamenei's Hardline Reinforced

February 15th 2010

Iran - Ali Khameini2
Ali Khameini

A few hours after the official demonstration marking the February 11 anniversary of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stated, "Was the presence of tens of millions of motivated and aware people in the festival of the thirty-first anniversary of revolution enough to awaken [to their mistakes] the internal enemies and deceived individuals who sometimes hypocritically speak of 'the people'?" Khamenei had spent months worrying that the opposition Green Movement would hijack the anniversary. Yesterday, he seemed to regain his self-confidence by proving that he could manage Tehran's streets. In light of this development, how will the Supreme Leader deal with both Iran's political crisis and the nuclear dossier?

What Happened on February 11

By controlling a huge city like Tehran on such a sensitive day, Khamenei proved his operational capabilities as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. A few days before the anniversary, the regime clamped down on all communication channels, from internet to cell phones to satellite television, interrupting them or placing them under surveillance in order to diminish the opposition's ability to organize protests. It also raised the level of intimidation, making daily arrests of political and student activists as well as ordinary people and publishing wanted posters of individuals who had participated in the December 2009 Ashura demonstration. Read more ..

Inside Washington

New FEC Rules Could Impact Court's Controversial Campaign-Finance Decision

February 15th 2010

Politics - Supreme Court-SOTU

A long-awaited Federal Election Commission ruling could dramatically impact how the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision affects the power of candidates to control campaign messages.

The FEC will set new rules this year to govern the coordination of communication between outside entities and candidates and parties. The proposed rulemaking was already in the works before the Citizens United decision, but this week the agency set a public hearing for March 2 and 3 and extended its public comment period on the issue to elicit comments addressing the impact of the high court’s decision.

Watchdog groups have long argued that the FEC’s coordination rules are too weak and ineffective but the Citizens United decision, which allows unfettered corporate and union money in elections as long as the spending is independent, is shining a new light on the importance of restrictions on coordination between candidates and outside entities. Read more ..

The Race for Bio-fuels

EPA Ruling Boosts Ethanol after Fierce Lobbying Effort for Corn-Based Fuels

February 15th 2010

Energy / Environment - Biofuel field

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has just handed a victory to ethanol producers by issuing final regulations that conclude corn-based fuels will meet greenhouse gas standards imposed under a 2007 energy law.

The release of the final regulations follows a fierce campaign by ethanol companies that alleged 2009 draft rules unfairly found that large volumes of ethanol production would not meet targets in the statute for reducing greenhouse gases.

The new rules state that corn-based ethanol will meet a requirement of the 2007 law that they must emit at least 20 percent less in “lifecycle” greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline.

The statute expanded the national biofuels use mandate to reach 36 billion gallons annually by 2022. If the EPA had ruled that corn-based fuels did not meet their emissions target, the fuels could have been frozen out of the market.

The issue has been vital to the ethanol lobby, which feared that an adverse finding could stymie investment and tarnish the fuel’s image.

However, the nation’s current ethanol production — about 12 billion gallons annually — was exempted from the law’s emissions mandate. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on Monday denied the agency had bent to pressure, instead arguing that EPA employed better modeling when crafting the final regulations. “We have followed the science,” she told reporters on a conference call. “Our models have become more sophisticated. We have accrued better data.” Read more ..

Edge of Narco-Terrorism

FARQaeda—A Real Threat or a Matter of Circumstantial Evidence?

February 15th 2010

Latin American Topics - FARC

Over the past several months, a number of reports have circulated that address the subject of drug trafficking ties between South American narcotics trafficking interests and terrorist organizations, principally Al Qaeda and its smaller affiliates now known to be based in Northern Africa. These assessments have cited evidence pointing to a disturbing ring, an “unholy alliance,” which reflects alarming links between FARC exporters and Al Qaeda distributors according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)’s Jay Bergman.

This expanding nexus involves transporting drugs from South America to Africa and, once there, smuggling them over established land routes to EU countries. The stakes are too high to ignore, especially if the charges turn out to be true, and the consequences of this operation could further destabilize impoverished and relatively lawless regions of Africa. However, upon closer examination, much of the evidence cited in these articles turns out to be circumstantial at best.

The Evidence

On January 11, 2010 the German magazine Der Spiegel published an article titled, “Lebanese drug rings active in Germany said to have funded terrorism,” in which it accused Hezbollah (which is classified as a terrorist organization by United States authorities) of using immigrant rings based in Speyer, Germany as a money-laundering conduit for the illegal sale and distribution of cocaine. Der Spiegel speculates that these same rings may have channeled at least some of their profits to support Hezbollah terrorist activities in Lebanon.
Previously, on January 4, 2010, Reuters reported that the DEA had established that a drug-trafficking alliance existed between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and Al Qaeda. Details in the article were rapidly disseminated by various media channels, inspiring both shock and disbelief.

Iran's Nukes

If Iran Got It, Would Iran Use It?

February 15th 2010

Contributors / Staff - David Horovitz
David Horovitz

Is Iran about to get the bomb? It's getting closer every day, and shows no signs of changing course.

Once a week, the security chiefs who assess the relentless threats posed by enemy forces to the physical well-being of the State of Israel are required to give an assessment to their political bosses: Is war going to break out in the very near future?

The requirement is a legacy of the intelligence failures ahead of Yom Kippur, 1973, the last time that Israel's neighbors launched a concerted conventional attack on Israel—on an Israel unprepared.

The good news—this week—is that concerted conventional attack is not deemed imminent.

The bad news—this week and for many past weeks, months and years—is that concerted conventional attack is not what the defense establishment is most worried about. What keep the security chiefs burning the midnight oil are concerns about missiles and terrorism, about nonconventional payloads and secret programs, and about the vulnerability of the Israeli home front—the new battleground. And their focus is not primarily on the traditional military capacities of our immediate neighboring states, but rather on the nonconventional threat to do us harm as posed, in escalating order, by al-Qaida, Hamas, Hizbullah, Syria... and Iran. All five of those players are incontrovertibly scheming, right now, to damage Israel. And there is another quintet—Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Libya—which, in the dispassionate, nondiplomatic analysis of the intelligence community, cannot be discounted as potentially joining them.

By our relative standards, things have been a whole lot better in the recent past. Just six, seven years ago, for instance, Syria was being forced out of Lebanon, Libya was stopping its nuclear program, Yasser Arafat was dying, the United States was disposing of Saddam Hussein, and Iran, fearing that the US was heading its way next, was freezing at least parts of its nuclear program. Read more ..

Campus Distress

A Week of Uncivil Discourse on Campus

February 15th 2010

Palestine Topics - Irvine California arrest

Anti-Israel individuals and groups on college campuses are beginning to show a pattern underlying a shift in the form of their anti-Israel activities which attack the very core of what many consider the most important aspect of the university experience, the free flow of information and opinion. Just in the last week we have seen the following events take place at UC Irvine, UCLA, and York University in Canada, Cambridge and Oxford Universities in Great Britain.

On February 1, at York University in Toronto, 20 Jewish students who had gathered to raise awareness of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and terrorist acts committed by Hamas were surrounded by about 50 protestors chanting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic slurs. Two of the Jewish students were slapped, one on the arm and one across the face (http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/JewishNews/Article.aspx?id=168116).

On February 3, during his lecture at Oxford University, Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon was heckled by a Muslim student who shouted, among other things, "Itbah Al-Yahud" - "kill the Jews" (http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?id=168320).

On February 7, the Israel Society at Cambridge University canceled a talk by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev historian Benny Morris after protesters accused him of "Islamophobia" and "racism" (http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/JewishNews/Article.aspx?id=167972).

Edge of Financial Recovery

Germany faces a Bailout of Greece and Reassessment of EU Monetary Structure

February 15th 2010

Europe Topics - Euro money

The situation in Europe is dire.

After years of profligate spending, Greece is becoming overwhelmed. Barring some sort of large-scale bailout program, a Greek debt default at this point is highly likely. At this moment, European Central Bank liquidity efforts are probably the only thing holding back such a default. But these are a stopgap measure that can hold only until more important economies manage to find their feet. And Europe’s problems extend beyond Greece. Fundamentals are so poor across the board that any number of eurozone states quickly could follow Greece down.

And so the rest of the eurozone is watching and waiting nervously while casting occasional glances in the direction of Berlin in hopes the eurozone’s leader and economy-in-chief will do something to make it all go away. To truly understand the depth of the crisis the Europeans face, one must first understand Germany, the only country that can solve it. Read more ..

Edge on Education

How to Make Higher Education More Affordable

February 15th 2010

Social Topics - Graduates

President Obama has proposed a new plan to cap student loan payments at 10 percent of the borrower's discretionary income. Borrowers with incomes below 150 percent of the federal poverty line (or approximately $33,000) would be required to make no payment, and the balance of a borrower's loan would be forgiven after 20 years for a private-sector worker and 10 years for a government employee.

Since college borrowers willingly take out loans in order to obtain a college degree, it is unclear why the federal government would choose to reduce their payments. This proposal would further shift the burden of paying for postsecondary education from the student or borrower--the person who directly benefits from the college degree--onto taxpayers.

In 2005, the Census Bureau reported that the annual earning of a worker with a college degree is roughly double the yearly income of a person who only earns a high school degree. The majority of American adults do not have college degrees. Shifting the burden of student loan repayments from college graduates onto taxpayers, many of whom did not attend college, raises serious questions about equity.

Increasing Subsidies, Increasing College Costs

Total federal student aid (including grants, loans, and tax benefits) was $117 billion during the 2008-09 academic year--a 99 percent increase over 10 years. Nevertheless, paying for college remains a challenge for students and families.

The cause of the affordability problem is ever-increasing college costs. The price of college tuition and fees grew by 439 percent since 1982--more than four times the growth rate of inflation (consumer price index: 106 percent) and almost twice the cost of medical care (251 percent). Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Winners and Losers from the "Mass-acre"

February 15th 2010

Contributors / Staff - Armstrong Williams Headshot

The dust is still settling from the fallout of the special election in Massachusetts to replace the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. The rejection of socialism, high taxes, and government restrictions on personal health care choices all became self-evident with Scott Brown's stunning upset. It was the shot heard around the political world.

History reminds us that Massachusetts was the cradle of the American Revolution. It began with high taxes and restrictions on civil liberties imposed by the British Crown. The people of the Bay State refused to succumb to a new despot's higher taxes and restrictions on freedom. Just as Massachusetts paved the way for the American Revolution, it now has set the stage for the national rejection of President Obama's hidden yet radical agenda.

Today, Democrats remain precariously perched along a political fault line that threatens to swallow more of its members if they fail to heed the call and will of the people. The special election produced far more winners and losers than the victor, Scott Brown, and the vanquished, Martha Coakley. To understand what both parties can expect in the coming weeks and months, it's important to take a look at some other winners and losers who emerged from the outcome.

The Winners

Pete Sessions: The chairman of the campaign arm for House Republicans will reap the political spoils of Senator-elect Brown's victory. With more than a 70-seat disadvantage, Republicans in the House face an uphill challenge; so large that many potential Republican contenders felt their time and effort would be better spent in 2012 or beyond. No more. Last week's victory put once-believed safe Democratic seats in play all across the land. That will help Mr. Sessions in two critical ways: he can expect more retirements from old bull Democrats too tired or bored to remain in office; and Mr. Sessions will cultivate some high caliber recruits to take on those Democratsbrave (or foolish) enough to stay in the fight come November. Read more ..

Book Review

Controversially Documenting “The Cartoons That Shook the World”

February 15th 2010

Book Covers - The Cartoons that Shook the World

The Cartoons That Shook the World. Jytte Klausen. Yale University Press, 2009. 240 pages.

“What are you reading?” my 8-year-old daughter asked me as I sat with Jytte Klausen's The Cartoons That Shook the World on my lap. “A book about cartoons,” I said. She looked at me, puzzled, and asked, “Where are the cartoons? What a strange book.”

Strange, indeed. Even before it was published, Klausen's history and analysis of the Danish cartoon crisis was big news because, in its wisdom, Yale University Press (YUP) had decided that the cartoons in question, the primary documents on which the book rests, were too inflammatory to include.

In its desire to err on the side of caution, YUP has caused irreparable harm not only to the text itself, but also to academic discourse as a whole. In its “Publisher's Statement,” YUP claims that it is “an institution deeply committed to free speech.” But that depth is apparently not too profound. If the editors were too frightened to publish the book, they should have passed on it. As for the author, Klausen claims on her Web site that she wanted the cartoons included. But if that were true, she would have been wise to have given YUP the boot and to have taken her book to a publisher that has some backbone and academic integrity.

In lieu of actually showing the images, Klausen provides prose descriptions of the cartoons that are decent enough, but simply don't do them justice. That the book doesn't include images of its very topic is, quite simply, ridiculous, and even she admitted in an interview last year that this presents a “significant loss to the reader.” Yet perhaps part of the reason she so easily jettisoned the images may have something to do with the fact that she is less interested in the cartoons themselves than in the events surrounding them. Understandable, perhaps, but problematic, because the reader is never informed of the roles of cartoons or images in either the Danish or various Islamic societies in which reactions took place. It's a component of the story that the book completely ignores. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Why Do Galaxies Spiral?

February 15th 2010

Science - Galaxies

The Hubble telescope shows that the beautiful spirals galaxies of the modern Universe were the ugly ducklings of six billion years ago. If confirmed, the finding highlights the importance to many galaxies of collisions and mergers in the recent past. It also provides clues for the unique status of our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

Using data from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have created a census of galaxy types and shapes from a time before Earth and the Sun existed, up to the present day. The results show that, contrary to contemporary thought, more than half of the present-day spiral galaxies had peculiar shapes as recently as 6 billion years ago.

The study of the shapes and formation of galaxies, known as morphology, is a critical and much-debated topic in astronomy. An important tool for this is the ‘Hubble sequence’ or the ‘Hubble tuning-fork diagram’, a classification scheme invented in 1926 by the same Edwin Hubble in whose honor the space telescope is named. Hubble’s scheme divides regular galaxies into three broad classes — ellipticals, lenticulars and spirals — based on their visual appearance. A fourth class contains galaxies with an irregular appearance.  Read more ..

Coptic Christians Must Be Protected

February 15th 2010
I applaud The Cutting Edge for its coverage of the plight of the Coptic Christians in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East. There are at least 70,000 Coptic Orthodox Christians here in Australia who have fled to this country from their persecution in Egypt. Egypt and the Muslim world want tolerance for their status and religion. I am for that. But the same must apply whey they are the dominant group in their own countries. The example set by Egypt where its own citizens are persecuted just because they are Christians is not an anomaly. It is a harsh norm we all should take note of and seek to rectify.

Haiti Medical Rescues Need Prosthetics As Part of the Team

February 15th 2010
I was disappointed to read Lee Miller's comment about the prosthetics profession. As I think of the many medical professionals I have seen on TV or read about in the newspapers volunteering for Haiti, the list has spanned everything from heart surgeons and pediatricians to x-ray technicians and dentists. I have not seen any of the prosthetics professions, not even doing a survey. Apparently, prosthetics are very expensive. So is the time of the prosthetics professional. But the same can be said for every other medical doctor and piece of equipment. The more doctors save the shattered lives of the victims in Haiti, the more their futures will require thousands of artificial limbs. Hopefully, the prosthetics industry will step up to the plate.

Iran's Nukes

Serious Play: Think Tank War Games Explore Options on Iran

February 8th 2010

Israeli Military - Israeli Jets Parked

What if Iran's hardline leadership emerges from the current confrontations at home strengthened and emboldened? If so, the nuclear issue will be back with a vengeance. And three recent war games focused on the Iranian nuclear weapons issue suggest that the prospects for halting the regime's progress toward nuclear weapons are not good.

The games -- conducted by highly respected Western think tanks -- explored various strategies for preventing the Iranian nuclear threat from becoming real. The results, unfortunately, were uniformly negative. Given that these were serious games played by serious people, officials who deal with the nuclear problem as a matter of real policy would be wise to seriously consider their implications.

Purpose and Utility of War Games

Games are strategic planning tools that have proven especially useful in international conflict situations. A war game begins with a defined scenario and evolves through a series of actions to a final situation or outcome. Individuals or teams simulate key decisions by national leaders in a role-playing environment. Meanwhile, an objective, independent team acts as a referee, setting up the initial scenario and adjudicating the play turn by turn. The result is not a prediction of the future but rather a plausible, perhaps even likely, outcome that can be of great value in planning and forecasting. Read more ..

The Edge of Oil

New Weapon Against Oil Spills

February 8th 2010

Energy / Environment - Oil Spill

An ultra-lightweight sponge made of clay and a bit of high-grade plastic draws oil out of contaminated water but leaves the water behind. And, lab tests show that oil absorbed can be squeezed back out for use.

Case Western Reserve University researchers who made the material, called an aerogel, believe it will effectively clean up spills of all kinds of oils and solvents on factory floors and roadways, rivers, and oceans.

The EPA estimates that 10 to 25 million gallons of oil are spilled annually in this country alone. Spilled oil ruins drinking water, is a fire and explosion hazard, damages farmland and beaches, and destroys wildlife and habitats. The harm can last decades.

The aerogel is made by mixing clay with a polymer and water in a blender, said David Schiraldi, chairman of the Macromolecular Science and Engineering department at the Case School of Engineering.

The mixture is then freeze-dried; air fills the gaps left by the loss of water. The resulting material is super light, comprised of about 96 percent air, 2 percent polymer and 2 percent clay. The oil-absorbing form is just one of a growing list of clay-based aerogels being made in Schiraldi's lab. By adding different polymers, they produce materials with different properties. Read more ..

Engaging Cuba

No "Common Policy" as Europe Grapples with its Future Ties with Cuba

February 8th 2010

Latin American Topics - Cuba

In January, Spain took over the presidency of the Council of the European Union. Despite being deeply affected by the global financial crisis, Spain confidently proclaimed ambitious objectives for its term at the head of the EU, including the cancellation of the EU’s “Common Position.” The latter defines the EU policy towards Cuba that has been in place since 1996. During his two-day visit to the Caribbean island last October, Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos stated that Spain wants “to give up the Common Position in order to obtain bilateral agreements.”

Undoubtedly the motivations behind Spain’s initiative are at least partially economic in nature. Moratinos explained that the Iberian nation has negotiated for Cuban authorities to pay their debts to Spanish companies. Cuba’s president Raúl Castro has promised to repeal the payment block of approximately $300 million due to the 280 Spanish companies currently operating in Cuba or have some other financial stake in the country. After strong opposition from Eastern European members, states such as the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia, Spain eventually withdrew its initiative, allowing the EU to maintain the Common Position for the present time. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Revolutionary Behavior Recognition System Available for Airports

February 8th 2010

Social Topics - Baby Boomer

At the airport, how can you tell the good guys from the bad guys? The sad truth, as recent terror incidents have shown, is that there seems to be no foolproof way. Now a new detection system designed by an Israeli start up could improve the chances - eliminating some of the problems inherent in the most popular detection systems, and increasing the odds of nabbing a potential terrorist.

According to CEO Ehud Givon, WeCu raises detection to a whole new level. The company's device - which was six years in the making - flashes stimuli, such as photos, a symbol, or a code word, relating to the information authorities are most interested in (whether it's terrorism, drug smuggling or other crimes), to passengers as they pass through terminal checkpoints.
Hidden biometric sensors then detect the subjects' physical reactions and subtle behavioral changes remotely or during random contact.

Based on their reactions, the authorities determine whether further investigation or questioning is warranted. The rationale is that when a person is exposed to stimuli relating to behaviors that he or she is engaged in or familiar with, the reactions to the images will be heightened. Read more ..

Edge of Health

Eating Dinner as a Family Reduces Childhood Obesity

February 8th 2010

Social Topics - Childhood Obesity

A new national study suggests that preschool-aged children are likely to have a lower risk for obesity if they regularly engage in one or more of three specific household routines: eating dinner as a family, getting adequate sleep and limiting their weekday television viewing time.

In a large sample of the U.S. population, the study showed that 4-year-olds living in homes with all three routines had an almost 40 percent lower prevalence of obesity than did children living in homes that practiced none of these routines.

Other studies have linked obesity to the individual behaviors of excessive TV viewing, a lack of sleep and, to a lesser extent, a low frequency of family meals. But this is the first study to assess the combination of all three routines with obesity prevalence in a national sample of preschoolers.

The researchers suggested that adopting these three household routines could be an attractive obesity-prevention strategy for all families with young children, especially because these routines may benefit children's overall development. However, they also cautioned that this study alone does not confirm whether the routines themselves, or some other factor, protect children from obesity. Read more ..

Religious Freedom

Imam with Mission of Understanding Becomes the Target of Hate

February 8th 2010

Islamic Topics - Imam Hassen Chalghoumi
Imam Hassen Chalghoumi pictured at center

Imam Hassen Chalghoumi has spent his life preaching inter-faith harmony from his mosque in Paris's poor and fractious northeastern suburbs. Chalghoumi works with Jewish leaders, inviting them to his home and urging young people of all religions to embrace harmony in place of hatred.

Now, he finds himself the target of the same hatred and intolerance that he has dedicated his life to combating. His car had fuel poured on it; he has received anonymous death threats on his cell phone; people have stopped him in the street warning him that he has “gone too far”; his house is under police watch and he is shadowed by a bodyguard.

Tunisian-born Chalghoumi, 35, has become the focal point in the rising tension between Jews and Muslims in France caused by disturbances in the Middle East. Read more ..

The Edge of Piracy

Somalia's Challenge to the World

February 8th 2010

Africa Topics - Pirate

Over $60 million was last year’s ransom money paid out to pirate groups off the Somali coast, according to a regional anti-piracy watchdog, the Seafarers’ Assistance Program. Their report mentioned 47 vessels and nearly 300 crew members captured by pirates during the same period.

Recently a Greek flagged tanker, the VLCC Maran Centaurus and her 28 crew members were released after the owners reportedly paid a whopping $7 million, the largest sum to date. The Chinese, who usually make a point of not getting involved in the “internal affairs” of other countries, especially where human rights are concerned, have been dragged in too, and will –interestingly- join the naval forces of the European Union, NATO and the United States. Chinese container ships, laden with goods of all qualities and descriptions, destined for the fast-growing African market, are also threatened. Last December the Chinese bulk carrier De Xin Hai was freed after being held for two months. The Chinese say this will give them an international leadership role that will foster trust. Perhaps they need to work up a little consistency too. Read more ..

The Edge of Archaeology

Earliest Known Hebrew Script found at Excavations in Israel at Khirbet Qeiyafa

February 8th 2010

Archaeology Topics - Bible pottery sherd

Scientists have discovered the earliest known Hebrew writing - an inscription dating from the 10th century B.C., during the period of King David's reign. The breakthrough could mean that portions of the Bible were written centuries earlier than previously thought. (The Bible's Old Testament is thought to have been first written down in an ancient form of Hebrew.) Until now, many scholars have held that the Hebrew Bible originated in the 6th century B.C., because Hebrew writing was thought to stretch back no further. But the newly deciphered Hebrew text is about four centuries older, scientists announced this month. Read more ..

The Edge of Economic Recovery

Environmental Red Tape Cancels out Green Jobs

February 8th 2010

Economy - Green Jobs

In the midst of a recession, costly environmental legislation is not an easy sell. For that reason, the Obama Administration and congressional proponents of an aggressive environmental agenda have tried to recast their policies as a boost to--rather than a drain on--the economy. From the stimulus package to pending global warming legislation to the Senate's upcoming jobs bill, the latest mantra is green jobs--employment to be created by imposing various environmental measures.

But the reality is that these efforts increase federal spending and exert new government control over the private sector. They are thus more likely to harm the economy and reduce the prospects for net job growth. Genuine job creation can be achieved not through more environmental red tape but less--in particular by allowing more domestic energy production.

What Is a Green Job?

Generally, jobs related to renewable energy sources, energy efficiency, battery-powered or other alternatively fueled vehicles, and public transportation comprise most of what are currently considered green jobs. But there is no clear definition of a green job.

For example, proponents of green jobs are split over whether jobs in the nuclear industry--which generates electricity with virtually no air pollution or greenhouse gas emissions but generates nuclear waste--should count as green jobs.

Generally, jobs related to renewable energy sources, energy efficiency, battery-powered or other alternatively fueled vehicles, and public transportation comprise most of what are currently considered green jobs. But there is no clear definition of a green job. Read more ..

Edge on NATO

Macedonia's Admission to NATO is Long Past Due

February 8th 2010

Military - US - Macedonia cooperation
Macedonian soldiers in Iraq salute Major General Paul Levebvre, USMC

At the Bucharest Summit in April 2008, NATO affirmed that Macedonia would become a fully fledged member of the alliance once its bilateral name dispute with Greece is resolved. Nearly two years later, Greece continues to block Macedonia's NATO membership and has extended its obstructionism to Skopje's ambitions to accede to the European Union, despite widespread support in the region and from the broader Euro-Atlantic community.

The Adriatic-3 countries--Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia--have successfully completed their Membership Action Plans, and as a result, Albania and Croatia have taken their seat at the alliance's table. It is well past time for Macedonia to join them. The United States must work with Macedonia's allies within NATO to push their accession up the agenda and pressure Greece to abide by NATO's long-standing precedent that one country does not block another's membership on a purely bilateral matter. Read more ..

Book Review

Looking Out at the New Power Brokers

February 8th 2010

Book Covers - End of Influence

The End of Influence: What Happens When Other Countries Have the Money. Brad DeLong, Stephen S. Cohen. Basic Books. 176 pages.

I've long thought that the best advice one can give a youngster seeking success in the business world is to learn Chinese. Our pals in Beijing and Shanghai hold serious paper on us (``Us, U.S.,'' as Paul Harvey used to say) and they can wreak terminal havoc upon America, its institutions and infrastructure, if and when they chose. But it's not really in their best interests to ask us to ante up and watch us turn our pockets inside out, show our empty hands and shrug.


Cohen and DeLong invoke the quote, ``If you owe the bank $1 million, the bank has you; if you owe $1 billion, you have the bank,'' then spend much of the rest of the book explaining why and how it's true. Along the way, they discuss the failure of neoliberalism, which sought to transfer portions of the control of the economy from the public to the private sector, skewer former Fed head Alan Greenspan, and describe with palpable awe the pandemic failure to oversee credit and banking in the United States and the major role it played -- and continues to play -- in our ongoing economic meltdown. The rampant corruption of the political system is also calmly recounted as a powerful catalyst for this dissolution and dispersal of American wealth.

Though both authors are academics, they're rather decent writers; DeLong is also a blogger, see http://delong.typepad.com who struggles online daily to make sense of various economic effluvia and ephemera with a combination of alacrity, disgust and amusement. But this book is far from a knee-slapper and unlikely to be chosen by Ms. Winfrey for her book club. Read more ..

Why is the Prosthetic Profession Silent about Haiti?

February 8th 2010

I do not think I am alone wondering when the prosthetic profession will step up to the plate on the Haiti crisis. Students at my school recently called several individuals in the prosthetic world in various cities to ask what they were doing about the estimated 100,000 individuals in Haiti who are said to need artificial limbs. This may be the biggest sudden need for artificial limbs in recent history. But all we heard was "no comment" or "haven't even thought about it." Doctors and therapists from everywhere have been volunteering, even TV medical correspondents have worked round the clock. Hospitals have established field clinics. Hollywood has gone to bat. But from the prosthetic profession we get silence. What gives? Are they waiting for a big payday before mobilizing?

Editor Note: The Cutting Edge News repeatedly tried to contact leading local and national orthotic and prosthetic sources to get an insight into their plans and were repeatedly told there were no plans and no comment.

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