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Archive for July 2010

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The Toxic Edge

Exporting an Epidemic: A Global Asbestos Crisis

July 26th 2010

Health/Medicine - asbestos hazard

In Osasco, Brazil, an industrial city on the western flank of Sao Paulo, the past is buried beneath a Wal-Mart Supercenter and a Sam's Club at the intersection of Avenida MariaCampos and Avenida dos Autonomistas. Here the Eternit asbestos cement factory was shuttered in 1993 and demolished in 1995 after 54 years of operation. Here three generations of workers—pouring asbestos into giant mixers with cement, cellulose and water, emptying bags, cleaning machinery—were immersed in fiber-rich white dust, setting themselves up for diseases that would debilitate many of them in retirement and kill some of them in an excruciating fashion. Scores have died since the mid-1990s, at least 10 of mesothelioma, a rare malignancy that eats into the chest wall and dispatches its victims swiftly. Aldo Vincentin succumbed at age 66 in July 2008, only three months after his diagnosis. “They knew about the dangers of the materials and they didn’t protect my husband,” his widow, Giselia Gomes Vincentin, says of Eternit. “I think many people will still die.” Read more ..

Edge on Narco-trafficking

The Caribbean is the Fragile Third Border of Drug Trafficking

July 26th 2010

Caribbean - Jamaican shootout victims

In May 2009, a state of emergency was declared in Kingston, Jamaica, raising concerns over drug trafficking and other criminal activities in the Caribbean. The conflict arose following Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding’s decision to hand over the island’s top drug lord, Christopher “Dudus” Coke, in deference to Washington’s extradition request. The U.S. State Department had labeled him as one of the world’s most dangerous criminals and has been calling for his capture for over a year. In recent years Coke’s “Shower Posse” cartel had expanded its narcotic and firearm network as far as Brooklyn, N.Y. and even to parts of Canada. Following years of history, his widespread influence in the trade geographically and socially has made a deepening impact in Jamaica, as well as other areas such as the U.S., Canada and neighboring Caribbean islands. Read more ..

UN on the Edge

The United Nations Self-Report: “A Process of Decline and Reduced Relevance”

July 26th 2010

UN Topics - UN Bldg NYC

At the conclusion to her outgoing “End of Assignment Report” as the head the Office of Internal Oversight Services of the United Nations, Swedish auditor Inga-Britt Ahlenius wrote a fifty-page memo detailing her concerns and conclusions from her five-year term ending on July 14, 2010. Her conclusions were scathing, pointing to a culture of secrecy and a severe lack of leadership by Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Ahlenius concluded her long report: “There is no transparency, there is lack of accountability. Rather than supporting the internal oversight which is the sign of strong leadership and good governance, you have strived to undermine its position and to control it. I do not see any signs of reform in the Organization.” Read more ..

Iran on the Edge

A History of Tension between Iran's Clerics and the State

July 26th 2010

Iran - Iranian clerics and sailors

On June 13, 2010, when Mehdi Karrobi, the reformist candidate in Iran’s 2009 presidential elections, paid a personal visit to the home of Ayatollah Yousef Sanei in the Shiite holy city of Qom, dozens of militants also descended on Sanei’s residence to disrupt the get-together. The militants were members of the Imam Sadeq Brigade 83, a paramilitary unit consisting of young radical clerics that is under the direct command of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. These days, the brigade functions as one of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s main instruments of suppression against clerics and others that oppose the regime. In the early morning hours after ransacking Sanei’s office, the brigade stormed adjoining offices that belonged to the late Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, causing a great deal of property damage. These were but the latest actions undertaken by the theocratic regime against Ayatollahs Sanei and Montazeri—both religious leaders that supported protesters and the antigovernment demonstrations that swept Iran in the wake of the country’s disputed presidential elections in 2009. Indeed, only several days before the raid on Montazeri’s offices, it was reported that Khamenei traveled to Qom with plans to visit the Shrine of Masoumeh (the sister of the eighth imam recognized as legitimate by Shiites). Ayatollah Montazeri was buried at the same shrine, but the regime ensured that his tombstone was removed on the day of Khamenei’s arrival. Read more ..

Edge on Narco-trafficking

A Disturbing Trend of Human Rights Abuses in Mexico's War on Drugs

July 26th 2010

Latin American Topics - Mexican soldier and dead guy

President Felipe Calderón’s aggressive counter-narcotics campaign in Mexico has begun to sprout a disturbing trend of abuse emanating from the Mexican armed forces. The human rights violations allegedly authored by the military rest on the underbelly of a drug conflict that has created frenzy throughout much of the country. As the country has seen an increase in military personnel patrolling its streets, so too has the public witnessed an increase in complaints of human rights violations. This disturbing trend highlights the reforms that need to be implemented in order to improve Mexico’s flawed human rights record. If advancement is to occur in safeguarding society, such abuses must be properly investigated and tried in a court of law. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Fanning the Flames of Jihad

July 26th 2010

Terrorism - Zawahiri
Ayman al-Zawahiri

On July 11, 2010, al-Malahim Media, the media arm of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), published the first edition of its new English-language online magazine “Inspire.” The group had tried to release the magazine in late June, but for some reason — whether a technical glitch, virus (as rumored on some of the jihadist message boards) or cyberattack — most of the initial file released was unreadable.

The magazine was produced by someone who has a moderate amount of technological savvy, who speaks English well and who uses a lot of American idioms and phraseology. We did not note any hint of British or South Asian influence in the writing.

A government source has suggested that Inspire was produced by a U.S citizen who was born in Saudi Arabia named Samir Khan. Khan is a well-known cyber-jihadist — indeed, The New York Times did an excellent story on Khan in October 2007. Given Khan’s background, history of publishing English-language jihadist material and the fact that he reportedly left the United States for Yemen in 2009 and has not returned, it does seem plausible that he is the driving force behind Inspire. Read more ..

Inside the Housing Crisis

A Bellwether Election for Michigan--and the United States

July 26th 2010

Architecture - Flint Michigan

Genesee County, Michigan, is the homeland of not only General Motors and its most severe critic, film-maker Michael Moore, but it is now the host of one of the largest stocks of unoccupied dwellings in the Great Lake State, if not the United States. Last year, the county became the subject of derision directed by the entertainer and radio-show host Rush Limbaugh who made light of former Genesee County Treasurer Dan Kildee and his much-heralded effort to “shrink” the city of Flint and areas in Genesee County by bulldozing abandoned housing. Kildee is also the innovator who came up with a plan for the county government to take possession of tax-foreclosure property. The foreclosed homes become part of the inventory of the Genesee County Land Bank, which rehabiliatates some for sale or rent; others are simply demolished.

Genesee County and Flint are well past the political arguments of whether or not to actually shrink the community. The county as a whole, and not just Flint, is clearly shrinking already from the standpoint of population. Therefore, there are too few households to fill too many available housing units. Property values have plummeted at least 30 percent since 2005, leaving most communities and Genesee County as a whole, with significantly less realistic revenue potential than is required by their budgetary obligations. Furthermore, property values will not stabilize, let alone recover, so long as the surplus of housing units remains. Read more ..

Iranian Politics

The Iranian Clergy’s Silence

July 26th 2010

Iranian clerics

On June 13, 2010, when Mehdi Karrobi, the reformist candidate in Iran’s 2009 presidential elections, paid a personal visit to the home of Ayatollah Yousef Sanei in the Shiite holy city of Qom, dozens of militants also descended on Sanei’s residence to disrupt the get-together. The militants were members of the Imam Sadeq Brigade 83, a paramilitary unit consisting of young radical clerics that is under the direct command of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. These days, the brigade functions as one of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s main instruments of suppression against clerics and others that oppose the regime. In the early morning hours after ransacking Sanei’s office, the brigade stormed adjoining offices that belonged to the late Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, causing a great deal of property damage. Read more ..

Media on the Edge

Senate Moves Unanimously to Protect Free Speech

July 26th 2010

Politics - Constution wFreedom of Speech

In a rare show of unanimity, the United States Senate approved legislation last week that would prevent the domestic enforcement of foreign libel judgments that do not meet American standards of due process and free speech protection.

The Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act, or SPEECH Act (S. 3518 ) was introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL), and co-sponsored by Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT), and Arlen Specter (D-PA).
The SPEECH Act targets the growing phenomenon of libel tourism, in which wealthy foreign plaintiffs exploit claimant-friendly libel laws abroad to sue and silence American researchers, journalists, bloggers, and others for statements published in the United States. After obtaining a favorable verdict, “libel tourists” sometimes seek enforcement of the judgment in the United States in order to collect damages.

The pro-plaintiff tilt in foreign libel laws is substantial, standing in stark contrast to First Amendment protections for freedom of expression. In the United Kingdom—known as the “libel tourism capital of the world”—a defamation defendant bears the burden of proving that the statement sued upon is true, and truth is not an absolute defense to liability. In states such as Brazil and Germany, plaintiffs may sue criminally. Read more ..

Public Transit on the Edge

Lawmakers Ramp up Their Scrutiny of District's Troubled, Aging Metro System

July 26th 2010

Transportation Topics - Washington Metro

Congress began ramping up its oversight of Metro as Washington, D.C. mass transit riders braced for a possible fare hike and transit officials embarked on making long overdue safety changes while fighting a multi-million dollar budget shortfall.

President Barack Obama has requested $150 million in the 2011 fiscal year budget to continue bailing out the aged Metro system, with most of the money going to buy new rail cars, modernize existing equipment, and improve the system’s safety features.

But the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on transportation, housing and urban development, and related agencies is reluctant to hand over a blank check to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) without closely scrutinizing the steps it’s taking, especially in the wake of a scathing audit by the Federal Transportation Agency (FTA) that recently found Metro to have persistent and systemic problems. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Yemen’s Forever War: The Houthi Rebellion

July 26th 2010

Arab Topics - Yemen Map

The Yemeni government’s adoption of a February 2010 ceasefire indicates that its scorched-earth policy in the sixth phase of the war was unsuccessful. For their part, the Houthis sought to avoid a two-front war involving Saudi Arabia, whose military had begun to directly confront them prior to the truce. It is unclear whether ground forces were involved in these confrontations, but Saudi airstrikes on Houthi targets have been confirmed. The ceasefire also came at a time when the threats posed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and southern secessionists were on the rise, overstretching government security forces.

Among the reported ceasefire conditions were items such as the removal of roadblocks and landmines; an end to fortification of Houthi areas; the return of captured Saudi weapons and civilian goods; the release of Saudi and Yemeni civilian and military detainees; and an end to aggressive acts in Saudi territory. These conditions are tough to measure objectively, however, and may prove difficult to implement, given the north’s views on territory. Cultural norms—particularly the longstanding custom of males possessing weapons—will also likely preempt any attempt at disarmament. Similarly, the cultural need for both sides to be viewed as equals in negotiations tends to conflict with modern concepts of state sovereignty. As a result, the ceasefire is likely to collapse like others before it; one can already find signs that a seventh phase of conflict is drawing close. Read more ..

The Edge of Justice

Despite Allegations, No Prosecutions for War Zone Sex Trafficking

July 26th 2010

Social Topics - Prostitute

Eight years ago, President George W. Bush issued a stern policy on sex trafficking in war zones—a policy that remains on the books to this day. With government contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan sometimes exceeding the number of U.S. troops, Bush vowed to prosecute employees and suspend or disqualify companies engaging in the trafficking of women.

But officials say these cases have proven difficult to pursue. The State Department reported recently that allegations of contractor employees procuring commercial sex acts were “well publicized,” but no contractors have been prosecuted and no contracts terminated.

lawmakers believe law enforcement is not doing enough. “Zero prosecutions,” said attorney Martina Vandenberg, a former Human Rights Watch investigator, “suggests zero effort to enforce the law.” Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Afghanistan May Yet Be Obama’s Achilles Heel

July 26th 2010

Contributors / Staff - Armstrong Williams Headshot
Armstrong Williams

The White House has had a few laughs recently, poking fun at RNC Chairman Michael Steele. The most recent gaffe they’re pointing to is Steele’s comment surrounding Afghanistan and the possibility the war cannot be won. White House operatives lit up the Internet with charges and accusations that Steele and his GOP friends were ready to throw in the towel while troops were still on the ground. Never mind that when similar arguments were made during candidate Obama’s campaign, Democrats howled in protest and stumbled over themselves to appear “patriotic.”

But such shenanigans have no real place in this debate and war that has been ongoing now for close to a decade. The political back-and-forth is about as impressive as the stops and starts regarding America’s policy in Afghanistan, and that must change first if we’re ever going to bring our soldiers home. If Iraq was Bush’s Achilles heel, for all our sakes we pray that Afghanistan will not be Obama’s. Only real commitment can change the course of history—commitment unconstrained by timelines and driven by a real sense of purpose.

What further complicates the White House’s views toward Afghanistan was the politically-charged promise President Obama made to the American people while campaigning in 2008. Sensing the electorate’s frustrations toward Iraq, and to a lesser extent, Afghanistan, Obama said he would begin bringing our troops home from Afghanistan by 2011. To be more precise, that’s July of next year, almost one year to the date. And if anything, the prospects of securing any sort of peace in the region are worsening, not improving. Read more ..

The Spiritual Edge

The Interpretation of Dreams by Ancient Rabbinical Authorities

July 26th 2010

Jewish Topics - Rabbi at schul

Dreams have always held significance for human beings through the ages, and dreaming has been associated with a multitude of different notions. The idea of dreams functioning as a link between humans and the divine has been particularly common. According to a thesis in religious studies from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, this notion is also found within Judaism from the period of Late Antiquity.

"The rabbis interpreted dreams using the same methods that they used to interpret the Bible. Texts and dreams were interwoven, for example stories in the religious documents tell of rabbis dreaming that they are reading verses from the Bible. Jewish prayers and dream rituals also recommend recitation of Scriptural verses as a way of dealing with bad dreams; the good text functioning as a kind of weapon against the evil dream," explained the author of the thesis, Professor Erik Alvstad, in a press statement.

The belief that gods and other divine forces convey knowledge and insights to humans through dreams is highlighted in many of the accounts of dreams that readers come across in ancient literary works, such as the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, the Bible, the works of Homer and the Icelandic sagas. Dream interpretation, prayers and rituals to ward off evil dreams, as well as methods that could be employed in order to encourage good dreams through the power of suggestion, also occurred in ancient cultures. Read more ..

Travel Safe

The Shifting Landscape of Passport Fraud

July 26th 2010

Crime Topics - Passport Fraud

The recent case involving the arrest and deportation of the Russian intelligence network in the United States has once again raised the subject of document fraud in general and passport fraud in particular. The FBI’s investigation into the group of Russian operatives discovered that several of the suspects had assumed fraudulent identities and had obtained genuine passports (and other identity documents) in their assumed names. One of the suspects assumed the identity of a Canadian by the name of Christopher Robert Mestos, who died in childhood. The suspect was arrested in Cyprus but fled after posting bail; his true identity remains unknown. Three other members of the group also assumed Canadian identities, with Andrey Bezrukov posing as Donald Heathfield, Elena Vavilova as Tracey Foley and Natalia Pereverzeva as Patricia Mills.

Passport fraud is a topic that surfaces with some frequency in relation to espionage cases. (The Israelis used passport fraud during the January 2010 operation to assassinate Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas militant commander.) Passport fraud is also frequently committed by individuals involved in crimes such as narcotics smuggling and arms trafficking, as well as by militants involved in terrorist plots. Because of the frequency with which passport fraud is used in these types of activities — and due to the importance that curtailing passport fraud can have in combating espionage, terrorism and crime — we thought it a topic worth discussing this week in greater detail. Read more ..

Movie Review

Cyrus: Don't You Want Me, Baby?

July 26th 2010

Film - Cyrus

Cyrus, by Mark and Jay Duplass (The Puffy Chair, Baghead), is an attempt to give a bit of an artistic edge to one of Hollywood's most successful commercial genres of recent years, the slacker comedy. It doesn't work. Though intermittently funny and provocative in its set-up, the brothers Duplass don't bother following through with the latter. Designed as a meditation on the fantasies of lonely men who are or seem to themselves to be for some reason shut out of normal sexual relations with women, the movie draws back from this fantasizing into a fantasy of its own in which social and sexual dysfunction prove to be no big deal after all and are given a facile commercial resolution. The trouble is that the rather troubling outlines of the picture's mise-en-scene are still visible through the bland conventionality into which it eventually sinks.

This retreat from its own edginess is summed up in the opening scene in which Jamie (Catherine Keener) is found knocking on the door of her ex-husband, John (John C. Reilly). Getting no answer, she enters through the unlocked door and finds John lying prone on his bed with his pants around his ankles and a pair of headphones clamped to his ears. His denials that he is doing what she assumes he is doing seem to match his state of denial about his relationship to her. She has come to tell him that she and her new boyfriend, Tim (Matt Walsh), have decided to get married, and John does not take it well. Jamie points out that they have been divorced for seven years. "It still stinks," says John. And: "I'm still surprised." Yet, though he professes to be surprised and shocked, at the same time he says, "I knew it!", as people will when accusing others of what seems to them treachery. Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

The Ultimate Cold Case: Anthropologist 'bones up' on Site of Ancient Invasion

July 26th 2010

Science - Sandra Garvie lok

The body was found in a small, graffiti-stained tunnel. Robbery was likely not the motive, as his possessions and cash were found with him.

The University of Alberta's Sandra Garvie-Lok can't tell exactly how the victim on her table died, but she has a good idea. Given the visible previous cranial trauma on the body, the events that took place around the time of the murder and the location where his remains were found, she is willing to bet that this John Doe was murdered. Yet, no suspect will ever be tried or convicted for the crime. And she's OK with that.

That's because Garvie-Lok is an anthropologist, and her "victim" died almost 1,500 years ago in the ancient Greek city of Nemea during the Slavic invasion of Greece. Garvie-Lok, whose findings on her deceased subject were recently published in the International Journal of Historical Archaeology, suggests the victim was likely an eyewitness to Slavic invasion of Nemea. The deceased possibly used the tunnel entrance as an escape from the invaders, where he died/was killed.

"The Slavs and Avars (another group of eastern European peoples) were pretty brutal," said Garvie-Lok, a professor in the department of anthropology. "If he was hiding in that unpleasant place, he was probably in a lot of danger. So, he hid out, but he didn't make it."

A specialist in osteology—a field of anthropology that studies bones—Garvie-Lok was called in to the site to try to determine how the subject died. However, aside from the damage to the skull, which Garvie-Lok says are not related to the fatal injury that caused his death, there are no markings on the bones that would give her a definitive idea of the circumstances of the victim's final hours or days. Read more ..

Germany wants to weaken Iran sanctions of the European Union

July 26th 2010

Amidst negotiations for additional EU sanctions to be implemented against the Islamic Republic of Iran on July 26,  German negotiators are trying to enforce terms that would rob the sanctions of their penetrating power. According to information obtained by the STOP THE BOMB campaign, Germany is pushing for financial sector exemptions in this new sanctions package despite resistance from other EU partners. Germany is trying to weaken British and French sanction demands, which target Iranian banks in Europe and the European banks doing transactions with them. If Germany has its way, German banks operating with Iranian financial institutions wouldn’t be heavily effected by these sanctions.

A recent study found that five German banks continue to act with Iranian partners which were placed on the UN security council sanctions list on June 9. As of June 30, four major Iranian banks, which the Security Council or the US treasury department sanctioned, are still active in Germany. The Europäisch-Iranische Handelsbank AG (EIH) is very important in this context. The Hamburg based bank is owned by Iranians and has rapidly increasing business figures.

On June 14, 2010 at the EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg, it became clear that Germany is trying to weaken the sanction plans of other EU nations. According to press reports, the German delegation at this meeting tried to remove the gas sector off the sanctions list. This German attempt to mitigate the Iran sanctions has been successfully countered. On June 16, EU leaders agreed on sanctions that will include the gas sector.

If the German federal government were to strip the sanctions of their potential crippling effects, it would undermine the international efforts to stop the Iranian policy of aggression. With annual exports reaching 4 billion euros, Germany is at the forefront of exporters to Iran. In particular, the German high-tech exports to Iran in the energy sector cannot be replaced by other countries. In the first four months of this year, German exports to Iran increased 13 percent, according to the German-Iranian Chamber of Commerce. Appeals from Paris and London for tougher Iran sanctions have been rejected repeatedly by Berlin.

After the bloody suppression of the Iranian opposition in the summer of last year, a British attempt to impose diplomatic penalties was blocked by Chancellor Angela Merkel. Britain wanted to withdraw the European ambassadors from Iran. Merkel objected to these proposals. The international community views Germany's role in the Iran issue with increased criticism. Germany's leading role in trading with Iran and its years of appeasement have made the Iranian regime an ever growing danger. If sanctions do not succeed in preventing Iran's nuclear bomb, then it is to a large extent the fault of Germany. 

Edge on Disability

Patrick Kennedy, Edwin Black, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Greg Babe, and Lowell Weicker receive “Justice for All Award"

July 26th 2010

Contributors / Staff - Edwin at AAPD Awards w/Imparato
Edwin Black and Andrew J. Imparato, AAPD President & CEO

The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), on July 21, 2010, bestowed its coveted Justice for All Awards last week on five Americans who have distinguished themselves for their efforts on behalf of the disabled. The five were Representatives Patrick Kennedy (D-RI); Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA); former Senator and Governor of Connecticut and American with Disabilities Act author Lowell Weicker; President and CEO of Bayer Corporation and Bayer Material Science Greg Babe; and best-selling author Edwin Black, for his investigative book War Against the Weak, now a major documentary film.

The presentation of the award statuettes was made in a Congressional Cannon House Caucus Room packed with senators and members of Congress, as well as corporate executives and the leaders of dozens of associations active in the extended disabled community. Also honored were an enthusiastic group of disabled youthful interns, each of which was servicing a national agency or organization with distinction. Certificates of merit were handed to each in a celebrated call to the podium. United States Attorney General Eric Holder gave the keynote address for the invitation-only event.

In addition to the award recipients and Attorney General Holder, a gamut of Washington luminaries were also in attendance. Former U.S. House Majority Whip and current AAPD board chair Tony Coelho and Dick Thornburgh, former Pennsylvania Governor and U.S. Attorney General when the ADA was passed, were on hand to help celebrate the landmark legislation’s 20th anniversary. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) was scheduled to attend but was delayed. Read more ..

After the BP Spill

Libya Positioned to Buy Major Stake in BP

July 19th 2010

Arab Topics - Muammar Qaddafi
Muammar al-Gaddafi

Just as the news for British Petroleum was getting brighter, with stocks soaring 6 percent higher after the temporary cap fell into place and sealed the leak into the Gulf of Mexico, news sources reported on a possible deal between the oil giant and the Libyan government that could end up in Libya’s owning a considerable stake in the oil company.

However, the story became even stickier for BP as the week ended. While its prices were at their disaster mode low, wealthy Libyan oil moguls were vying for a controlling stake in BP. Shokri Ghanem, chairman of Libya’s Nation Oil Co., with which BP is now doing business with, told Dow Jones Newswires that he will recommend investing in BP to the country’s sovereign wealth fund. Ghanem said in an interview, “BP is interesting now with the price lower by half and I still have trust in BP, I will recommend it to the [Libyan Investment Authority] … It’s a good opportunity for bargain hunters.” BP shares jumped 5 percent on the news out of Libya.

In addition, news on the street is that BP is now seeking increased Middle East investment as it guards against takeovers. European newspapers have reported that BP and the Kuwaiti Investment Authority are discussing increasing the Kuwaits’ existing 1.77 percent share in the company. BP CEO Tony Hayward recently flew to Abu Dhabi to meet Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Sheikh Mohammed is also the chairman of Mubadala Development, a strategic investment company owned by the Abu Dhabi government. Read more ..

Inside Islam

Pakistani Christians Fear for their Lives as Muslim Extremists Demand Death for ‘Blasphemers’

July 19th 2010

Asia Topics - Pakistani Christians mourning

Recently, more Christians are facing charges under the controversial Muslim Sharia blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Christian families in Lahore were forced to flee for their safety as thousands of Muslim protesters demanded death for Christians in Faisalabad who are alleged to have defamed Islam and its holy book.

Muslim mobs marched July 10–11 in Faisalabad City, in the province of Punjab, demanding the death penalty for two Christians: brothers Rashid Emmanuel, 32, an Evangelical pastor, and Sajid Emmanuel, a graduate business student of Daud Nagar, Faisalabad. They were arrested on July 2 on the charges of writing a pamphlet with blasphemous remarks about Mohammad. They were detained at the Civil Lines Police Station Faisalabad.

According to a report by Minorities Concern of Pakistan, Christian social worker Atif Jamil Pagaan said, “The protests were held in Waris Pura locality where more than 100,000 Christians are living. They wanted to attack and burn the area where Emmanuel brothers’ house was located. The protesters chanted slogans, raised weapons and announced to teach the lesson to the Christian community.” Read more ..

Inside Africa

Al-Qaeda Terror Strikes in the Heart of Africa

July 19th 2010

Africa Topics - Uganda bombing victim

The balmy Kampala night; the stage was set for fun. Bars, restaurants and social halls were packed with soccer fans. Most popular of all among the younger generation of Uganda was the Kyadondo Rugby Ground, not far from the city centre, where a huge screen was ready to show the first soccer World Cup on African soil. Local artists performed to warm up the atmosphere; vuvuzelas blared, the game began. Half time, no score, and Bebe Cool, a local singer and dancer, thrilled the audience.

A few minutes into the second half, around 11:00 pm local time, a huge explosion shattered everyone’s attention, confusing spectators; some thought it was a short circuit, others already lay dead in their plastic chairs. Lights went out; followed one minute later by another blast. No short circuit; this was an attack.

Across the city, a few minutes earlier another blast had killed a dozen people, mainly Eritreans and Ethiopians, at the Ethiopian Village: a restaurant in the popular night-life suburb of Kabalagala.

Twenty-four hours later, the death toll had already reached 74, and Al-Shabaab, the Somali Islamist group had confirmed they were responsible—they were actually reported as saying they “were happy” with the outcome, and thanked the mujihadeens who carried out the attack—and threatened further violence if Uganda continued to keep its troops in Somalia. An Al-Shabaab militant was still more specific: “we have killed many Christians in the enemy capital, (Kampala).” Read more ..

The Urban Poor

Legal Aid Societies under Investigation as they Help the Poor and Help Themselves

July 19th 2010

Social Topics - baltimore povery art
Baltimore blight

U.S. Assistant Attorney General Tony West hailed Maryland’s Legal Aid Bureau with a rousing speech a few weeks ago that equated the nonprofit group with great American poverty fighters like Adlai Stevenson, Thurgood Marshall, and Clarence Darrow.

The Maryland group is “an institution where the overriding charge is to do not what is popular, or partisan, or political, but to do what is right,” the Justice Department’s top civil attorney boasted May 20 at an annual awards celebration in which the group rented out a red-bricked banquet hall inside Baltimore’s Camden Yard’s baseball stadium.

Unbeknownst to West at that moment, though, prosecutors inside his own department were preparing a criminal case exposing how Maryland’s Legal Aid Bureau failed for more than a decade to catch one of its top executives, who is accused of systematically defrauding the federally funded program.

Six days after West’s speech, Legal Aid Bureau’s former chief financial officer was charged in U.S. District Court in Baltimore with stealing, along with an accomplice, more than $1 million in federal, state and private monies that were supposed to help the poor get legal help but were instead spent on such things as personal junkets to Atlantic City for gambling and prostitutes, officials said. Read more ..

Inside Africa

Senegalese Sports Legend is Teaching Girls on and off the Basketball Court

July 19th 2010

Africa Topics - Senegal schoolkids

Senegalese basketball legend Anne Marie Dioh is helping to train the next generation of women basketball players in her country.  Dioh is making a difference through her after-school program that also encourages young people to stay in school.

Anne Marie Dioh captained Senegal's women's basketball team to two African championships in the early 1990s.  The retired shooting guard now helps girls learn the game she loves in a country where women's athletics are overshadowed by men's teams.

Dioh says that everything she knows about sports and basketball she must pass on to young people.  And that is what pushed her to create this school.

Players from across Dakar come to Dioh's after-school program three times a week for basketball and the structure of organized athletics. Dioh says that helps her draw in the children, so they can stay in school, learn and play basketball.

Renata Maniaci is a Fulbright scholar from the United States who has spent the last year studying women's basketball in Senegal. Read more ..

Inside Africa

Who Benefits from African Bank Protectionism?

July 19th 2010

Africa Topics - Wen Jiabao in Ghana
Chinese premier Wen Jiabao greets a Ghana chieftain

The Ghana Investment Protection Council (GIPC) recently revived a regulation that requires foreign-owned businesses based in Ghana to raise at least $300,000 before they are allowed to operate. These measures are imposed to shield indigenous business owners from foreign competitors. This is hinged on the belief that there is a need to curtail the influx of neighbouring countries‘ nationals from crowding out local business interests and creating job loss for Ghanaians.

Although the argument that the policy is designed to witch-hunt the nationals of any country has been debunked by the Ghanaian authorities, industry watchers and experts are not convinced. What is evident in view of the investment pattern is that the regulation is directly aimed at local entrepreneurs from West African countries who want to invest in Ghana and not against Chinese or Indian entrepreneurs whose chunk of foreign investments‘ loans are guaranteed by their governments.

Thus, raising the specified amount won’t be a problem for the Chinese and the Indians. By and large the policy will have more direct bearing on small and medium, scale businesses owned by nationals of West African countries as they do not enjoy the protection offered by their Chinese and Indian counterparts. Read more ..

After the BP Spill

Spill Puts K Street To Work

July 19th 2010

Energy / Environment - offshore oil rig

A half-dozen offshore drilling and oil services companies have formed a coalition to push back against the Obama administration’s drilling moratorium.

The Shallow Water Energy Security Coalition has hired lawyers, lobbyists and PR specialists at several K Street shops. Though shallow-water drilling has not been suspended by the White House—only deepwater operations have—the group believes the Interior Department is damaging its business by stalling drilling permits of all kinds.

The coalition is one of several new faces showing up on lobbyists’ row since the explosion that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon oilrig on April 20. There have been at least a dozen new lobbying registrations for companies reacting to new legislation and regulations stemming from the disaster, according to a review of disclosure records.

It’s not just oil companies, though, turning to K Street to defend themselves against the oil spill’s legislative aftermath. Firms that service oil wells and those that can help with the massive cleanup operations have all hired lobbyists either to keep an eye on new, tough safety regulations or to help win cleanup contracts. Read more ..

Edge on Education

Basketball Star says Sports and Studies take Energy and Perserverance

July 19th 2010

Social Topics - Brian Taylor
Brian Taylor

Former sports star Brian Taylor has taken a message of hard work that he learned on the basketball court to the inner city classroom.  In this week's installment of Making a Difference we introduce you to Taylor, who was a top basketball player at Princeton University, and he later played professionally.  He is now an administrator with a group of rigorous schools for minority students in Los Angeles.

Brian Taylor tells his students that athletics and study are two sides of the same coin.  He says he learned playing basketball at Princeton University that both take hard work and perseverance.

Taylor was Ivy League Rookie of the Year in 1971 and Rookie of the Year for the American Basketball Association two years later.  He helped lead the ABA's New York Nets to two league championships, and later played for the San Diego Clippers and the Kansas City Kings, and the Denver Nuggets of the National Basketball Association.

After 10 years in professional sports, he returned to Princeton to finish his degree, a move, he says, that later influenced a career decision. Read more ..

The Bear is Back

Deciphering the Russia Spy Fracas

July 19th 2010

Russian Topics - Anna Chapman
Anna Chapman

The United States has captured a group of Russian spies and exchanged them for four individuals held by the Russians on espionage charges. The way the media has reported on the issue falls into three categories:
* That the Cold War is back
* That, given that the Cold War is over, the point of such outmoded intelligence operations is questionable,
* And that the Russian spy ring was spending its time aimlessly nosing around in think tanks and open meetings in an archaic and incompetent effort.

It is said that the world is global and interdependent. This makes it vital for a given nation to know three things about all of the nations with which it interacts.

First, it needs to know what other nations are capable of doing. Whether militarily, economically or politically, knowing what other nations are capable of narrows down those nations’ possible actions, eliminating fantasies and rhetoric from the spectrum of possible moves. Second, the nation needs to know what other nations intend to do. This is important in the short run, especially when intentions and capabilities match up. And third, the nation needs to know what will happen in other nations that those nations’ governments didn’t anticipate.

The more powerful a nation is, the more important it is to understand what it is doing. The United States is the most powerful country in the world. It therefore follows that it is one of the prime focuses of every country in the world. Knowing what the United States will do, and shifting policy based on that, can save countries from difficulties and even disaster. This need is not confined, of course, to the United States. Each country in the world has a list of nations that it is interdependent with, and it keeps an eye on those nations. Read more ..

Movie Review

'War Against the Weak' Movie Provides an Eerie Feeling During Visit to Czech Republic

July 19th 2010

Film - War Against the Weak Movie Poster

In 2007 I visited the town of Trebic, in the Czech Republic. It has the dubious honor of being the last totally intact Jewish settlement from the WWII era. It is listed on the UN World Heritage List (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1078/ ). The buildings stand, still, almost all vacant, just as they were during that nightmare week in the early 1940’s when first the men, then the women and children were forcibly taken from their homes and sent to concentration camps under Nazi occupation.

The genesis of the aberrant mental construct that led to this event was the subject of a new documentary directed by Justin Strawhand and produced by Peter Demas. The movie, War Against the Weak is a hard-hitting 90 minute journey through about 80 years of intellectual and public policy development in what came to be known as the science of Eugenics. This little known branch of biology can be defined as “the study and practice of selective breeding applied to humans, with the aim of improving the species.” It sounds innocent enough, right? Wrong. It was, in the worst possible sense, misguided science.

What this insightful documentary, adapted from a book by Edwin Black, does is take you through the step-by-step development of first the study of biometrics by Francis Galton in the U.S., then the application of these principles to “criminal elements.” This eventually led to funding for Charles Davenport by the Carnegie Foundation and the hiring of Harry Laughlin. Read more ..

Edge on Race Relations

The Long, Slow, Painful Decline of the NAACP

July 19th 2010

Contributors / Staff - Armstrong Williams Headshot
Armstrong Williams

The NAACP approved a resolution recently condemning the fringe element of the Tea Party movement for “explicitly racist behavior.” It would require a flow chart the likes of which have not been seen since the days of health reform to explain all of the ways this is wrong.

For starters, the mere act of criticizing a black president is not racist. Nor is it racist to raise the public consciousness to the very important issues of spiraling debt, misguided bailouts, and a series of social policies that may bankrupt the country. Our nation benefits from uninhibited discussion about these serious issues. Very simply, when movements—Tea Party or otherwise—openly debate these issues, the truth rises up. When the NAACP labels and dismisses the Tea Party as racists, it has a chilling effect on this important debate. As a result, the national dialogue is stifled.

It is sad that the nation’s oldest and most revered civil rights organization has been so co-opted by the Democrats that use the racism epithet to chill political discussion, rather than engage opposing viewpoints on the merits. Please understand, I have the utmost respect for the NAACP. But I cannot ignore the simple fact that the issues supported by the Tea Party relate principally to smaller government, lower taxes, less government debt, enforcing the immigration laws, and more individual freedom. These issues have nothing to do with abridging the rights and dignity of African Americans. By pretending otherwise, the NAACP has willingly allowed itself to be co-opted by the Democratic party. Even more alarming, they risk turning the word “racist” into a proxy for “someone whose politics you disagree with.” Read more ..

The Obama Edge

John Brennan: Witless for the Defense

July 19th 2010

Obama Admin Topics - John Brennan
counterterrorism adviser John Brennan

A dry pun asks, "When is a door not a door?" - the answer being, "When it is ajar." But dry humor is clearly preferable to the deluded warping of the lexicon by the Obama administration's lead counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, which leads to this question, and requisite answer, "When is jihad not jihad?" - "When it is bloodless, spiritual struggle." Mr. Brennan vociferously advocates an exclusive, bowdlerized definition of jihad in the public discourse as "to purify oneself or one's community," lest the tender sensibilities of Muslims be offended. He further claims that, somehow, self-described jihadists "have truly just distorted the whole concept" of jihad. But it is Mr. Brennan who, irrespective of whatever flimsy, a historical rationale he provides, thoroughly misrepresents jihad - a living, bellicose Islamic institution that dates from the advent of the Muslim creed almost 14 centuries ago.

The dangerous absurdity of Mr. Brennan's jihad denial is self-evident: More than 15,600 jihad terror attacks have been committed by Muslims worldwide since the cataclysmic acts of jihad terrorism committed against the United States itself on Sept. 11, 2001. These data should remind us that there is just one historically relevant meaning of jihad, despite contemporary apologetics. Jahada, the root of the word jihad, appears 40 times in the Koran. With four exceptions, all the other 36 usages in the Koran, as understood by both the greatest jurists and scholars of classical Islam (including Abu Yusuf, Averroes, Ibn Khaldun and Al Ghazali) and ordinary Muslims - meant and mean "he fought, warred or waged war against unbelievers and the like." Read more ..

Freedom of Religion

Islamophobia vs. Anti-Semitism: No Comparison

July 19th 2010

Islamic Topics - God bless Hitler

It seems a commonplace these days now to compare Islamophobia and anti-Semitism as equal forms of intolerance. Fighting Islamophobia, as the argument goes, helps the fight against anti-Semitism. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

“Accommodation of Muslims and their religious aspirations in the Western world would create space for political and social harmony,” declared Masood Khan of Pakistan, representing the Organization of the Islamic Conference at the United Nations Human Rights Council on September 25, 2007. Masood offered a deliberate falsehood repeated by Muslims across Europe, the Middle East, and in the U.S. suggesting, “Islamophobia was also a crude form of anti-Semitism.” He also commented that “[a]s Cathedrals adorned the skylines in many Muslim Countries, so should Minarets.”

In the past twenty years, Europe has changed dramatically. Muslim immigration has expanded exponentially, changing the atmosphere and climate of Europe like never before. Writing about the appearance of Brussels, Saudi Arab News daily Aijaz Zaka Syed explained almost jubilantly, “This is the heart of Europe, the seat of the European Parliament, and perhaps the capital of the coming United States of Europe.” He continued,

“With Arabs and Muslims living and working in this quintessentially European city, Brussels increasingly looks like Beirut, Istanbul, or any other great city of the Middle East… And it is not just Brussels. Scenes like these are increasingly familiar all across Europe—from London to Paris and from Berlin to Copenhagen to Amsterdam.” Read more ..

Book Review

Producer and Impresario Jerry Weintraub Recounts His Steady Rise

July 19th 2010

Book Covers - When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead: Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man

When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead: Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man. Jerry Weintraub, Rich Cohen. 12/Grand Central. 291 pages.

Though generally wary of CEO memoirs for their patently self-aggrandizing bonhomie and vacuous, shameless — and endless — self-promotion, I'll occasionally take a look-see. In the case of this one, the subject is less a CEO and more of a show biz entrepreneur and personality. As a businessperson, he shook up the status quo and reinvented his chosen profession. Plus, his collaborator, Rich Cohen, is a veteran author whose tale of his own dysfunctional family, Sweet and Low, focusing on his artificial sweetener-inventing grandfather, is one of my all-time faves. Cohen's other books, profiling Hebrew shtarkers, gangsters and warriors, made him an ideal scribe for Weintraub's rambling tale.

Curious, star-struck (after a family trip to Hollywood) and not at all academically-inclined, a young Jerry Weintraub first sought and created opportunities for income generation in his Bronx neighborhood, joined the Air Force and found a few more odd jobs, then refused to go into the family business upon discharge. Weintraub's mercantile talent manifested itself in making connections and then building upon them. He became a talent manager, agent — whatever it took — then met and married star singer Jane Morgan, who became his entré to the world outside his New York show biz circle. Read more ..

The Race for Alt Fuel

Is a Mideast War Brewing over Natural Gas Find?

July 19th 2010

Energy / Environment - Oil Spill
Leviathan natural gas well

The discovery of a gigantic natural gas reservoir less than 100 miles off Israel's coast seems like great news for the diplomatically and militarily embattled country. The gas finding will strengthen Israel's energy security, enable it to become an important gas exporter and contribute wealth to its economy.
It could also be the pretext for the next Middle East war.

Ten years after Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon, Hezbollah is struggling to find a cause that would enable it to continue its “liberation war” against Israel. Yes, there are those Shebaa Farms on Israel’s northern border that according to international law belong to Syria, not Lebanon. But neither the Lebanese population nor Syria seem to be eager to inflame the region over a territory one fifth the size of Disney World. Something of greater strategic importance must be found in order to revive the “resistance.” Read more ..

Edge of the Universe

Galactic Archaeologists Find Origin of Milky Way's Ancient Stars

July 19th 2010

Environment Topics - Ancient Stars

Many of the Milky Way's ancient stars are remnants of other smaller galaxies torn apart by violent galactic collisions around five billion years ago, according to researchers at Durham University.

Scientists at Durham's Institute for Computational Cosmology and their collaborators at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics, in Germany, and Groningen University, in Holland, ran huge computer simulations to recreate the beginnings of our galaxy.

The simulations revealed that the ancient stars, found in a stellar halo of debris surrounding the Milky Way, had been ripped from smaller galaxies by the gravity generated by colliding galaxies.

The research, funded in the UK by the STFC, appears in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Lead author Andrew Cooper, from Durham University's Institute for Computational Cosmology, said: "Effectively we became galactic archaeologists, hunting out the likely sites where ancient stars could be scattered around the galaxy.

"Our simulations show how different relics in the galaxy today, like these ancient stars, are related to events in the distant past. Read more ..

Book Review

Schooling America--From Schoolhouse to Computer

July 19th 2010

Book Covers - Saving Schools: From Horace Mann to Virtual Learning

Saving Schools: From Horace Mann to Virtual Learning. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010. 336 pages.

Paul Peterson, a prominent education scholar and professor of government at Harvard University, here takes on the daunting task of tracing the trajectory of almost 200 years of American school reform in less than 300 pages. The clarity and precision of his writing make his book engaging and provocative. However, the book’s narrow focus and revealing omissions leave it less than completely persuasive and make it emblematic of the limitations of the current education debate.

The book’s overall interpretive arc can be captured in the titles of its three sections: “The Rise,” spanning nearly more than a century, from the beginnings of public schooling for all to the desegregation era of the 1950s and 1960s; “The Decline,” embracing approximately the next two decades; and “Signs of Resurrection” in the most recent decades, a time featuring, most importantly in Peterson’s eyes, the emergence of “choice” as a tool for reform.

Each section includes extended treatment of two or three figures who, Peterson argues, “altered America’s educational system….Each [was] heroic in his aspirations and ideals, had a powerful idea, a loyal following, and an impact that changed the system, but each was frustrated, often for reasons of his own making.” Peterson makes clear, however, that he is not endorsing the “great man theory of history”; he hastens to say that “each leader was part of a broader wave of forces by which he was shaped and to which he contributed.” In fact, the men (and all are men, until he gets to the present) are more symbols than forces in and of themselves, a fact made all the more apparent when one considers the idiosyncratic roster Peterson chooses for analysis. Read more ..

Barry Sewell and Blogging a Waste of Time

July 19th 2010
I admit it. I checked the blog of Barry Sewell and read his numerous rants and attacks against the Deaf (see Society, Mendoza AB2072 Supporters Taunt and Insult the Deaf on Blogs, June 28, 2010). What a waste of time is the whole idea of blogging and Mr. Sewell's blog in particular. The very thought that here is a mere maker of funny hats who takes it upon himself to taunt and denigrate Deaf people, and somehow validates himself this way, now that is testimony to what is wrong with the Information Age.

The Political Edge

2010 Midterms Will Be Most Expensive In History With More Than $1 Billion In Play

July 12th 2010

Economy - Money Money Money

More than $1 billion has already been spent on the 2010 battle for Congress, which is expected to be the most expensive midterm election in history.

Interest groups riled up by the Obama administration's far-reaching legislative agenda of healthcare and Wall Street reform are pledging massive expenditures. Democratic strategists have been circulating a four-page memo that chronicles how Republican-leaning independent groups are set to spent $301.5 million this cycle.

Rich candidates are also fueling the political spending spree. Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina (R) has already funneled $5.5 million from her personal fortune into her Senate campaign and in Florida billionaire Jeff Greene (D) is expected to do the same in his race for the Democratic Senate nomination.

“We fully expect this will be the most expensive midterm election ever in U.S. history,” said Dave Levinthal, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). “Not only do we expect it to exceed the high water mark set in 2006, but this could very well obliterate that number when all is said and done.” Read more ..

Inside Iran

Former Iranian Revolutionary Guard Turned CIA Agent Predicts Iran Will Attack Israel, Europe and USA

July 12th 2010

Iran - Reza Kahlili

Formerly a member of Iran’s feared Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) who turned CIA double-agent, a man identified as "Reza Kahlili" spoke at a conference on July 9 organized by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Kahlili issued the dire prediction that Iran will eventually attack not only Israel, but also Europe and the Persian Gulf states. Using a pseudonym for his own protection, the former Iranian revolutionary called for a preemptive strike on the Islamic Republic’s regime in Tehran but not on the Iranian people or the country’s infrastructure. The audio of his remarks can be heard here.

Moreover, Kahlili accused the Obama Administration of naiveté, in its relations with Iran. According to Kahlili, Obama’s diplomatic overtures are seen as a sign of weakness, while the Iranian people consider the efforts to engage the regime an act of betrayal against their struggle for freedom.

"This is a messianic regime. There should be no doubt – they are going to commit the most horrendous suicide bombing in human history. They will attack Israel, European capitals, and (the) Persian Gulf region at the same time," said Kahlili in one of his first public appearances to promote his new book A Time To Betray: The Astonishing Double Life of a CIA Agent inside the Revolutionary Guards of Iran.

Kahlili said he joined the Revolutionary Guard following the Islamic revolution of 1979, but volunteered to work for the Central Intelligence Agency when he became disillusioned with the Khomeini regime after witnessing acts of rape, torture and murder. Read more ..

The Immigration Edge

Holder Leaves Open Possibility of Racial Profiling Lawsuit Against Arizona

July 12th 2010

Obama Admin Topics - Eric Holder, Atty Gen

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder left open the possibility of filing an additional lawsuit against the state of Arizona's controversial immigration law.

In an interview with CBS News host Bob Schieffer, the nation’s top law enforcement official explained that the U.S. may still challenge the Arizona law based on racial profiling.

The Justice Department challenged the Arizona law on July 6 on the basis that it preempts the federal Constitution, not that it would result in racial profiling. “It doesn’t mean that if the law, for whatever reason, happened to go into effect that six months from now, a year from now, we might not look at the impact the law has had in whether or not to see to whether or not there has been that racial profiling impact,” Holder said. “And if that was the case, we would have the tools and we would bring suit on that basis.”

But he said that federal law preemption stood the best chance of overturning Arizona’s new law set to take effect on July 29, which requires police to check the immigration status of individuals stopped.

“We have an immigration policy that takes into account a whole variety of things, international relations, national security concerns,” Holder said. “And it is the responsibility of the federal government, as opposed to states doing it on a patchwork basis, to decide exactly what it is our policy should be with regard to immigration. And it was on that basis that we filed the lawsuit.” Read more ..

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