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Archive for March 2010

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The Lobby Edge

Lobbyists for Big Business Reap Rewards of Healthcare Debate

March 29th 2010

Politics - K Street NW

While patients, taxpayers and lawmakers debate the impact of the health care reform law President Obama signed on Tuesday, one result of the epic battle is clear: a bonanza for K Street.

And among lobby firms that worked the issue, the richest Ranking of the top dozen with the most clients involved in health care last year reveals a host of high-profile Washington concerns — companies like Patton Boggs LLP, Alston & Bird, LLP, Holland & Knight LLP and the Podesta Group. About 1,750 businesses and organizations spent at least $1.2 billion in 2009 on lobbying teams to work on health reform and other issues, according to an analysis of Senate lobby disclosure documents. Since lobbyists are not required to itemize the amount spent on each issue, the precise amount that went to health reform remains unknown. But if only 10 percent of that lobby spending went toward health reform, the amount would total $120 million – and that’s likely a record for a single year’s spending on a particular issue, experts say. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Two Parcels of Land--Conflicting Life vs Death Celebrations

March 29th 2010

Terrorism - Coastal Bus Massacre
Coastal Bus Massacre

Two parcels of land, Ramat Shlomo and El-Bireh are symbols. In Jerusalem and in Ramallah’s sister city respectively, both stand for the eternal hopes of two peoples. In the wake of the recent flare-up between the Obama Administration and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, these two sites, which became the subject of news stories at the same time, say volumes about the intensity of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

They also say much more about the intentions of both sides for the use of these parcels of land and about the goals of two peoples. East Jerusalem, annexed by the Israeli Government following its capture during the Six-Day War of 1967, is the administrative and spiritual capital of Israel and has been the subject of longing for the Jewish people for millennia. The intended construction of 1,600 apartments there signals the goal of providing homes for Jews in the capital—viewed by Israelis as indivisible. El-Bireh is a sister city of Ramallah, the capital of the Palestinian Authority, which was established following the 1993 Oslo Accords between the Palestinians and Israel. The intentions that the Israelis and Palestinians have for these respective sites are starkly different. Even if one argues about the strategy of security both sites epitomize, there are very real differences for what they symbolize. Read more ..

Africa on the Edge

South Africa Greets World Cup with 40,000 Victims of Human Trafficking and Child Prostitution

March 29th 2010

Social Topics - Prostitute

This June 11th is the kick-off of the 2010 World Cup, in South Africa; the first time a global event like this, with anticipated billions of TV spectators, will take place on the continent. Many critical eyes will be focused not only on the matches, but also on the security measures and the overall organization for the 350,000 soccer fans expected.

The South African Emergency Management Services divisional chief, Sean Knoetze, told Associated Press they were prepared for everything: biological and chemical incidents, stadium collapses, aircraft crashes and flooding. “We never know what to expect,” he said. South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, addressing the Ugandan parliament in a state visit on March 25th, said the country intends to “disprove skeptics out to “de-campaign” Africa.” Leave for all military personnel will be cancelled during the one-month long tournament to forestall any civil demonstrations, and patrol the country’s borders to prevent trafficking in drugs and humans.

The Edge of Economic Recovery

Time to Stop Lying to Ourselves

March 29th 2010

Contributors / Staff - Star Parker, CURE
Star Parker

Citigroup, one the world's largest banks, was bailed out with some $45 billion of U.S. taxpayer funds and we taxpayers—you and I—still own a little over one quarter of the company. Do you recall making this investment? I don't.

Nevertheless, in testimony before a panel appointed by Congress to oversee management of the $700 billion TARP fund which financed the Citigroup bailout, the bank's CEO, Vikram Pandit, thanked all of us. “I want to thank our Government for providing Citi with TARP funds... Citi owes a large debt of gratitude to American taxpayers.” The rest of Pandit's testimony amounted to genuflecting before his government welfare officers and endorsing sweeping new government regulation of the financial services industry that Democrats in the House and Senate are championing. “I strongly believe that consumer protection can and should be strengthened at the federal regulatory level,” testified Pandit.

The $700 billion TARP fund used to bail out Citigroup, along with others, was a check written on American taxpayers that Congress gave then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to spend however he wanted. At the center of the financial collapse that brought down these banks was the illusion of infinitely rising housing prices fueled by trillions of dollars of free flowing credit, artificially cheap because it was backed by us taxpayers through FHA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac.

In other words, the heart of our crisis can be explained by Margaret Thatcher's famous summary of the problem with socialism: sooner or later you run out of other people's money. Of course we need protection. But American consumers are also American taxpayers and it's American citizens and taxpayers that need to be protected from their government. The tea party grassroots revolt that has sprouted across our country is a basic expression of recognition that we have lost control of our own government and that if we are going to be a free and prosperous people, this can't go on. Read more ..

Obama Edge

Stopping Iran by Appeasing Syria is a Diplomatic Illusion

March 29th 2010

Iran - Ahmadinejad and Assad3

After observing the Obama’s administrations attempts of engagement and rapprochement towards the Syrian regime it is logical to have deep concerns about the disturbing and negative results that these attempts have brought to the US allies and interests in the region.
As part of the Obama administration’s new approach towards the issues of the Middle East, reopening dialogue with the Syrian regime was advocated as the only way to detach Basher Assad from Syria’s 30 year old alliance with the Iranian theocratic regime. It also aimed at getting Syria to play a positive regional role in fighting terrorism and promoting stability and to participate in the peace process.

As it is obvious today none of the above objectives is close to happening. On the contrary the once cornered and ready to capitulate Syrian regime has slyly used the détente, freely offered to it, to strengthen its grip on the Syrian people, to continue its support of the terrorists who kill our soldiers and disrupt Iraq’s recovery process, to smuggle arms to Hezbollah and to intimidate the US allies in the region.  Read more ..

The Race for Alt-Fuel

Global Ethanol Tops 85 Billion Liters as OPEC Complains

March 29th 2010

Science - Jatropha Plantation
Jatropha plantation

Global ethanol production will top 85 billion liters this year. The 2010 forecast predicts a 16 percent increase in global production over 2009 actual production despite a very challenging year for the industry, particularly in the United States, where the industry experienced margins squeezed by low fuel prices and higher than normal feedstock prices.

Despite this difficult year, the United States continues to lead the world in ethanol production and will produce over 45 billion liters of the world’s output this year. The U.S. growth in production continues to be driven in large part by federal laws requiring mandated blending and a Congress obsessed with energy security and energy policy. Rules outlining the so-called “RFS2” were released last month providing for a 36 billion gallon market in the U.S. by 2022.

Not all jurisdictions had an easy time in 2009 convincing governments to adopt biofuels-friendly policies. Europe continues to twist itself into knots over sustainability issues being trumpeted by powerful NGOs on the continent. While the European Commission has mapped out an aggressive plan for growth in biofuels, details of the plan are bogged down in debate over how to measure the green house gas benefits from these new fuels. Despite these apparent challenges there will be modest growth in ethanol output in Europe this year. Read more ..

Inside Terrorism

Why Should the U.S. Maintain a Foreign Terrorist Organizations List?

March 29th 2010

Terrorism - Hamas Terrorists

The United States maintains a range of "terrorist lists," of which the Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list is one of the better known. But in two recent court cases, the U.S. government has offered arguments that raise questions about the purpose of the list.

FTO List vs. State Sponsors List

Another list is that of state sponsors of terrorism. The act of naming a foreign government as a terrorism sponsor is one instrument among many to affect the general foreign policy stance of the country concerned. Yet in practice, the state sponsors category has become a list of governments Washington simply does not like, often with little connection to terrorism; witness the continued presence of Cuba and the longtime presence North Korea. By contrast, governments that actually do sponsor terrorism but that Washington does not wish to single out are omitted from the list. A case in point is Lebanon, whose governing coalition includes Hizballah, the terrorist activities of which are protected and defended by the Lebanese government. Read more ..

Religious Freedom

Pakistani Christians Burned and Raped for not Converting to Islam

March 29th 2010

Asia Topics - Arsed Masih burned
Christian Burned Alive for not Converting to Islam

Arshed Masih, a Pakistani Christian of Rawalpindi, died in a Pakistani hospital on March 22 at approximately 7:55 PM local time. He had been assaulted on March 19 in front of a police station in Rawalpindi and set alight by Muslim assailants after he had refused to convert to Islam. His wife Martha was then jailed by police and reportedly raped by officials during her imprisonment. Both were taken later to the Holy Family Hospital of Rawalpindi. Their three children, who range in age from 7 to 12, were forced to watch their parents’ torture. The wife of Arshed Masih continues to be hospitalized. A funeral for Masih is expected on March 24.

The couple’s assailants remain at large even while police say that they are launching an investigation. Christian churches and human rights groups have condemned the assault and have protested outside of the police station where the couple met their fate. Local officials have declared that they are aware of the attacks. No arrests have been made. There are fears that local political authorities will prevent any effective investigation of the murder or any consequences for the culprits.

The incident stems from a dispute between the Masih family and their employer, the prominent Muslim Sheikh Mohammad Sultan. Masih had worked for the Sultan as a driver, while wife Martha was a domestic servant. In January 2010, the Sultan demanded that Masih and his family convert to Mohammadism, threatening them with “dire consequences” should they refuse. When Masih asked to leave, he was threatened with death by the Sultan – a threat that was carried out last week. Read more ..

Burma on Edge

UN Secretary General Unhappy with UN Progress on Burma

March 29th 2010

Burma - Burmese Generals

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has expressed frustration and disappointment in UN diplomatic efforts to achieve progress of any kind in Burma.

Following a meeting of the Myanmar Group of Friends, Ban said that national elections scheduled for later this year must be “inclusive, participatory and transparent.” 

Such polls would help to “advance the prospects of stability, democracy and development for all the people of Myanmar,” Ban told reporters following a meeting of the so-called Group of Friends, which brings together more than one dozen nations and one regional bloc in support of greater dialogue in the Asian nation.

According to the Secretary General, the junta must create the conditions to allow for free participation in the elections. “This includes the release of all political prisoners – including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi – and respect for fundamental freedoms,” he added. Read more ..

The Edge of Pollution

California Smog Ignites Millions in Medical Costs

March 29th 2010

Energy / Environment - California smog

California's dirty air caused more than $193 million in hospital-based medical care from 2005 to 2007 as people sought help for problems such as asthma and pneumonia that are triggered by elevated pollution levels, according to a new study entitled “The Impact of Air Quality on Hospital Spending.”

Researchers estimate that exposure to excessive levels of ozone and particulate pollution caused nearly 30,000 emergency room visits and hospital admissions over the study period. Public insurance programs were responsible for most of the costs, with Medicare and Medi- Cal covering more than two-thirds of the expenses, according to the report.

“California's failure to meet air pollution standards causes a large amount of expensive hospital care,” said John Romley, lead author of the study and an economist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “The result is that insurance programs—both those run by the government and private payers—face higher costs because of California's dirty air.” Read more ..

Book Review

Pull: The Power of the Semantic Web to Transform Your Business Has Quite a Tug

March 29th 2010

Book Covers - Pull

Pull: The Power of the Semantic Web to Transform Your Business. David Siegel. Portfolio. 288 pages.

Because an e-mail address accompanies my reviews, I often get interesting notes from diverse individuals and groups. My Spanish is limited mainly to menu items, so most missives in that language go unread. Political screeds and PR pitches to review chick lit, religious tracts and teen adventure novels get similar treatment, as do political essays clearly intended for the op/ed desk.

I did, however, happen to read one the other day from a very frightened guy who was convinced that chips were being surgically implanted in individuals' skulls (in Ohio, no less) and that these procedures were sanctioned by the government. Presumably, there was something to be gained from doing this, but what was not clear.

Then there's the scholar I know who tells me that when he collaborates with researchers and assistants around the globe, he avoids Google and its array of applications, including Gmail. He wonders who Google really is and what they are going to do with all the information they gather. (Sell more ads, perhaps?)

I hadn't thought much about these things before I read David Siegel's rather enthralling new book but now have been reflecting upon them. The idea that data will be free and open, and that by becoming so, commerce will ensue is pretty exciting. It also seems like a naive notion, and unbelievably Utopian. But worry not! Microchips need not be slipped into our skulls to be efficacious. Not yet, anyway.

If all the information that's floating around (or remains earthbound) is electronically tagged in ways that can be detected, collected and inspected, Siegel says that we will all benefit. It's not solely a commercial breakthrough, though that's a big part of it. This semantic web will make the current online (and offline) world seem primitive. Instead of information, products and services being pushed to us by providers, we will be pulling it, as customers. Read more ..

Michael Marrus and Ford Foundation Money

March 29th 2010

I was fascinated to read that Michael Marrus thanked the Ford Foundation for generous financial support for his book (see Michael Marrus Falters in Some Measure of Justice, Arts, March 1, 2010). That means, I am guessing, that American taxpayers directly or indirectly were a factor in a Canadian professor's work, since the Ford Foundation is a U.S. tax exempt entity. I would like to know just how much Michael Marrus received and what the money was used for? What was the foundation's input into how its money was spent is something I would like to know as well. Do they get to review the manuscript? In the future perhaps, such books should disclose somewhere the scope of involvement of a tax-exempt foundations, such as Ford, in the books we read.

Another Bump in the Mideast Road

March 29th 2010

While the Israeli interior minister’s announcement that new housing has been approved in Jerusalem may have been inopportune for Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., it was inappropriate for Mr. Biden to issue his “condemnation” of the announcement. Israel has made it clear that its building freeze does not extend to Jerusalem. What you refer to as “East Jerusalem” is the heart of historically Jewish Jerusalem. The Jewish presence was eliminated by force between 1948 and 1967 and has since returned. Where is America’s “condemnation” of the Palestinian Authority’s announcement that, coinciding with Mr. Biden’s visit, the central square in Ramallah would be named for a terrorist responsible for many Israeli civilian deaths, despite the request from Israel to withdraw that decision? Doesn’t that undermine the trust he seeks to develop between the parties?

Obama Shows He’s No Friend Of Israel By Disgraceful Action Toward Jewish State

March 29th 2010

Reports and editorials from around the world state that President Obama treated Prime Minister Netanyahu of the Jewish state of Israel in a disgraceful and unwarranted manner. The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) strongly condemns President Obama for his behavior toward the Jewish state. We consider Obama’s actions an affront and an insult to all Jews in America and throughout all the world. Obama apparently also made new and substantial demands of Israel while making no demands of the anti-peace regime of Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority.

The ZOA concurs with the words of Commentary Magazine’s Jennifer Rubin who wrote, “… the Obami are sticking with their modus operandi – preconditions and ultimatums for the Israelis, and water-carrying for the Palestinians; Netanyahu reportedly wanted to know where the “reciprocity” was and why he was the one making all the concessions. … (“Netanyahu, according to senior officials, said that while the US held him responsible for the timing of the announcement to build 1,600 units in Ramat Shlomo, rather than holding Interior Minister Eli Yishai responsible, Abbas was not held responsible when it came to the PA – which recently presided over the naming of a square in Ramallah for the terrorist responsible for the Coastal Road massacre.”) … It is not that the Obami fear daylight between the U.S. and Israel; it is that they flaunt it. It is not credibility as an honest broker that the Obami are establishing but rather fidelity to the Palestinian negotiating stance. And after all this, and the revelation that the proposed sanctions will be pinpricks at best, would any reasonable Israeli leader believe this administration will do everything (or even anything too strenuous) to remove the existential threat to the Jewish state?

The low point in the history of U.S.-Israel relations has come about not because of a housing permit but because we have a president fundamentally uninterested in retaining the robust, close relationship between the two countries that other administrations of both parties have cultivated. The Obami set out to separate the U.S. from Israel, to pressure and cajole the Jewish state, and to remake the U.S. into an eager suitor to the Muslim World. In the process, anti-Israel delegitimizing efforts have been unleashed as Israel’s enemies (and our own allies) sense that we have downgraded the relationship with the Jewish state, the Israeli public has come to distrust the administration, the American Jewish electorate is somewhere between stunned and horrified, and Israel is less secure and more isolated than ever before.

If mainstream Jewish organizations are serious about their stated mission, it is incumbent upon them to protest this state of affairs clearly and loudly and make their support for this president and his congressional enablers conditional, based on a change of policy in regard to Israel.  Otherwise, they are enabling a potentially fatal assault on the security of the Jewish state.  Silence is acquiescence, meekness is shameful.  A generation from now, Jews will be asking those who led key American Jewish organizations, what did you do to protect Israel?  What did you do to protest the creep toward a “containment” policy for a nuclear-armed Iran? They better have a good answer.”

Morton A. Klein is the president of the Zionist Organization of America.

Religious Freedom

Churches Under Attack in Muslim Lands as Mosques Flourish in the West

March 22nd 2010

Islamic Topics - Islam vs Copts

On March 12, 2010, a group of some 2,000 Muslims, whipped up by a local Imam in Mersa Matruh, a Mediterranean port city in Egypt, attacked a group of some 400 Coptic Christians.

The supposed reason for swarming the oft-persecuted Copts was a rumor that they were building a church. The sad thing was that they were only building a hospice. Worse was that Egyptian Security authorities, according to reports, arrested 13 Copts, including four minors between 13 and 17. Only a dozen of the 2,000 Muslims rioters were arrested.

The Imam preached against the Copts, calling for Jihad against the Coptic “Infidels.” Soon, Muslims swarmed around the Copts, forcing them into the building to protect themselves only to see some twenty-three wounded, two of them seriously. Following their escape into the hospice, the crowd proceeded to vandalize and burn their cars, Coptic shops, and even private homes, causing untold damage to that persecuted community's lives.

The Coptic Church has existed in Egypt for 1900 years. According to the website, TourEgypt.net, “Today, Copts form almost 13 to 15 percent of Egypt's population, though they are not ethnically distinct from other Egyptians as they are fully integrated into the body of the modern Egyptian nation.” If being “fully integrated” means enduring constant persecution by the authorities and harassment and sectarian murders by their Muslim neighbors, then perhaps the meaning of the term has changed. Read more ..

The Metal's Edge

Australia Over-Reliant on Exports to China and Could Crash, Economist Warns

March 22nd 2010

Australia Topics - Australia Mines

A respected economist warns that Australia's dependence on mineral exports to China has made its economy highly vulnerable to a crash. Frank Gelber, who is the chief economist at research firm, BIS Shrapnel, says the mining boom has the potential to expose the country to fluctuations in commodity prices and Chinese demand.

China's demand for iron ore, coal and liquefied natural gas has made it Australia's biggest trading partner. With China trade worth about $76 billion a year, Australia was able to avoid the worst effects of the global economic slowdown, prompting hopes that rising commodity exports could fuel growth for years to come.

However, some economists and business experts think Australia relies too heavily on selling resources to China, and is neglecting other parts of the economy. Frank Gelber, a senior economist at Australian company BIS Shrapnel, expects to see strong growth in Australia over the next five years. But he worries about the risks of structural economic imbalances in the longer term. Read more ..

The Bad Arolsen Conflict

U.S. Holocaust Museum Owes Survivors an Apology Over Withheld Records

March 22nd 2010

Jewish Topics - BA Camp Documentation

As previously reported in the media, the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) and Footnote.com announced in September 2009 the forthcoming release of the Internet’s largest interactive digital Holocaust collection. The collection has recently been released and it includes 26,000 Holocaust related photos, millions of names and records which are now available online for the first time.

Dr. Michael Kurtz, assistant archivist of the United States NARA and author of America and the Return of Nazi Contraband commented: “working with ‘Footnote’ these records will become more widely accessible and will help people now and in the future learn more about the events and the impact of the Holocaust.”

The announcement goes on to explain: “The Holocaust collection is the latest in a continuing partnership between ‘Footnote.com’ and the National Archives to scan, digitize, and make historical records available online. The goal is to give more people access to these and other historical records that have previously only been available through the research room of the National Archives.”

Russ Wilding, CEO of ‘Footnote” stated: “These pages tell a personal story that is not recorded in the history text books; they give visitors a first-hand glimpse into the tragic events of the Holocaust and allow users to engage with content such as maps, photos, timelines and personal accounts of victims and survivors.” Read more ..

The Armenian Genocide

Was Political Mess Over Armenian Genocide Measure Avoidable?

March 22nd 2010

History-Genocide - Armenian Victims

Did a lack of decisiveness at the White House result in a missed opportunity to end the near-regular Congressional charade of judging the horrific events in Eastern Anatolia of nearly 100 years ago?

Not surprisingly, the recent passage of the resolution labeling as genocide the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by a panel in the House of Representatives caused Turks across the political spectrum to express their outrage. The Foreign Ministry recalled envoy Namik Tan for consultations, less than two weeks after he arrived in Washington as the new ambassador. A senior ministry official predicted that any hope of near-term progress on the Turkey-Armenia Protocols, a bold attempt to by the two governments to resolve contentious bilateral and regional issues, was gone. “So much for the new era of US appreciation for the sensitivities and cultural nuances of America's allies,” a Wall Street Journal editorial quipped. Read more ..

Uganda on the Edge

Uganda Faces the Loss of a Cultural Treasure and the Prospect of Renewed Violence

March 22nd 2010

Africa Topics - Uganda tombs

Barely six months after the riots that ensued after the Kabaka (King) of Uganda’s largest ethnic group, the Baganda, was prevented by government forces from visiting Kayunga, a corner of his kingdom—for fear of public unrest, which ironically erupted in Kampala itself, leaving 17 dead, instead of Kayunga—another stand-off threatens.

On the night of March 16, the massive grass-thatched huts that house the remains of the four past Kabakas in Kasubi, a Kampala suburb, caught fire and burned to the ground.

The Royal Tombs of Kasubi, an international tourism site recognized by UNESCO and placed on the heritage list in 2001, was one of the “must-see” sites for visitors to Uganda, together with the source of the Nile and the magnificent Mountains of the Moon (Ruwenzoris). It was a major spiritual centre for Ugandans. Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Venezuela's Arms Buildup a Challenge for US Security

March 22nd 2010

Latin American Topics - Venezuelan Troops Marching
Venezuelan troops in ceremonial presentation

This week President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela formally received the first four of 18 K-8W aircraft purchased from China in 2007. This poses a significant security threat to the western hemisphere and especially to the United States.

During a speech on a military base in the northwestern state of Lara, Chavez called March 13 “a historic day for the Bolivarian anti-imperialist air force.” During this televised ceremony, Chavez wore a Bolivarian military uniform. Armed with free-fall bombs, air-to-ground missiles, and guided weapons, the Chinese-built airplane acquisition follows Venezuela’s purchases of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles (2009) and fighter jets, military helicopters, and assault rifles (2006) from Russia. It has been reported that Chavez has secured financing of $2.2 billion from President Dmitri Medvedev for 92 model T-72 tanks and the Igla-S mobile anti-aircraft system.

The Venezuelan leader claims these purchases were made to defend “the sovereignty of this sacred land and of this revolution” and to guard “the country's riches of water, oil, energy, gas, geographic location, and its role as the cradle of the first great revolution of the 21st century.” Chavez has tripled Venezuela’s defense budget since 2000, with $3.3 billion allocated in 2008. Read more ..

Inside Latin America

Is Mexico the Next Climate Change Hot Spot?

March 22nd 2010

Latin American Topics - Mexican Marine in Boat

With a confluence of climate and non-climate drivers, the ubiquitous presence of land degradation, and an irregular geographical population and land distribution, Mexico, not just Chile, stands out as a candidate to witness the next environmental shock and its consequences and an exemplary potential hotspot for environmentally-induced migration in Latin America. Its adjacency to the United States has in part facilitated international migration as a viable coping strategy. Migration exponentially rose in the 1980s following the economic hardships stemming from Mexico’s economic strategy of liberalization imposed upon the country’s poor and led by President Zedillo and before him President Salinas de Gortari.

There has been a growing out-migration of environmentally induced migrants from the arid northern region, already estimated by the mid 1990s at 900,000 per year. When Washington decides to include environmentally motivated migration as a factor in its migratory policy, it might first address it in regards to Mexico, due to the latter’s status as the largest immigration feeder country into the United States. This may set a precedent for how the issue is approached in the rest of the Western hemisphere. Read more ..

Breaking News!

Exclusive Coverage of Exodus: Children of Israel Flee Egyptian Bondage

March 22nd 2010

Contributors / Staff - Edwin Black

EDITORS NOTE: All details of Edwin Black’s Passover coverage are taken faithfully from Exodus chapters 5-15, plus Rashi’s Commentary.

Approximately two million Children of Israel are now encamped in the Sinai following their extraordinary exodus from Egypt yesterday. Just days ago, they were slaves to Pharaoh. Today, they are free men and women, destined for self-determination in a land of their own. Only now are the details of their fantastic experience coming to light.

The dramatic sequence of events began some weeks ago with the unexpected return of exiled prince Moses, who previously fled Pharaoh's wrath after slaying a taskmaster. In his daring appearance at the Palace, the inarticulate Moses, speaking through his brother Aaron, declared himself to be the personal emissary of a powerful new “God,” previously unknown to the Royal Court. Moreover, Moses asserted that his God was the protector of the Children of Israel, who have been in bondage for more than four centuries in Egypt.

The entire Royal Court was aghast as Moses demanded that the Children of Israel be permitted to travel three days into the desert for an unprecedented “feast and sacrifice” to their God. Making clear that he was not asking a Court indulgence, Moses looked straight at Pharaoh, stamped his roughhewn staff and issued the ultimatum that would be his rallying call during the coming days: “Let my people go.”

Laughter echoed throughout the hall as Pharaoh sneered, “Who is your 'God?'  I know him not. Nor will I let Israel go!”  Showing little patience, Pharaoh cited reports that Moses had been “disturbing the people from their works” in various building projects wholly dependent upon slave labor. As a punitive measure, Pharaoh proclaimed that henceforth slaves would be compelled to gather their own straw, even as their daily brick quota was maintained. Read more ..

The Metal's Edge

Renewable Energy Begins at the Mine

March 22nd 2010

Latin American Topics - Bolivian miner

Despite the recent failure of the Copenhagen climate summit to produce a binding treaty for greenhouse gas reduction, in the coming years the share of renewable energy in our energy portfolio is expected to grow significantly. But as the world moves away from fossil fuels, industrial minerals like lithium, cobalt, indium, gallium, tellurium, vanadium, and chromium, to name a few, are becoming increasingly strategic and failure to ensure their supply could not only strip the green revolution of any meaningful content but also create unnecessary national security vulnerabilities for the U.S.
The compact energy-efficient fluorescent light bulbs we will be forced to use since Congress has essentially banned incandescent light bulbs require for their manufacturing europium, cerium, terbium, and yttrium. All four belong to the group of 15 successive metals on the periodic table called rare earth elements, which are also employed in hundreds of technologies and from Blackberries to radars and precision guided bombs. One member of this family, Lanthanum, is a critical element in the production of nickel metal hydride batteries currently used in hybrid cars and electric scooters. Another member, Neodymium, is essential for the production of magnets used in electric car motors as well as in the electric generators of large wind turbines. The magnet utilizing generator of one wind turbine could take as much as half a ton of neodymium.

This is a lot considering that global Neodymium production in 2008 stood at 17,000 tons, most of it used in critical applications like computer drives, mobile phones, MRI machines, fuel cracking catalysts, glass and air conditioners. Cadmium, copper, indium, gallium, selenium, and tellurium are all used in thin-film photovoltaic solar panels. Advanced auto batteries all contain scores of other metals including cobalt, lithium, manganese and nickel. The lithium requirement of President Obama’s plan for the auto industry to deploy one million plug-in hybrids by 2015 is equivalent to the current needs of the global battery market for portable electronics including power tools, cell phones and computers. Read more ..

Edge on the Environment

Gases that Replaced Chloroflourocarbon Refrigerants May Worsen Acid Rain

March 22nd 2010

Environment Topics - acid rain-damaged gargoyle
Gargoyle damaged by acid rain

Chemicals that helped solve a global environmental crisis in the 1990s—the hole in Earth's protective ozone layer — may be making another problem — acid rain—worse, scientists are reporting.

Their study on the chemicals that replaced the ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) once used in aerosol spray cans, air conditioners, refrigerators, and other products, appears in ACS's Journal of Physical Chemistry. Jeffrey Gaffney, Carrie J. Christiansen, Shakeel S. Dalal, Alexander M. Mebel, and Joseph S. Francisco point out that hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) emerged as CFC replacements because they do not damage the ozone layer. However, studies later suggested the need for a replacement for the replacements, showing that HCFCs act like super greenhouse gases, 4,500 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The new study adds to those concerns, raising the possibility that HCFCs may break down in the atmosphere to form oxalic acid, one of the culprits in acid rain. Read more ..

Book Review

Love and Race in the Early 20th Century

March 22nd 2010

Book Covers - Rising Road

Rising Road: A True Tale of Love, Race and Religion in America by Sharon Davies. Oxford University Press, 2010. 368 pages.

This gripping story, ably reconstructed by Ohio State law professor Sharon Davies, has all the makings of a Hollywood movie. The facts are clear enough. In August of 1921, a hack Methodist minister named Edwin Stephenson (a hack because his credentials were dubious, he lacked a pulpit, and loitered at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Birmingham, Alabama to marry couples for a living) shot and killed a Roman Catholic priest named James Coyle in broad daylight and in front of numerous witnesses. The reason? Hours before, Father Coyle had married Stephenson's eighteen-year old daughter Ruth, a convert to Catholicism, to a 42 year old Puerto Rican native named Pedro Gussman.

In many contemporary legal thrillers, one is typically presented with a person falsely, but understandably, accused of a crime, dependent on the gifted detective or attorney to finally show that appearances are deceiving. In this case, though, the drama comes from reading to discover how far bigots are willing go to set a guilty man free, and whether their enablers will condone the triumph of evil. One of those enablers was Hugo Black, a future Supreme Court justice known for his support of racial integration in the Civil Rights era, who defended Stephenson and joined the Ku Klux Klan prior to his election to the U.S. Senate in 1925. This is one a number of twists in this story—the outcome of which won't be revealed in this review. Read more ..

University of Wisconsin Press Should Fact Check Once Notified

March 22nd 2010
I think Edwin Black errs if he suggests that university presses must fact check before they publish a book (see Michael Marrus Falters in Some Measure of Justice, Arts, March 1, 2010). That would simply be too massive a job for any publisher given the wide variety of topics from science to history to biography. But certainly Edwin Black is completely correct, as are others, to suggest that any publisher—including and especially academic publishers—should have a system in place to aggressively and independently respond to credible notice of errors or potential errors. This process should be independent of the author and the author's circle of endorsers. Publishers should take the initiative. If they find a problem, publish their findings; if no problem is found, then say that. The University of Wisconsin Press should not be immune from this standard.

Turkey Must Recognize the Armenian Genocide

March 22nd 2010
For decades, Turkey has been holding the world hostage as it grapples with the unavoidable truth: the Ottoman Empire committed a systematic war of genocide against Armenian civilians during the first World War. Istanbul has threatened allies, funneled cash into bogus academic efforts, and created it own myths about the mass murder of over 1 million Armenians. It does not change the facts. America should stand up to Turkey and Turkey should stand up to its own history—as Germany did after World War II. I thank the Cutting Edge News for its recent coverage of both the past facts and the current events to deny it.

India on the Edge

Is India's Economy Weakening?

March 15th 2010

Asia Topics - India Highway congestion

The conventional wisdom concerning the Indian economy has two tenets: 1) India has weathered the financial crisis exceptionally well; and 2) India is still undergoing liberalizing reform. Both of those tenets, though, can reasonably be questioned. Reported Indian GDP growth fell to 6.0 percent in the October-December quarter of 2009, lower than the 6.2 percent in the same quarter of 2008. By itself this decrease is not important, but it comes at a time of high inflation and a dangerously large budget deficit. Under such circumstances, 6 percent growth is not much of an accomplishment. More telling for the long term, this year's budget means the current Congress Party government has further cemented its legacy as reformers in name only.

America's ability to alter this legacy is limited. However, the emerging U.S.-India partnership requires each nation to be direct. Economic negotiations with India should be regarded in part as a means to encourage market reform.

Indian Growth in Context

Three years ago, an economy exhibiting 6 percent real growth, nearly 9 percent inflation, and a consolidated national budget deficit exceeding 12 percent of GDP would have been rightly deemed as heading for serious difficulties. The obvious response is that India should be judged in the context of the financial crisis. However, it is not clear that the economy has actually improved as the global crisis has eased.

Edge of Climate Change

Methane Releases from Arctic Shelf May Trigger Drastic Climate Changes

March 15th 2010

Environment Topics - Siberian Glacier

A section of the Arctic Ocean seafloor that holds vast stores of frozen methane is showing signs of instability and widespread venting of the powerful greenhouse gas, according to the findings of an international research team led by University of Alaska Fairbanks scientists Natalia Shakhova and Igor Semiletov.

The research results show that the permafrost under the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, long thought to be an impermeable barrier sealing in methane, is perforated and is starting to leak large amounts of methane into the atmosphere. Release of even a fraction of the methane stored in the shelf could trigger abrupt climate warming.

"The amount of methane currently coming out of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf is comparable to the amount coming out of the entire world's oceans," said Shakhova, a researcher at UAF's International Arctic Research Center. "Subsea permafrost is losing its ability to be an impermeable cap." Read more ..

Oil's Edge

Sexual Predators Increase in Energy Boomtowns

March 15th 2010

Crime Topics - Man in Handcuffs

“Social dysfunction and biological impoverishment” are just some of the social and environmental effects on communities that are economically dependent on oil and gas industries, according to new research.

The findings, published in Conservation Biology, revealed that over a nine year period, the number of registered sex offenders in energy “boomtowns” was two to three times higher than towns dependent on other industries.

The research, carried out by Dr Joel Berger and Dr Jon P. Beckmann, analyzed communities in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) in Wyoming USA, an area often referred to as the largest intact ecosystem in Earth's temperate zone. Many towns across the area are dependent on energy extraction, while others are dependent on agriculture and tourism. The authors assessed whether social and environmental issues are related to the industries that dominate these boomtowns. Read more ..

Hell of Haiti

Environmental Degradation in Haiti Worsened by Earthquake

March 15th 2010

Caribbean - Port-au-Prince, Haiti earthquake damage

The United Nations Environment Program warns that Haiti’s recovery process will be greatly constrained if the environmental degradation suffered during the catastrophic earthquake is not adequately taken care of. UNEP says cleaning up Haiti's environmental mess will be long, difficult, and expensive.

The program says Haiti was the poorest and most environmentally degraded country in the Caribbean before the earthquake struck in mid-January. It says Haiti's rural environment was largely destroyed, making it difficult to fully feed its population. It says that damaged water collecting devices made the country vulnerable to flooding and other natural disasters. It says there is extensive soil erosion in Haiti and only 3 percent of the country’s original forest cover is left. Read more ..

Nigeria on the Edge

Christian-Muslim Clashes in Nigeria: Seeing the Truth Behind the Headlines

March 15th 2010

Africa Topics - Jos Nigeria violence

In the Jos region of Nigeria, in January of this year, hundreds of Muslims were massacred. And in what appears to be direct retaliation, on March 7, three largely Christian villages were attacked and several hundred Christians killed. The governor of Plateau state, Jonah Jang, had warned the national army about reports of suspicious people with weapons in the area hours before the attack, but the military failed to take action.

When he tried to locate the commanders by telephone, he couldn’t get any of them. Connivance or incompetence on their part, or a bit of both? The head of the northern area of Nigeria’s Christian Association told the BBC he believed mercenaries from neighboring Chad and Niger were involved. He said they had alerted the central government about training grounds in the northern state, but nothing had been done about it. Many people cross into Nigeria under the pretext of being pastoralists, but are in fact mercenaries. Read more ..

Chile on the Edge

Chile Dusts Itself Off and Shines following Devastating Earthquake

March 15th 2010

Disaster - Chile earthquake

In Latin American terms, it couldn't have happened to a better country. Chile is struggling with the aftermath of the February 27 early morning earthquake. It was estimated to be the fifth strongest in the last 100 years, with a magnitude of 8.8 on the Richter scale. So far the death toll in Chile has reached 800. The devastation affected the whole country, but especially the central and southern regions.

Half of the victims died in a tsunami that swept across 500 kilometres of the coast shortly after the earthquake. More than 350 died in the coastal town of Constitución. Between the tremors and the tsunami, more than 500,000 houses collapsed. Two million people have been affected, bridges have collapsed, roads have cracked, hospitals have been destroyed. According to Eqecat, an American company specialising in risk estimates, the cost of the damage could be between US$15 and 30 billion, which represents about 10–15 percent of Chile’s GDP.

But this was a calamity with which the most developed Latin American country, with a strong democracy and with solid institutions, can cope with. Despite some looting and violence in cities like Concepción—which was worst hit—Chile will survive. Read more ..

Arab World Elections

Hope on the Nile

March 15th 2010

UN Topics - Mohammed El Baradei
Mohamed ElBaradei

In the most interesting development in Egyptian politics in years, former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei is eyeing an improbable challenge to six-term incumbent president Hosni Mubarak—or his son Gamal—in September 2011. While Egyptian law and Mubarak’s authoritarian regime will no doubt prevent ElBaradei from getting on the ballot, his flirtation with entering the race has, at least temporarily, energized a demoralized electorate.

ElBaradei has a biography with popular appeal. The son of the former head of the Egyptian Bar Association, ElBaradei served for three terms as the head of the international nuclear watchdog. In addition to winning the Nobel Peace Prize in his role as head of the IAEA, in 2006 he received Egypt’s highest honor, the Greatest Nile Collar, awarded by President Mubarak himself, for his service to the Republic.

Since his retirement from the IAEA in December 2009, ElBaradei has been making headlines criticizing governance in Egypt, and, in late February, when he returned to Cairo for a 10-day visit after decades working abroad, he was welcomed at the airport by thousands of supporters. During his trip he gave a slew of television interviews condemning the absence of democracy, the slow pace of reform and the need for change in his country. Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

F-35 Doubles in Cost

March 15th 2010

Military - F-35

The price tag for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) has increased by more than 50 percent, crossing a threshold that will force Pentagon officials to justify the need for the program to Congress, Pentagon officials have told a Senate panel.

The price for one F-35 fighter jet in 2001 was estimated to be $50 million. Now the price tag has risen to between $80 million and $95 million per plane, calculated in 2002 constant dollars. In today’s dollars, one aircraft would cost an average of $112 million, according to Michael Sullivan, the director of the acquisition team at the Government Accountability Office.

Some of the first jets are expected to cost about $205 million apiece, the Pentagon’s acquisition chief, Ashton Carter, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 11. Pentagon officials walked senators through the cost increase: The Pentagon in 2001 estimated the cost of one F-35 at $50.2 million for an order of 2,852 jets. In 2007, the Pentagon updated that estimate to $69.2 million for a reduced order of 2,443 jets. Read more ..

Brazil on the Edge

Black Mark for Brazil: Yanomami, Genocide, and Malaria

March 15th 2010

Latin American Topics - Brazilian Indian
Yanomami Indian

The Yanomami of the Brazilian Amazon have been decimated in the last 20 years by an incursion of prospect-miners (garimpeiros) who brought diseases (especially malaria) and other maladies to their hitherto relatively isolated communities. Here we follow the history of the garimpeiros incursion  examining the current  trying situation and make urgent policy suggestions.

Who are the Yanomami?

The Yanomami live in an area of approximately 192,000 km² spanning both sides of the Brazil-Venezuela border. Their land varies in ecological biomes from lowland tropical rainforest in both the Orinoco and Amazon River drainages to mountainous highlands. The Yanomami numbered approximately 29,000 in 2005 with about 14,000 living within Brazil. They are dispersed throughout this region and live at low population densities.

This research essay primarily concerns the Yanomami who live on the Brazilian side of the border who are being seen as the most affected by both garimpagem (prospecting) intruding on their native lands and malaria epidemics.

Likewise, this situation, is even being termed as a genocide due to the inexcusable behavior of a number of Brazilian government officials who both lent support to the garimpeiros and knowingly adjusted to the spread of disease in order to wreak havoc on the Yanomami people (particularly due to the exposure of the tribe to malaria, against which they did not have immunity).  During the height of the gold rush from 1987 to 1999, it is estimated that the malaria epidemic, combined with the armed battles against garimpeiros, shockingly led to the loss of thirteen percent of the Yanomami population living in the region. Read more ..

Significant Lives

Arnold Forster Fought for Decades Against Anti-Semitism and Extremism

March 15th 2010

Jewish Organizations - Arnold Forster

The Jewish teaching of Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh Ba-Zeh (“All Jews are responsible for one another”) comes to mind when one considers the remarkable life and incredible achievements of Arnold Forster.

In a career spanning nearly 60 years with the Anti-Defamation League, Forster was perhaps the very embodiment of this quintessential rabbinic teaching. An attorney who fought against anti-Semitism and extremism and who advocated for civil rights and the State of Israel, Forster, 97, who passed away in March, has left us a towering legacy.

In his many years at ADL, he created an impressive body of writings on anti-Semitism, and an equally impressive record in the courts defending the civil rights of All Americans. He did so with tireless devotion, both in his personal and professional life, to the fight against religious prejudice and discrimination.

Arnold was a force of nature. He was a powerful and mesmerizing public speaker and any time one was in a meeting with him, his was a presence that could not be ignored.

He had a remarkable instinct for finding the right instrument to publicize matters of concern to the Jewish community. Through press conferences and the revelation of documented information, he, together with his longtime colleague then-ADL National Director Benjamin R. Epstein, exposed those American companies that observed the Arab boycott and refused to do business with Israel.

This was a time when there was no anti-boycott legislation, and Arnold understood that public exposure of these companies was the only weapon at our disposal. And he played it to a fare-thee-well. Read more ..

Israel on the Edge

Stepping Back from Biden's Trip to Israel

March 15th 2010

Contributors / Staff - Abraham Foxman Color cropped
Abraham Foxman

On some level, it couldn't have been worse. We have a situation where the most trusted member of the U.S. administration, Vice President Joe Biden, is in Israel seeking to win over the hearts and minds of the Israeli public which, according to the polls, is highly suspicious of the Obama government. And in his opening public remarks, the vice president shows he's cognizant of the need by the administration to state more clearly and vociferously than it had heretofore that the American-Israeli special relationship is as strong as ever.

Included in his comments was the important statement that when it comes to matters affecting Israel 's security, there is no space whatsoever between the American and Israeli positions.

In sum, the administration was paying attention to those of us who have been saying for some time that it was imperative for the president and vice president to use their bully pulpits to make clear that the outreach to the Muslim world did not in the least mean any erosion in the U.S.-Israel relationship. This was important for at least three reasons: to keep the trust of the Israeli people; to prevent illusions about a weakening American support among the Palestinians which could lead them to conclude that peace is not necessary; and to make clear to anti-Israel forces around the world, who are feeling their oats these days, that America is not a ripe target for their campaigns against Israel.

The stage was set therefore for the most successful effort for strengthening U.S.-Israel relations since the new administration entered office. And then came the announcement of plans for building 1,200 new apartments in East Jerusalem.

One doesn't have to accept the most cynical interpretation of that announcement, and I surely don't, that the prime minister knew about it, to recognize what a disaster it was. Whatever the motivation and whoever the responsible party, it is the government of Israel that justifiably is held accountable for converting an optimal moment in U.S.-Israel relations into a moment of crisis. The crucial point is that the government had an obligation to anticipate what might go wrong during the vice president's visit and to give firm instruction to all cabinet members about avoiding such pitfalls, particularly on the subjects of settlements and East Jerusalem . Read more ..

Appalled that the University of Wisconsin Press Does Not Fact Check

March 15th 2010

I was appalled to read about the University of Wisconsin Press (see Michael Marrus Falters in Some Measure of Justice, Arts, March 1, 2010) and their attitude toward editorial errors and fact checking. The excuse, “We are an academic press,” is no excuse at all. As I watch TV, I see students and teachers protesting throughout this country about the high cost of tuition only getting higher and budget cuts that are undermining the campuses we expect to turn out our next leaders. If the colleges want to cut to save money, maybe they should examine their support for university book publishing operations, especially the ones that claim they are not bound to check their facts. If any college press cannot get its facts straight, it is hardly doing education favor. I agree with the reviewer that the University of Wisconsin Press should "rethink its answers in this realm," and let me add a suggestion to the University of Wisconsin itself: rethink its book publishing arm.

Holocaust Museum Urged to Oppose Yad Vashem on North African Victims

March 15th 2010
I just received a letter from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum asking people to speak up against Holocaust deniers. What about those among us who deny? Please, help stop Yad Vashem from promoting a false history of the Holocaust with false quotations and manipulations of history of the Holocaust, in order to justify not continuing research, documentation, and information on Jews in the European possessions in North Africa who suffered in the Holocaust. With the Internet, even Holocaust deniers will soon learn about Yad Vashem and the silence of Holocaust groups.

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