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Archive for November 2011

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The Edge of Terrorism

Al-Qaeda’s Rope-a-Dope

November 30th 2011

Terrorism - Arab terrorist
Anwar al-Awlaki

Any evaluation of the first decade of the global War on Terror (or whatever phrase du jour is currently used to describe the conflict) cannot avoid an unmistakable triumph: America hasn’t suffered another catastrophic act of terrorism since September 11, 2001. Nevertheless, the U.S.’s success in defending itself against the tactic of terrorism has not been complemented by a deep understanding of its enemies’ strategy, and consequently its systems of offense and defense have not been structured for victory.

The lack of attention the U.S. has paid to al-Qaeda’s strategy so far is remarkable. To comprehend the shallowness of its understanding, one need look no further than the documents that frame official U.S. thinking about terrorism. For example, the National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terrorism (NMSP-WOT)—the most comprehensive military plan for the fight against al-Qaeda and its affiliates—outlines America’s ends, ways, and means in the conflict, but doesn’t perform the same analysis for al-Qaeda. This is striking, because understanding an enemy’s ends, ways, and means is fundamental to military strategy. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Nokia Tweaks Bluetooth for Indoor Navigation

November 30th 2011

Architecture - indoor

Nokia Research is courting partners and expanding Bluetooth as part of an initiative on indoor location-based services. The company aims to leverage its handset and mapping products to enable a wide range of services including indoor navigation and retail analytics.
"We want to take what's been done in navigation outdoors and bring it inside," said Fabio Belloni, a principal researcher in Nokia's radio systems lab that looks for new ways to use networks.

Nokia has two pilots using a new Bluetooth protocol in the works and has reached out to as many as 30 companies in an effort to set broader standards that ultimately may include Wi-Fi and other networks.

The company is leading work on a new Location Extension protocol to ride on top of Bluetooth 4.0. It could be issued as a standard by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group in about 18 months.

Nokia designed a prototype based on a room outfitted with Bluetooth Low Energy antenna arrays that track devices with Bluetooth tags. The prototype uses triangulation to create 3-D maps of a room. Researchers envision equipping malls, exhibit halls and other large buildings with the antenna arrays to help people people navigate though them. They also foresee large stores using tagged carts to track and study shopper behavior. Read more ..

Voice of America

Exhibit Enlists Visitors in Helping Abused Women

November 30th 2011

Social Topics - Abused Woman

There is a Chinese saying that “women hold up half the sky,” yet in many societies, the contributions of women are ignored and women are often the victims of sexual violence and abuse.

Husband-and-wife journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn documented some of those women’s stories in the 2009 book Half the Sky.

The exhibition at the Skirball Cultural Center features stories of women who have taken action to change their lives: Saima Muhammad, a Pakistani woman who built an embroidery business with a $65 dollar micro-loan and gained financial independence from her abusive husband and Goretti Nyabenda, a woman in Burundi, who started a business brewing banana beer to provide for her family. It also shows women who have made a difference on a wider scale, including Edna Adan Ismail, the former first lady of Somalia. She is a former nurse who has campaigned against female genital mutilation and used her life savings to build a maternity hospital in Somaliland.

Their stories are told through photographs, art works, and recorded sights and sounds.

It also shows women who have made a difference on a wider scale, including Edna Adan Ismail, the former first lady of Somalia. She is a former nurse who has campaigned against female genital mutilation and used her life savings to build a maternity hospital in Somaliland.

Their stories are told through photographs, art works, and recorded sights and sounds.

Columnist issues moral challege

In his columns in the New York Times, journalist Nicholas Kristof has described sex trafficking, denial of education and other abuses of women, and he says the exhibit conveys several important themes to visitors.


Wall Street on Edge

The History of Wall Street

November 30th 2011

Economy - Wall Street Bull

In the seventeenth century the Dutch built a wall in New Amsterdam in order to protect its borders from incursions from natives and the occasional pirates.  This same location soon became known as Wall Street; merchants began to reside there, and since the renamed New York was the first U.S. capital, the city and street garnered quite a prominent financial concentration which eventually spread to its legacy.  Because of the assembly of merchants and stockholders on the street, it became more prominently financially linked over the years, until it came to signify the prosperity of America in relation to the rest of the world.

But this bastion of capitalism was built on slave labor:

Slavery began in the city soon after the Dutch landing in 1609, and enslaved Africans became vital to the colony's economy. Africans built the first homes, brought in the first crops, turned an Indian path into Broadway, and built the wall at Wall Street. When it became the British colony of New York its bankers and merchants so successfully invested in the international African trade they made it the slave-traders' leading port. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

PC Market Lifted by iPad Demand, Says Analyst

November 30th 2011

Technology - tablet & laptop

Global PC shipments will be 415 million units in 2011, up 15 percent year-on-year, predominantly thanks to sales of iPad tablet computers, according to market research firm Canalys Ltd.
Tablet shipments are expected to reach 59 million units in 2011 with 22 million shipping in the fourth quarter. While the iPad will dominate in Q4, the recently announced Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet are also anticipated to impact the US market, Canalys said.

Tablet computer popularity has propelled Apple into second place in the worldwide PC market in Q3 2011 and Canalys expcts Apple to overtake Hewlett Packard as the leading global PC vendor in the first half of 2012. Read more ..

Inside America

Texas Couple Become Goat-Farming Entrepreneurs

November 30th 2011

Animals - Goat

Most people hold on to their jobs for security and whatever benefits they might provide. But some adventurous souls follow a more challenging path, becoming entrepreneurs, working for themselves with no safety net to catch them if they fail. One urban couple chose to move to the country in Waller County, Texas, northwest of Houston, to begin a new life and business, with goats.

Part of the daily routine for Christian Seger at the Blue Heron Farm is milking the goats at feeding time.

Most people hold on to their jobs for security and whatever benefits they might provide. But some adventurous souls follow a more challenging path, becoming entrepreneurs, working for themselves with no safety net to catch them if they fail. One urban couple chose to move to the country in Waller County, Texas, northwest of Houston, to begin a new life and business, with goats. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Israeli Economy Strong Despite Conflict

November 30th 2011

Israel Topics - Jerusalem Bus Terminal

Israelis have always envisioned a day when they would have peace with their neighbors and enjoy normal commercial relations that would be a boon to both Israel and the Arab states. Unfortunately, the Arab states initiated an economic boycott in 1945 and most still refuse to engage in any trade with Israel. The ongoing conflict also imposes heavy costs on Israel, forcing it to devote resources to security that might otherwise be directed to more productive uses.

Despite these impediments, Israel has shown a remarkable capacity to thrive economically throughout its history. Today, in fact, as the economies of most nations struggle, Israel’s is booming. Israel now has the world’s fastest-growing economy.

One indication of the strength of Israel’s economy is its rating by Standard and Poor. While S&P downgraded America’s rating in August 2011 (for the first time since 1917) from AAA to AA+ following the stalemate over raising the debt ceiling, the ratings services raised Israel’s long-term foreign currency sovereign credit ratings in September 2011 from “A” to “A+,” denoting its “very strong capacity to meet financial commitments.” Read more ..

Military on Edge

Are We Entering Another Interwar Period?

November 30th 2011

Military - Korean War Memorial, OlympiaWA
Korean War Memorial, Olympia, Washington

“A nation that does not prepare for all forms of war should then renounce the use of war in national policy. A people that does not prepare to fight should then be morally prepared to surrender.”

– T.R. Fehrenbach, in his classic study of the Korean War, This Kind of War: A Study in Unpreparedness

Our nation has been in five big fights in my lifetime, and many more smaller ones. In four of those big fights, we were either totally unprepared or we had prepared for a completely different kind of fight than the one in which we found ourselves. Desert Storm was the only exception.

Military professionals and historians know this and are perpetually repeating to each other the cliché about preparing for the next war instead of the last one. Knowing, however, that we have been wrong four out of five times, it is a curious phenomenon how frequently we then hear the assertion, often in the next breath, that “the next one” will take a very specific and predictable form, such as insurgency or counter-terrorism. To make such assertions is to ignore the lessons of history. The operative lesson is that no one can state with certainty what form “the next one” will take. Read more ..

US and Pakistan

Pakistan, Russia, and the Threat to the Afghan War

November 30th 2011

PakistanTopics - Pakistani protest Nov 2011

Days after the Pakistanis closed their borders to the passage of fuel and supplies for the NATO-led war effort in Afghanistan, for very different reasons the Russians threatened to close the alternative Russia-controlled Northern Distribution Network (NDN). The dual threats are significant even if they don’t materialize. If both routes are cut, supplying Western forces operating in Afghanistan becomes impossible. Simply raising the possibility of cutting supply lines forces NATO and the United States to recalculate their position in Afghanistan.

The possibility of insufficient lines of supply puts NATO’s current course in Afghanistan in even more jeopardy. It also could make Western troops more vulnerable by possibly requiring significant alterations to operations in a supply-constrained scenario. While the supply lines in Pakistan most likely will reopen eventually and the NDN likely will remain open, the gap between likely and certain is vast. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

It’s the Ideology, Stupid

November 30th 2011

Terrorism - WTC on Fire (credit: Macten)

Today, it would be fair to say that U.S. counterterrorism efforts are tactically strong. We are well-positioned to tap the right phones, carry out surveillance of the right targets, and as a result we have a truly remarkable track record of preventing attacks (though some, like the shoe bomber, underwear bomber, and Times Square bomber, simply failed without being foiled). Where we remain inexcusably weak, however, is in the realm of strategic counterterrorism, or counter-radicalization. Today’s threat has metamorphosed from the al-Qaeda core to franchises like al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), jihadi groups trying to earn their stripes (like those in Egypt’s Sinai Desert), and—most disturbingly—homegrown violent extremists who are radicalized online or in person in places like Minnesota and Northern Virginia.

Since 9/11, U.S. efforts to counter radical Islamism at home and abroad have focused on expanding global engagement and strategic communication abroad, as well as community engagement and town hall meetings with immigrant communities at home. Beyond engagement, counterterrorism officials have concentrated not only on preventing plots from being hatched but on developing fissures among al-Qaeda, affiliated terror groups, and their supporters. Read more ..

Inside South Korea

For South Korean Youth, an Education Crossroads

November 30th 2011

South Korea - Sudo High School

In a country that wins praise for its education system - U.S. President Barack Obama frequently cites Korea as a model for scholastic performance - the 600 students at a Seoul vocational school aren't receiving a typical Korean high school education, and most won't head to universities once they graduate. "We are now focusing on some practical skills, which the IT field or the mechanics field really require," says Geum Donghoe, a teacher in Sudo’s information technologies department.

Although Korean students are among the highest scorers on international standardized tests, and up to 80 percent of high school graduates enroll in a university, some say there is a downside. Conventional schools, critics say, are too focused on getting students into top universities when there aren't enough jobs for highly educated graduates. Now the South Korean government is promoting alternatives to college, such as the electrical and electronics-engineering curricula at Sudo, much of which, says Donghoe, is on par with graduate-degree coursework. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Spare the Victory Dance

November 30th 2011

Terrorism - Osama bin Laden

Aproaching the 10-year anniversary of September 11th, senior U.S. officials have all but declared victory over al-Qaeda. Former top spy and newly-installed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta claimed this summer that the United States was “within reach of strategically defeating al-Qaeda.” Indeed, a recent Washington Post headline declared: “Officials: Al-Qaeda Close to Collapse.”

Killing Osama bin Laden undoubtedly was a major milestone. Counterterrorism officials trumpet that the al-Qaeda reins are now held by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is commonly seen as uninspiring and divisive. “I have yet to see a debriefing of a suspect in a significant terrorism plot who said, ‘I was inspired by the videotapes of Ayman al-Zawahiri,’” a former intelligence deputy recently remarked.

Yet analysis that places personalities above ideas is deeply flawed. It provides Americans a false sense of security, blinding them to the significant terrorism challenges we face.

Consider Bin Laden’s vision. According to the Congressional Research Service, Bin Laden and his associates “have sought to serve as the vanguard of a religious movement that inspires Muslims and other individuals aspiring to join a jihadi movement to help defend and purify Islam through violent means. Read more ..

Ethiopians on Edge

Remembering the Airlift of Ethiopians

November 30th 2011

Edwin Black

On the twentieth anniversary of Operation Solomon, we are reminded that Israel is the type of nation that has reached across the racial barrier to rescue Jews from Africa … in this case Ethiopia. As a young journalist, I covered both major Ethiopian airlifts as they were happened. The first was Operation Moses in 1984 which smuggled some 8,100 famine-starved Jews out of Ethiopia via Sudan and then Brussels. About three dozen flights over a seven-week period airlifted the dispossessed Ethiopians into Israel. Thousands more undertook a perilous escape trek across the desert – a journey that claimed many — perhaps an estimated 4,000 — who could to endure the heart and distance.

Operation Moses was a joint venture between the IDF and America’s CIA, using many intermediaries — paid and unpaid. During a 50-day effort, dozens of flights smuggled a few hundred Ethiopian Jews at a time creating an almost unprecedented airlift. Journalists such as myself who learned of the process were constantly implored by the authorities to not release the information. If we did, we would told, we would bring the rescue to a screeching halt as cooperating airlines and men on the ground would be exposed. There were leaks, but most of the leading journalists observed a type of Normandy Invasion type of operational secrecy.

The airlift of Ethiopians was repeated in 1991, when Operation Solomon mass transferred more than 14,000 in a high-speed two-day secret rescue. A combination of Israeli Air Force C-130s and El Al Boeing 747s, stripped down to allow maximum crowding, shuttled back and forth. The flights continued as long as the media held, and the operation remained viable. Once again, journalists familiar with the mass rescue were called upon to keep mum. Breach of security was a matter of life and death. A conveyor belt of muster points operated in darkness and stealth to bring these Jews home. A news leak would have compromised the in-gathering and brought certain death to thousands seeking to escape. Read more ..

Film Review

'My Week with Marilyn' Captures Icon's Volatility

November 29th 2011

Film - My Week with Marilyn

In the summer of 1956, Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe joined the equally iconic British actor, Laurence Olivier, to film “The Prince and the Showgirl” in London. 

"My Week with Marilyn" is based on Colin Clark’s account of that shoot and the week he spent with the star. Directed by Simon Curtis, the film portrays Monroe through the eyes of the young English aristocrat, who was working on a film set for the first time.

In the film, Clark comes upon the superstar in the bath tub. No one, especially not Clark, expected to get that close to Monroe. But during filming, Monroe befriended Clark and he became a confidante. For Clark, Monroe was his first love.

In the film, Monroe is a fragile and troubled sex symbol. Her stardom and new marriage, to playwright Arthur Miller, do little to ease her loneliness and insecurity.

Michelle Williams interprets the superstar’s volatility with verve and sensitivity. The film’s excellent editing enhances Williams’ portrayal of Monroe.

“I hope that it adds, that it fills out the impression of Marilyn Monroe," Williams says, "and that she is allowed, through me or through her own presence, to expand and that there are certain things you may not have realized about her - her wit, her empathy, her deep desire to be taken seriously as an artist.”

According to Clark's book, the superstar hoped to gain respect by playing alongside Olivier in "The Prince and the Showgirl." But the rapport between the effervescent Monroe and the highbrow Olivier was difficult. During filming, their relationship broke down and the movie flopped. In "My Week with Marilyn," actor Kenneth Branagh's Sir Lawrence is stodgy, impatient and judgmental. Read more ..

The Edge of Trafficking

The Trafficking in Persons Report: Who is the United States to Judge?

November 29th 2011

Crime Topics - Sex Slave Motif2

Responding to a congressional mandate, the U.S. State Department annually produces the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which rates countries on their quality of participation in combating global human trafficking.

Several countries and organizations believe that the evaluation system used in the report to rank a country’s participation in fighting human trafficking is flawed. Numerous countries have complained that the criteria and requirements for each tier of placement are difficult to quantify and identify.

Cultural differences are not taken into account when analyzing a country’s human trafficking situation, and often present a distorted image. Research methods need further refinement if they are to portray a more accurate picture of countries’ participation levels in the TIP report. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Sludge Transformed into Electricity using Solar Power, Robots

November 29th 2011

Energy Topics - Sludge

Israeli startup Global Recycling Projects Ltd., is working on a system to treat sludge waste and transform it into energy and raw materials by harnessing solar energy to thermo-chemically transform the waste.

Toxic sludge, a byproduct of wastewater, is both bad for the environment and expensive to get rid of, requiring dewatering, conditioning, storage, hauling and disposal, either through dumping it in landfills, or incinerating it – neither option a particularly green one.

GRPL, however, has come up with a novel way of dealing with sludge, which not only disposes of the waste greenly, but also provides gas to power electricity-generating turbines in the process.

Using solar power to concentrate solar radiation using a field of tracking mirrors (called heliostats), GRPL directs the collected radiation to a solar tower where a solar biomass reactor has been placed. This then powers the reactor, which acts as a gasifier, capable of transforming the sludge into a gaseous state, which can be used to power electrical utility plants. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

A Changing Enemy, and Battles Still to Be Fought

November 29th 2011

Terrorism - Osama bin-Laden preaching

When it comes to the War on Terror, America’s progress, while tangible, has been far from clear-cut.

It is abundantly clear that there will be no surrender onboard a U.S. Navy ship like we saw after World War II. Islamist jihadists are not rational actors; they are fanatics. As President George W. Bush said after 9/11, this would be a long war. Nevertheless, we have made major progress, highlighted by the fact we have not seen 9/11-type attacks on the homeland in the last decade, and we have weakened al-Qaeda’s appeal to the masses (what many refer to as “the narrative”). That can be chalked up to two events: the killing of Bin Laden, and al-Qaeda’s targeting of innocent Muslims around the world.

However, more work remains to be done. Partly as a result of our success—particularly the drone program—the threat to the U.S. homeland is now more diffuse and harder to detect. We also face the issue of homegrown radicalization, which our system inherently is not well-equipped to disrupt. We saw evidence of this in Times Square and at Fort Hood. Read more ..

America on Edge

Michigan Legislator foresees 'Uprisings' if Welfare Cuts Continue

November 29th 2011

America Themes - Panic in Detroit
Collapsing Detroit home

Michigan legislator Coleman A. Young II (D), who represents central Detroit, predicted “uprisings” should the embattled Midwestern state continue with its policy of limiting recipients’ lifetime welfare cash assistance to 48 months. Speaking in a November 28 interview to Michigan public radio, Young criticized the policy which was passed by a Republican-dominated legislature. Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, is also Republican.

Raucous protests and confusion emerged at an office of the Department of Human Services in Detroit on November 28. Michiganders who had been advised of the termination of their benefits were told to arrive by 8 am that day to participate in a teleconference hearing on their eligibility. The United Auto Workers union, which represent DHS workers, had picketers on the scene who protested that cutting benefits is unfair to recipients. Concern was also expressed for the safety of DHS workers who are confronted by angry and frustrated welfare recipients. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Iran, Stuxnet and the Aftermath

November 28th 2011

Iran - Iranian chador pageant

While President Obama has focused much of his foreign policy efforts on jump-starting the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel has been preoccupied with what its policymakers see as a much greater, even existential, threat. Iran’s continuing efforts to acquire nuclear technology likely led to the 2010 Stuxnet cyberattack on its nuclear infrastructure, and though no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, most experts agree on two things. First, that Israel’s involvement was highly likely, and second, that the computer virus attack was the first of its kind, in that it achieved a kinetic effect—causing actual physical damage to approximately 1,000 of 8,000 or more centrifuges at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility. As a consequence, Iran’s progress towards producing a sizable amount of weapons-grade uranium is estimated to have been slowed by two or more years.

Interestingly, speculation ran high during 2010 that some kind of Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear infrastructure was likely in the coming months, even though most defense experts were confident that such a strike—envisioned more as an airstrike (with actual kinetic damage)—on Iranian nuclear infrastructure would only delay, and not prevent, Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Iran Promises to Strike NATO should Israel or US attack

November 28th 2011

Iran - Iran holy missiles

General Amir Ali Hajizadeh of Iran, who leads the aerospace division of the Revolutionary Guards, warned on November 26 that should the US or Israel strike the Islamic Republic, his country will respond by attacking NATO's missile defense shield in neighboring Turkey. According to Iran’s Mehr news agency, the senior military officials says that this is a new defense posture in response to Iran views as a heightened threat from the US and Israel. "Should we be threatened, we will target NATO's missile defense shield in Turkey and then hit the next targets," Mehr quoted Hajizadeh as saying.

Following the release of a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency on November 8, tensions have been rising between Iran and the West. The supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khameini warned Washington and Jerusalem that any aggression on their part will be met with “iron fists.” Iran’s state-controlled TV network quoted him as saying, “Our enemies, particularly the Zionist regime (Israel), America and its allies, should know that any kind of threat and attack or even thinking about any (military) action will be firmly responded to," in response to the IAEA report. Read more ..

Book Essay

Kissinger's "Diplomatic" Review of John Gaddis's Latest Book

November 28th 2011

Book Covers - George F Kennan:An American Life by John Geddis

George F. Kennan: An American Life. John Gaddis. Allen Lane Publishers. 2011. 800 pages.

“The reader should know,” writes Henry Kissinger in his lengthy coronation of John Lewis Gaddis’s “magisterial” biography of the American foreign-policy seer and remonstrant George Kennan in the November 13 New York Times Book Review, “that for the past decade, I have occasionally met with the students of the Grand Strategy seminar John Gaddis conducts at Yale and that we encounter each other on social occasions from time to time.”

What the reader should also know (and what Times editors should have considered) is that this disclosure is roughly the equivalent of George W. Bush’s informing the public that he and Tony Blair have had “a full and frank exchange of views about matters of mutual concern.” A full disclosure by Kissinger would have acknowledged that no one has worked longer and harder than Gaddis since 2001 to help Kissinger justify and polish his controversial legacy.

Kissinger’s review offers insight and information—his own, more than Gaddis’s—and Kennan, in my view and that of others who’ve written about him, certainly deserves the respect both men are showing him. What rankles here is that, without being told, we’re watching the latest pas de deux in a long ballet between the once-powerful Kissinger and the power-seeking Gaddis:

The same Kissinger who writes that Gaddis’s George F. Kennan: An American Life is “as close to the final word as possible on one of the most important, complex, moving, challenging, and exasperating American public servants” once asked Gaddis to write his own biography. Read more ..

The War in Afghanistan

Denying Safe Haven in Afghanistan

November 28th 2011

Afghan Topics - Afghanistan Fighters

A full decade has passed since war came to American shores. As we commemorate that dark day, many will justifiably focus on our efforts against al-Qaeda to gauge success or failure. Just as important, however, have been our efforts in denying the terrorist group its traditional safe haven in Afghanistan by building the security forces there.

On that score, much remains to be done. Great strides have been made over the last two years, but simply handing a weapon to an individual does not make him a soldier or policeman. Building a professional and lasting Afghan national security system in the wake of conflict is a mission without equal. And of the many challenges facing the Afghan leadership in Kabul, among the most debilitating is the Taliban legacy of illiteracy, which plagues the vast majority of military-aged men. Read more ..

The Way We Are

More Stories Skin Deep

November 28th 2011

Social Topics - Singapore Tattoo Con 2009

This is part two of Stories On The Skin: The Life and Times of Tattoos, Piercings, and Modifications.

Tattoos had been used in ancient Greece and Rome to mark ownership of slaves and as punishment for criminals. Rather than being ornamental, the tattooing practices signified degradation, punishment, and permanent ownership. In Greek literature, the first reference to tattooing is as stigmatias or “a marked slave.” The word stigma in English is derived from the Greek and indicates discredit or shame.

Apparently the Greeks adapted their tattooing practices from the Persians, and later, the Romans continued the practice of tattooing slaves and the term stigmata. Within the medical text Medicae artis principes, by the sixth-century Roman physician Aetius, is the oldest known description of stigmata. Read more ..

The Arab Fall in Egypt

Egypt's Revolution Continues

November 28th 2011

Egypt - Tahrir Square protest

New clashes between "youth protestors" and Ministry of Interior riot police in Egypt's Tahrir Square have resulted in thirty-five dead and several hundred wounded over the past three days, jeopardizing the country's November 28 parliamentary elections. Even before this weekend's mayhem, the voting promised to be chaotic and, in all likelihood, marred by violence. But now, with growing public anger aimed at the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) for its undemocratic mismanagement of the transition, several secular political parties may boycott the polls. Should the elections proceed, the new crisis will benefit the Islamists, possibly widening their projected margin of victory. 

During the February uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, a popular Egyptian saying was "the army and the people are one hand." Nine months on, the military's public approval rating has dropped from an impressive 90 percent to the mid-60s. Initially, the facade of national unity was stripped away in large part because of the military's continuance of the hated Mubarak-era emergency law and ongoing heavy-handed reliance on military courts to try civilians. Read more ..

Italy On Edge

Euro Crisis Prompts Italian Village to Declare Independence

November 28th 2011

Italy - Filettino City

Italy's tough austerity drive includes plans to force local authorities to merge, in a bid to rein in public spending. The tiny village of Filettino faces such a prospect - but its mayor is fighting back. The town is bidding to become an autonomous principality with its own currency. And it might just stand a chance.

Deep in the rugged mountains east of Rome lies the quiet village of Filettino. Not much has changed here for centuries. But the 554 residents are now part of a revolution in the making; Filettino is trying to break away from Italy. Under the government’s tough $67-billion [50 billion euro] austerity package, all towns with fewer than 1,000 residents are being forced to merge with neighboring communities. That would see Filettino’s Mayor Luca Sellari out of a job. So he’s leading the fight back. Read more ..

Poisoned Places

EPA Posts “Watch List” that Includes Chronic Polluters

November 28th 2011

Pollution - China Urban Pollution

The Clean Air Act “watch list” is secret no more.

Just days after a report that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maintains an internal list that includes serious or chronic violators of air pollution laws that have not been subject to timely enforcement, the EPA has posted the September and October watch list on its website.

The agency also has begun to publish watch lists that include serious or chronic violators of the Clean Water Act, governing the release of pollutants in waterways, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, involving hazardous waste disposal.

The EPA cited a FOIA request for the Clean Air Act watch list, later published for the first time as part of a series on air pollution afflicting hundreds of communities, and said the agency would publish the lists as a demonstration of its commitment to transparency. However, important details on why each polluter is on the list will continue to be kept confidential, the agency said. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

When it Comes to Oil Industry, Self-Preservation is its Highest Skill

November 27th 2011

Energy Topics - Oil Barrels 400px

The oil industry is batting 1.000 this year when it comes to preserving its tax breaks.

The survival of billions in incentives, which President Obama and Democrats repeatedly have targeted this year, shows that the industry’s lobbying and political muscle remains intact even after a year that saw $4-per-gallon gasoline prices and strong profit reports.

The demise of the bipartisan deficit “supercommittee” robbed industry foes of their best opportunity this year to roll back the incentives, observers say. Read more ..

Congress on Edge

How Goldman Sachs and Congress may be bound too tightly together

November 27th 2011

Money - $1B US Currency
All about the Benjamins

Goldman Sachs, the most notorious investment bank on Wall Street, has two things in common with the legislators with significant investments in the company: wealth and power.

According to research by the Center for Responsive Politics, 19 current members of Congress reported holdings in Goldman Sachs during 2010. Whether by coincidence or not, most of these 19 Goldman Sachs investors in Congress are more powerful or more wealthy than their peers, or both. 

Nine of them sit on either the most powerful committee in their chamber or committees charged with regulating the Wall Street giant. Moreover, seven of them are among the 25 wealthiest members of their respective chambers, according to the Center's research. Read more ..

Iranian Terror

Iranian Cyber-Jihadi Cells in America plot Destruction on the Net and in Reality

November 27th 2011

Iran - Iranian jihadi geeks

Last September, Jihadists who call themselves “Cyber-Hezbollah” organised their second conference in Teheran. Islamist hackers and cyber-jihadists gathered there and decided to fight the U.S. and Europe. Hassan Abbasi, political strategist and adviser of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, was present, and delivered an ardent and virulent speech.

Participants in the Cyber-Hezbollah Conference consisted of so-called “cyber-jihad activists”, “Cyber-Resistance” activists and “interested activists in the soft war”. Hojat Vahidi, head of the new “Committee of the Holy Defense Strategy in Europe”, attended via live online conferencing. A coordinator of Iran’s propaganda activities in Europe and the United States and veteran of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), Vahidi lives in an undisclosed location in Europe. Vahidi also leads the low-profile organization known as the “Association of European Muslims." Read more ..

After the Holocaust

Catholic Bishop Calls for Eternal Vigilance to Avoid Genocide

November 27th 2011

History-Genocide - Holocaust survivors

The murder of six million European Jews in the Holocaust must serve as a warning to the people of today to remain vigilant against contemporary threats to human life and against any ideology that undermines the Judaeo-Christian values upon which western civilisation is built, said the Catholic bishop of Shrewsbury, UK.

In a Holocaust Memorial Day address given on November 24 to an audience in gathered in Menorah Synagogue in Sharston, Manchester, Bishop Mark Davies said that the Nazis had deliberately marked out for “systematic and total destruction” the very people who were first chosen by God to receive his Word. He said that “contemporary historians point to the logical intention of the National Socialist State rooted in this idolatry of man, of race, of the state to destroy not only the Jewish race but Christian morality and the faith of the Church." Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Gingrich: Not for Amnesty, but for Humane Enforcement of the Law

November 27th 2011

Politics - Newt Gingrich

GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich defended his immigration stance Friday, claiming that he was "not for amnesty."

“I am not for amnesty for anyone. I am not for a path to citizenship for anybody who got here illegally,” Gingrich said at a town hall event in Naples, Florida according to media reports.

“But I am for a path to legality for those people whose ties run so deeply in America that it would truly be a tragedy to try and rip their family apart," said the former House Speaker.

Gingrich has been under fire from some anti-illegal immigration groups since last Tuesday's GOP debate where he spoke out against deporting many illegal immigrant families.

During Friday’s town hall, Gingrich said that if elected he would make securing the border a priority and would support efforts to make English the country's official language.

He said he would also establish a guest-worker program to allow migrants to work in the U.S. But under such a program, businesses which hired undocumented workers would be hit with fines.

"I would have very, very stiff economic penalties for anyone who hires somebody who is not legally inside the system," Gingrich vowed. Read more ..

Edge on Politics

Supreme Court hearing on Obama Healthcare Law kicks up a Storm on K Street

November 27th 2011

America Themes - K Street

Next year's Supreme Court decision on the healthcare reform law could be the most heavily lobbied ever.

Corporations, unions, trade groups, and advocates are expected to spend millions of dollars over the next few months trying to shape the court's thinking on whether the law's individual mandate is constitutional. Their efforts will include ideological appeals, popularity contests and recusal campaigns—none of which are likely to have much effect on the outcome of the case.

"More effort will go into pushing this boulder up this Sisyphean hill in the next three months than in any court case in history," predicted Tom Goldstein, co-founder of the legal affairs SCOTUSblog and a lawyer for AARP in defense of the law. "However many op-eds or TV ads or whatever you want to place, you're just lighting money on fire when it comes to trying to change any Justice's opinions on these questions."

Still, the pressure for any group with a stake in healthcare to get involved could prove irresistible after the high court agreed this month to take up the case right in the middle of the 2012 election campaign. The real target, experts say, is the court of public opinion.

“I'm not so sure that all of these special interest groups are entirely about influencing the judicial process itself (as much as trying) to justify their own existence,” said Michael Wissot, a senior strategist with Republican messaging guru Frank Luntz's firm. “I see it as being more about taking one last opportunity to intensify the public outcry.” Read more ..

Book Reviews

Railroaded: Transcontinental Rails and Robber Barons

November 27th 2011

Book Covers - Railroaded

Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America. Richard White. W.W. Norton. 2011. 660 pages.

The construction of the transcontinental railroads following the Civil War is often celebrated as the triumph of American business and industry, with the support of government, unifying the country and fostering the growth of national markets. In Railroaded, Richard White, the Margaret Byrne Professor of American History at Stanford University and one of the founding scholars of the New Western History, challenges this assumption; concluding that Americans were “railroaded” in the late nineteenth century by finance capitalists into supporting the construction of a transportation system which was not based upon the economic needs of the western United States.

Refuting the creative destruction model of entrepreneurial capitalism employed by Joseph Schumpeter, White questions the assertion that the initial economic chaos of the transcontinentals paved the way for long term progress. In this important piece of scholarship, White doubts whether the farm and business failures, dispossession of Native populations, and the environmental destruction wrought by the transcontinentals were harbingers of progress. In a time when the achievements of corporate America are under great scrutiny, White’s history merits careful reading and consideration.

The construction of the transcontinental railroads following the Civil War is often celebrated as the triumph of American business and industry, with the support of government, unifying the country and fostering the growth of national markets. In Railroaded, Richard White, the Margaret Byrne Professor of American History at Stanford University and one of the founding scholars of the New Western History, challenges this assumption; concluding that Americans were “railroaded” in the late nineteenth century by finance capitalists into supporting the construction of a transportation system which was not based upon the economic needs of the western United States. Read more ..

Book Reviews

I Want My TV: Whither goest MTV there Shalt Also Go Facebook

November 27th 2011

Book Topics - I want my tv

I Want My TV: The Uncensored History of the Music Video Revolution. Craig Marks and Ron Tannenbaum. Dutton. 2011. 608 pages.

Before there was Facebook, before there were iPhones, there was MTV. After an unprepossessing launch in 1981, the cable network became a powerful force in American popular culture, exerting a much-noted impact not only on the music and television industries, but also on film, fashion, and even politics. Some of the attention MTV got was celebratory; some of it highly critical (from a variety of directions). About the only thing more striking than the network's dramatic impact is the degree it has receded since its first decade of cultural dominance. So the time seems right for an assessment of its trajectory.

Former Billboard editor Craig Marks and music journalist Rob Tannenbaum make a shrewd choice in rending the MTV story as an oral history, taking a page from Live from New York, the 2003 Tom Shales/James Andrew Miller history of Saturday Night Live (and before that, George Plimpton's ground-breaking 1982 biography of Edie Sedgewick, Edie). Tannenbaum and Craig conducted hundreds of interviews that that they arrange in a kaleidoscopic array of voices that include corporate executives, performers, video directors, and so-called "VJs" like Martha Quinn and Mark Goodman. Read more ..

Chile on Edge

The Inequality Behind Chile’s Prosperity

November 27th 2011

Chile - Poverty in Columbia

Foreigners on business trips usually travel from Chile’s Santiago International Airport to the city’s financial center in the El Golf neighborhood via the Costanera Norte or Vespucio Norte highways. But hidden underneath these highways are the majority of Chileans from lower-class neighborhoods who are living a harsh reality far from the prosperity that the El Golf and its high-rise buildings exude. Although Chile boasts one of Latin America’s most stable economies, the economic inequality amidst Chile’s growing affluence has been a significant challenge for the well-reputed Andean nation.

Last year when Chile held its bicentennial celebration, President Sebastián Piñera introduced his plan to implement approximately fifty initiatives that would transform Chile into a “developed” country by 2018. Piñera referred to the plan as, “Chile: A Developed Country: More Opportunities and Better Jobs.” Piñera stated. Read more ..

Religious Tolerance

A Pandora's Box in India is Unhinged by Arrest of Christian Pastor by a Muslim Court

November 27th 2011

India Topics - Indian muslim protest

In retrospect, the Christian community of India has displayed remarkable sobriety and a sense of responsibility in its response to the arrest in Srinagar of Reverend Chander Mani Khanna, Anglican pastor of the All Saints Church. The Muslim Ulema of the rest of India have been reluctant to condemn the arrest, precipitated by the demand of a local Mufti.

The vital issues of the rights of minorities, and freedom faith are however involved, which impinge on all minorities even in states such as Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Orissa and remain relevant in Kashmir. I suppose one can understand their reluctance in the backdrop of the complexities and sensitivities involved in anything that is concerned with the State of Jammu and Kashmir. The same is the reason perhaps for the silence of civil society in India and in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Only journalists and activists Seema Mustafa in New Delhi and Javed Anand in Mumbai have dared spoken, pleading for caution but articulating the voice of sanity and freedom. Read more ..

Religious Tolerance

Ahmadi Community of Pakistan Fearful following Agitation by Banned Islamist Group

November 27th 2011

PakistanTopics - Ahmadi funeral Pakistan
Pakistani Ahmadis bury victims of massacre by Muslims

Rabia Saleem, a female student of the Ahmadi religious sect in the final year of studies at the COMSATS Institute of Information Technology in Lahore, Pakistan, has been expelled on allegations of blasphemy. Saleem was accused of blasphemy by the student wing of the banned Islamist organization known as Tahaffuz-e-Khatam-e-Nabuwwat (TKN).

Saleem lived at a student hostel in Lahore, and allegedly removed a banner displayed by TKN condemning the Ahmadi community. A guard observed her removing the poster. He then accused her of committing blasphemy by dishonoring the verses of the Koran. Ahmadis are considered by many Muslims to be heretics and are treated to the same persecution as are Christians and Hindus in Pakistan. The controversy has been extensively covered by the Pakistani media. Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Wireless Display In a Contact Lens Takes Shape

November 27th 2011

Health/Medicine - Contact-Lens

Researchers in Finland and the US have developed and tested a prototype contact lens that could provide the wearer with a real time hands-free display.

The researchers from the University of Washington and Aalto University, Finland, have constructed a computerised contact lens and demonstrated its safety by testing it on live eyes. At the moment, the contact lens device contains only a single pixel but the researchers see this as a "proof-of-concept" for producing lenses with multiple pixels which, in their hundreds, could be used to display short emails and text messages right into the eye. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

The Assault on Jewish Jerusalem

November 27th 2011

Israel Topics - A map

The ongoing pressures exerted against construction in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem like Gilo reflect intensified global efforts to redivide the city.

Like many aspects of the Israeli-Arab conflict, the issue of Jerusalem is being reviewed in a vacuum without relationship to the reality on the ground. It also overlooks the abominable restrictions on freedom of worship in the eastern part of the city between 1948 and 1967 when the city was occupied by Jordan. Jewish holy sites, including the 2000 year-old Jewish cemetery at the Mount of Olives were desecrated, with tombstones used to build latrines.

In the Old City, all 58 synagogues were razed to the ground, including the ancient Hurva synagogue. Read more ..

The Race for Fuel Cells

Fuel Cell Carmakers and Industry Highlight Zero Emission Mobility

November 27th 2011

Technology - hydrogen car

On 22 and 23 November, carmakers Daimler, Honda, Opel and Toyota have organized for the fourth time their Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle Drive 'n' Ride in Brussels. At the event, the companies demonstrate how zero-emission technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells tackle transport emissions, one of the European Commission's two environmental priorities for 2012.

During the Drive 'n' Ride, more than 100 EU officials and other high-level stakeholders have the opportunity to experience the reality of clean technology by driving or riding in one of eight fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) on display. In addition, for the first time in Brussels, a fully mobile and compact hydrogen station, provided by industrial gases vendor Linde AG and Daimler, will demonstrate the refuelling process. Read more ..

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