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Archive for January 2013

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Nairobi on Edge

NGO Trains Teachers, Leaders in Nairobi Slums

January 31st 2013

Nairobi Slum

The Nairobi slum of Mathare is home to more than half a million people, but it has only three government schools.  Low-cost community schools attempt to fill the gap.  But most of these educators are inadequately trained -- so one organization is now teaching the teachers.

More than 18,000 children attend one of the 75 schools in Nairobi’s Mathare Valley slum -- operating without government support, trained teachers, or funding -- according to an organization called Dignitas Project. To help, Dignitas provides professional development training to teachers and school administrators.

Charles Mutibo, Head Teacher at Hope Compassion Center, says the program has helped him deal with the many challenges his students face. “One is the resources for learning.  Resources in most of the schools in Mathare are not there," he said. "And also the security aspect is a concern. We also have a problem with water, food.” Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Chinese Cyber Hackers a Growing Threat

January 31st 2013

Hackers

Chinese hackers have conducted a growing number of attacks against foreign companies and government institutions in recent years, leading a recent U.S. congressional report to call China the "most threatening actor in cyberspace."

Although the attacks are difficult to trace to a specific source, many suspect the hackers are targeting overseas business, media, political and security institutions at the direction of, or with the permission of, the Chinese government or military.

Chinese officials have denied the charge, saying Beijing also is a victim of computer attacks and security breaches. They argues that just because cyber attacks may originate from Chinese soil does not mean China is sponsoring the attackers. The latest accusation came Thursday from the New York Times, which said hackers employing methods known to be used by the Chinese military broke into its computers, in apparent retaliation for a scathing investigation into the wealth of Premier Wen Jiabao. Read more ..


The Hillary Edge

A Report Card for Hillary

January 31st 2013

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Rodham Clinton has just concluded four tumultuous years as secretary of state, and already, as though in anticipation of a possible presidential run in 2016 (not announced but assumed by Washington pundits), she faces a groundswell of criticism about her time as the nation’s number-one diplomat.

The basic line is that she didn’t succeed at anything big. She accumulated enough mileage for first class air travel for the rest of her life—and Bill’s. But she didn’t win a ticket to the Foggy Botton Hall of Fame. Her record of accomplishment, it is asserted, is disappointing. No peace agreement in Afghanistan. Failure in Israeli-Palestinian negotiation. Reset with Russia: a big zero. Syria: a frightening disaster. Benghazi: her biggest embarrassment. And Iran? Further negotiations possible, but nothing on the near horizon to suggest a deal to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Yet, though this record may be bleak, I would still give her an A-, which, in graduate school, is not a bad grade. My reasoning follows: Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Delay, Repeal, Replace

January 31st 2013

Obamacare Protest

Watching Congress take the final steps to pass Obamacare in March 2010 was a bitterly disappointing moment for the law’s opponents. They didn’t have to be told that what was being rammed through the House and Senate was the largest power grab by the federal government in at least a generation, with immense consequences for the nation’s economic vitality and political health. Opponents understandably redoubled their efforts to see the law repealed and replaced, and Republicans rode the popular revolt against the excesses of Obamacare all the way to a landslide midterm victory.

Unfortunately, the two best opportunities to stop the law in its tracks were missed. At the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts twisted himself into a pretzel to conclude that the law’s centerpiece, the individual mandate, was constitutional (but only as a “tax”), and President Obama beat back the campaign of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, securing a second term. As a consequence, outright repeal is off the table for at least four years. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

It Isn't Time to Thank President Obama for Helping Charities

January 31st 2013

Obama

With tax law changes swirling around us every day, nonprofit executives like me lie awake nights wondering how these changes will affect the charitable giving on which we depend. Will the recent tax increases hurt us, as so many journalists and commentators have warned? And what will be the effect of the changes President Obama still plans to seek?

We don’t have to speculate. We have data about which fears are legitimate and which ones are not. And some may find the truth surprising.

Predictably, the deal that emerged over the holidays featured President Obama’s promised tax-rate comeuppance for America’s dreaded “millionaires and billionaires,” raising the top marginal income-tax rate from 35 percent to 39.6 percent It also reintroduced an old law (the so-called “Pease” provision) that slightly lowers the value of all deductions.

In these policies, some observers predict a hard blow to charitable giving. In the long run, it is true that the best way to ensure healthy giving is a stable and growing economy in which Americans have an incentive to earn more money—and that will happen only if they can keep what they earn. In the short run, however, the tax changes just adopted will actually raise giving slightly. Read more ..


The Race for Natural Gas

Senate Bill would Greenlight Natural Gas Exports to US Allies

January 31st 2013

LNG Tanker

A group of Senate Republicans and two centrist Democrats shook up political debates over U.S. natural gas exports Thursday with new legislation that would ensure federal approval of exports to NATO countries and Japan.

Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and several colleagues floated the bill as the Energy Department (DOE) reviews 16 applications to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) to countries that don’t have free-trade deals with the U.S.

Federal law, according to DOE, generally requires approval of exports to nations that have such trade deals with the U.S., but other applications face much more scrutiny from regulators. The “Expedited LNG for American Allies Act” would put NATO allies and Japan, which is seeking to expand imports as most of its nuclear capacity remains offline, on equal footing with the formal free-trade partners. Read more ..


The Race for Biofuel

Biofuel-Blending Battle Rages On

January 31st 2013

switchgrass

The fight between the biofuels industry and oil-and-gas lobby group the American Petroleum Institute (API) flared again Thursday when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its 2013 targets for a biofuel-blending rule. EPA raised how much cellulosic biofuel — those made from non-edible feedstock — it expected refiners to blend this year as part of the renewable fuel standard.

EPA set the mark at 14 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel, up from about 8.65 million gallons last year. The new figure pleased the biofuels industry, but did not satisfy API. The two sides are tussling over a recent court decision that said EPA needs to set more realistic projections for cellulosic biofuel. Biofuels groups said the goal reflects new production coming online, while API maintained it was too lofty. Read more ..


Destination Israel

The Temple Mount: A Sight to Behold for those who Care to Look

January 31st 2013

The Dome of the Rock from Atop
Photo: Courtesy of Juda Engelmayer

The very first time I traveled to Israel, everything I did was brand new and exciting. Since then, it’s been exciting, but very few surprises would appear. The City of David was something I could add to my list of fascinating experiences more recently.

What I had this past visit were some encounters I could not imagine seeing, experiencing, and, in fact, in one case, maybe never seeing again. The first was when I took my son, nieces and nephews to Holon to “see” the so-called blind museum, better known as Dialogue in the Dark. It is a museum that is set up as a city street, a food market, a cafeteria, a boat and a home, but is completely dark. It is so dark that prior to the tour the tour guide requires that your cameras, phones, watches that may glow in the dark, all be left in a locker. You walk though these spaces experiencing life as if you are blind.

Our tour guide herself is blind, and she was the only one who was not anxious, and she did not fall. The rest of us were cast into a world of blackness to experience what it is like to live as a blind person and learn some of the ways that Israel has made it such that life for people who are vision impaired can function as well as anyone. Read more ..


Edge of Society

Teenagers with Good Family Life Have Good Marital Outcomes

January 31st 2013

family with teenagers

Experiencing a positive family climate as a teenager may be connected to your relationships later in life, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

While research has demonstrated long-term effects of aggression and divorce across generations, the impact of a positive family climate has received less attention. Psychological scientist Robert Ackerman of the University of Texas at Dallas and colleagues wanted to examine whether positive interpersonal behaviors in families might also have long-lasting associations with future relationships.

The researchers examined longitudinal data from individuals participating in the Iowa Youth and Families Project. Family interactions were assessed when the participants were in 7th grade. The interactions were coded for five indicators of positive engagement: listener responsiveness, assertiveness, prosocial behavior, effective communication, and warmth-support. Read more ..


Ancient America

Early Americans Were No Slouches as Builders

January 31st 2013

Poverty Point Mounds

Nominated early this year for recognition on the UNESCO World Heritage List, which includes such famous cultural sites as the Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu and Stonehenge, the earthen works at Poverty Point, Louisiana, have been described as one of the world’s greatest feats of construction by an archaic civilization of hunters and gatherers.

Now, new research in the current issue of the journal Geoarchaeology, offers compelling evidence that one of the massive earthen mounds at Poverty Point was constructed in less than 90 days, and perhaps as quickly as 30 days — an incredible accomplishment for what was thought to be a loosely organized society consisting of small, widely scattered bands of foragers. Read more ..


Ancient America

DNA Evidence Offers Clues to Pre-Aztec Culture of Mexico

January 31st 2013

Aztec calendar

For centuries, the fate of the original Otomí inhabitants of Xaltocan, the capital of a pre-Aztec Mexican city-state, has remained unknown. Researchers have long wondered whether they assimilated with the Aztecs or abandoned the town altogether.

According to new anthropological research from The University of Texas at Austin, Wichita State University and Washington State University, the answers may lie in DNA. Following this line of evidence, the researchers theorize that some original Otomies, possibly elite rulers, may have fled the town. Their exodus may have led to the reorganization of the original residents within Xaltocan, or to the influx of new residents, who may have intermarried with the Otomí population. Read more ..


Inside America

Milestones in the Arc of History Towards Justice

January 31st 2013

Martin Luther King I have a Dream crowds photogs

Anniversaries are, strictly speaking, not necessary, but neither is art, friendship, or many other of the most important things in life. We observe them by taking time out of the present to remember the past. It is a way of “marking time,” of measuring ourselves against the great and the bad who have foregone us.

​Right now, the Library of Congress is exhibiting drafts of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in his own hand, in honor of its 150th anniversary. I recommend viewing these profound two pages of Lincoln’s cursive, which show us both the boldness and the vulnerability of the greatest of our leaders.

It is hard to believe how long ago it was: not very long at all. A century and a half is, from the perspective of history, or even a lifetime, not much. It is two lifetimes, back to back. In the course of human history, it is a dream of a shadow; from the perspective of universal history, it is nothing at all. Read more ..


Arts in America

Django Unchained: A White Abolitionist View of American History

January 31st 2013

Django Unchained still photo
Jamie Foxx as Django Freeman in Django Unchained

No one could possibly mistake Quentin Tarantino for William Lloyd Garrison, but the director's Django Unchained nevertheless belongs to the tradition of antebellum white abolitionism. The film powerfully evokes a South, and a people, entirely under the sway of slaveholders' sadistic passions. This intellectual lineage explains why its depiction of slavery is so potent, and so wrong.

At the film's core is an abolitionist representation of slavery as despotic, unbridled cruelty. As a consequence, Django does something no American film has done before: it places the experience of terror -- as a structural, daily, lived reality -- at the center of the experience of slavery. Horror films take latent fears and embody them in fearsome physical form; Django is, in this sense, a horror movie about slavery. It transforms slave society's overhanging threat of violence into actual monsters, most centrally the terrifying figure of planter Calvin Candie and the legion of white minions who collaborate and salivate along with him. Read more ..


Book Review

Sasha and Emma: The Uncertain Odyssey of Two Celebrated Anarchists

January 31st 2013

Sasha and Emma

Sasha and Emma: The Anarchist Odyssey of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman. Paul & Karen Avrich. Harvard. 2012.

Years ago Paul Avrich, my high school classmate and later a colleague in a college where he was a professor and I an adjunct, invited me to spend an evening with an aging group of Jewish anarchists. At the gathering a woman told me that other than Eleanor Roosevelt, the country’s most remarkable woman had been Emma Goldman. Ahrne Thorne agreed. He was the last editor of the anarchist “Freie Arbeiter Shtimme” (Free Worker’s Voice, it was closed in 1977 after 87 years of publication when it had 1,700 subscribers). He said he had met Alexander Berkman and knew Emma Goldman well. It was hard for me to imagine these elderly men and women as threats to the Republic. They were also despised by Communists because anarchists had the temerity to reject their Soviet paradise.

These old men and women had devoted their lives to an unachievable, impractical utopia where governments would play minimal roles and be supplanted by voluntary communes or, as an old anarchist tune went, “there is no supreme savior, neither god nor king nor leader.” On that long ago evening they reminisced about strikes, picket lines, prison terms and battles against an oppressive American state as well as Soviet Russia, which had betrayed their long sought for “revolution.” The names of Goldman and her occasional lover and lifelong friend Berkman, known as Sasha, were lovingly recalled. “Red” Emma as her critics called her, loved America but was deported and died in exile in Canada. Ironically, her family needed governmental permission for her body to be returned and buried in the same Waldheim Cemetery in Chicago as the executed late nineteenth-century Haymarket anarchists. Sasha, seriously ill, committed suicide in France and was buried there. Read more ..


The Nuclear Edge

North Korea is Ferocious, Weak and Crazy

January 31st 2013

North Korean soldier and goat friends

North Korea's state-run media reported Sunday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered the country's top security officials to take "substantial and high-profile important state measures," which has been widely interpreted to mean that North Korea is planning its third nuclear test. Kim said the orders were retaliation for the U.S.-led push to tighten U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang following North Korea's missile test in October. A few days before Kim's statement emerged, the North Koreans said future tests would target the United States, which North Korea regards as its key adversary along with Washington's tool, South Korea.

North Korea has been using the threat of tests and the tests themselves as weapons against its neighbors and the United States for years. On the surface, threatening to test weapons does not appear particularly sensible. If the test fails, you look weak. If it succeeds, you look dangerous without actually having a deliverable weapon. And the closer you come to having a weapon, the more likely someone is to attack you so you don't succeed in actually getting one. Developing a weapon in absolute secret would seem to make more sense. When the weapon is ready, you display it, and you have something solid to threaten enemies with. Read more ..


Libya on Edge

Libya's Growing Fears of Spill-Over from Violent Mali

January 31st 2013

Tureg

With French-backed government forces advancing in northern Mali after seizing the Islamist rebel strongholds of Timbuktu and Gao, leaders in neighboring Libya are raising the alarm, warning of a spillover that could see rebel Tuareg and al-Qaeda-linked fighters fleeing into Libyan territory.

A mass exodus of Malian rebels would pose a severe challenge for Libya’s new rulers. They are already struggling to contain security problems of their own, including Islamist-related violence in the country’s second city of Benghazi, which has gone through a series of bombings and assassinations in recent weeks.

Last week’s attack on a natural gas plant in Algeria – mounted by al-Qaida militants opposed to the French intervention in Mali – has heightened fears in North African and Western capitals of more attacks by jihadists on energy facilities in Mali’s neighbors. Read more ..


Mali on Edge

No Negotiations Planned with Islamist Insurgents of Mali

January 31st 2013

3 Taureg Fighters

Mali's interim President Dioncounda Traore is ruling out dialogue with Islamist militants who took control of the country's north, saying he is only open to talks with secular Tuareg rebels. The Tuaregs first launched a rebellion in the north last January seeking autonomy, but later joined the Islamists to seize control of the region following a coup that toppled the government. The Islamists later pushed the Tuaregs aside and moved to impose strict Islamic law.

Traore told French radio on January 31 the only group he would consider negotiating with is the Tuareg National Movement for Liberation of Azawad, or MNLA. He says it must first drop its territorial claims. French-led forces were reported in control of three key towns in northern Mali  on January 30, after al-Qaida-linked militants fled their last stronghold and escaped into a vast desert region with their weapons. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Russia's Interests and Syria's Turmoil in the Mideast

January 31st 2013

Assad and Putin Syria and Russia

On January 20, the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry announced that it will evacuate approximately one hundred Russian citizens from Syria, mostly women and children. However, the ministry downplayed the importance of the evacuation, with those leaving representing a mere fraction of the many thousands of Russian citizens residing in Syria. Indeed, the hopes that President Vladimir Putin will finally budge on his support for the Syrian regime are unwarranted. Russia is unlikely to change its position given that its interests in Syria are not only military and strategic, but also commercial and cultural.

Cultural connections

Moscow has counted an Assad-led Syria as its closest ally in the Arab world for more than forty years. During the Cold War, many Russians moved to Syria and, in turn, many Syrian elites studied at top Russian schools such as Moscow State University and the Peoples’ Friendship University. Intermarriage occurred in both countries. The Soviet leadership, for its part, sought to groom top students from allied countries whom it could later rely on for support. Because Syria was key to the Soviet position in the Middle East, Syrians were referred to as “allies” and “friends” in public broadcasts and statements. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Russia Denounces 'Unprovoked Attacks' Allegedly by Israel on Syria Targets

January 31st 2013

Jet air show

Russia expressed concern over a January 30 aistrike, presumably carried out by Israeli air forces inside Syria. The Russian Foreign Ministry says such action, if confirmed, amounts to "unprovoked attacks" against a sovereign nation, in violation of the United Nations charter.

Russia's foreign ministry said it was "deeply concerned" by the Syrian claims and that it was taking "urgent measures" to investigate. The strident statement said, "If this information is confirmed, then we are dealing with unprovoked strikes against targets located on the territory of a sovereign state, which brazenly infringes on the UN Charter and is unacceptable, no matter the motive used for its justification." 

Differing accounts of the January 30 airstrike have emerged, with Syrian authorities saying Israeli jets fired on a military research facility near Damascus, killing two people.
Israeli and Western news media reported an Israeli airstrike at a different location, close to the Syrian-Lebanese border. They say the target was a convoy delivering missile parts to Hezbollah, the strongly anti-Israel Shi'ite militia based in Lebanon. Read more ..


The Way we Are

Classical Sounds Invade Country Music Capital

January 30th 2013

Nashville Symphony

Nashville, Tennessee, home to the famous Grand Ole Opry, is perhaps best known as America's country music capital. But you're just as likely to hear the sounds of a violin as a fiddle because the world’s largest classical music label has its North American headquarters right on Nashville’s doorstep.

Naxos Records is located in Franklin, Tennessee, just south of Nashville. The label has more than 7,000 recordings in its catalog, and stores more than four million CDs in the warehouse. Shrink-wrapped CDs and music DVDs are stacked on row after row of shelves 10 meters high and 100 meters long.

Naxos ships 1,000 customer orders from its Tennessee warehouse every day. It’s quite an accomplishment for a 25-year-old company that began life as a budget label with a reputation for recording minor works by obscure orchestras. Naxos Records is located in Franklin, Tennessee, stores more than four million CDs in its North American warehouse alone. Read more ..


Broken Bookselling

Barnes and Noble Prepares to Collapse by a Third

January 30th 2013

Barnes-and-Noble store shot

Stung by dysfunctional inventory and warehouse policies and a failing model, America's greatest book chain--Barnes and Noble--is preparing to shutter a third of its stores. Some 200 stores are slated to disappear in the coming years, according to Mitchell Klipper, chief executive of Barnes & Noble's retail group. Klipper claimed the chain would only close "about 20 stores per year" over a decade. But many observers expected the fast shrinkage period to be accelerated to just a few years--if not sooner. Moreover, the remaining shelf space, experts predict, will be devoted less and less to books, and more to widgets, chocolates, and cuddly dolls.

The chain was devastated by a dismal holiday period drop of approximately 12 percent in all three of its sales vectors: store traffic, web orders, and Nook.

Headlines predicting doom are now common. Fortune was typical when its headline declared: "Barnes and Noble's Hardest Lesson: It Pays to be Small." The Los Angeles Times blasted this headline: "The Incredible Shrinking Barnes & Noble." The Atlantic blared: "Welcome to the End of Barnes & Noble as You Knew It." Barnes and Noble has closed so many prominent stores that one newspaper local Washington, D.C. area newspaper actually headlined that its store might remain open: "Barnes & Noble Expects to Stay Open in Bethesda." Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Newspaper Proves Hagel in 2003 Insisted that Israel Keeps ‘Palestinians Caged Up Like Animals’

January 30th 2013

Chuck Hagel

The Washington Free Beacon has reported quotations by Defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel that reflect flammable opinions that minimize the actions of terrorists and castigate Israel in no uncertain terms. Read the artcle here. Using videotaped speeches, the Beacon countered Hagels' protests of "what he called the “completely distorted” record on Israel that his critics are promoting in an interview earlier this month with his hometown newspaper." The Beacon wrote: "The former Nebraska senator said an accurate assessment would show “unequivocal, total support for Israel.” Yet a decade earlier, the same newspaper–the Lincoln Journal Star–quoted Hagel making a startling accusation against Israel in a Jan. 12, 2003 article. Israel, Hagel declared, was “keep[ing] Palestinians caged up like animals.” Read more ..


Oil Addiction

White House Targets Oil-and-Gas Tax breaks

January 30th 2013

Oil Barrels

The White House took jabs at oil-and-gas subsidies Wednesday, calling for an end to the incentives as part of a deal to avoid automatic spending cuts from sequestration. “The idea that you need to subsidize an industry that has enjoyed record profits — that taxpayers have to subsidize it — just doesn’t make sense in a time when we have to make choices about how best to use our resources,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.

Unless Congress acts to stop sequestration, federal spending will be slashed by about $110 billion on March 1, with half the total coming from the Pentagon. On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made similar comments about the subsidies. The remarks indicate Democrats plan to take another stab at axing the subsidies, this time as part of an effort to dodge the automatic spending cuts, after legislative efforts failed last Congress.

“There are many low-hanging pieces of fruit out there that Republicans have said they agreed on previously. I’m not going to go into detail, but one of them, of course, is deal with oil companies,” Reid said Tuesday. These swipes at the nearly $4 billion in annual incentives awarded to the oil-and-gas industry are not new. Read more ..


Mali on Edge

Mali's Star Musicians Unite Against Islamists

January 30th 2013

Mopti market

Sheltering from the rain in his London hotel room, Malian musician Bassekou Kouyate is a long way from his Bamako home. Casually plucking the strings of his ngoni – a West African ancestor of the banjo – his thoughts turn to his desert homeland.

"When you put on a concert now in Mali, al Qaida could plant bombs among lots of people... they could plant bombs there to cause an explosion," he says, explaining why Malian authorities subsequently banned all such events for three months.

Determined to offer the world a glimpse of the place beyond daily headlines of atrocity and unrest, though, Kouyate and his band, Ngoni Ba, recently held two performances in Britain as part of a broader European tour. Entitled "Sahara Soul," the shows saw Ngoni Ba perform alongside fellow Malian Touareg band "Tamikrest," from the country's Islamist-held north, and Sidi Toure, who hails from the recently, militarily liberated city of Gao. Read more ..


Economic Jihad

Brooklyn College’s Anti-Israel Hatefest

January 30th 2013

Alan Dershowitz lecture

Why is Brooklyn College’s political science department officially sponsoring a one-sided event that calls for divestment, boycotts and sanctions against Israel?

On Feb. 7, the college will be hosting a “forum” at which speakers will call for Israel to be singled out among all the nations of the world for this form of delegitimation. There will be no one presenting any other position.

Among the sponsors of this propaganda hate orgy are the usual anti-Israel groups, such as Students for Justice in Palestine. That is not surprising. What is shocking and wrong is that an academic department of a City University of New York senior college is also an official sponsor. Read more ..


China on Edge

Pollution in China Goes 'Off the Charts'

January 30th 2013

China Traffic

The stifling pollution currently plaguing much of northeastern China has reached levels so high it is beyond the measurements used in the U.S. to chart air quality.

“What Beijing is experiencing–and even worse in the provinces–is off the charts from anything we experience in the United States, and likely more than anything we’ve experienced in our country’s history,” said John Walke, the director of the Climate & Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental group. Read more ..


The New Egypt

Failure Is an Option in Egypt

January 30th 2013

Flames in Cairo

It is an axiom of the bi-partisan foreign policy consensus that failure in Egypt is not an option. America has invested nearly $60 billion in aid to Egypt since Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1977, and the Egyptian-American relationship has remained a pillar of U.S. foreign policy for nearly half a century. As Sen. John McCain said in a Jan. 17 statement on behalf of a Congressional delegation in Cairo,

Among our group here, Democrats and Republicans, there is plenty that we disagree about. But when it comes to Egypt, we largely speak with one voice. We all believe that what happens in Egypt will have a decisive impact on the future of this entire region. We all believe in the continued importance of the U.S.-Egypt relationship. We were all early supporters of the peaceful aspirations of the Egyptian people that inspired your revolution nearly two years ago - for democracy, for economic opportunity, for the protection of justice and human rights under the rule of law. And we have come to Cairo with one major message: For us in the United States, especially in the Congress, the promise of Egyptian revolution is the opportunity is has presented us to recast our relationship with Egypt - to make it a truly strategic partnership between our peoples, our nations, and our elected governments, not one that rests narrowly on one person or one party. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Senator Hagel and Nuclear Weapons

January 30th 2013

Chuck Hagel

Critics of Senator Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be Secretary of Defense cite his views on nuclear arms reduction, including his endorsement of a proposal to cut U.S. nuclear weapons to 900 and his membership in Global Zero, as potentially dangerous to U.S. security. Are Hagel’s positions really over the top?

The senator endorsed a proposal to reduce to 900 total nuclear weapons in a 2012 Global Zero paper. That might be too low for the next step after the New START Treaty. In a recent book—The Opportunity: Next Steps in Reducing Nuclear Arms—Mike O’Hanlon and I proposed a new U.S.-Russia treaty to cut each side to 2000-2500 total nuclear weapons, in large part because we doubt Moscow would agree to go lower without bringing in third-country nuclear arsenals.

The Global Zero paper called for eliminating all intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and maintaining 450 nuclear weapons deployed on submarine-launched ballistic missiles and at bomber bases, with another 450 weapons held in reserve. I personally would prefer to keep some ICBMs in the force mix. That said, if our nearest peer competitor, Russia, also reduced to 900 total weapons, what would be wrong with the outcome? The United States could still maintain a secure, reliable, effective and powerful nuclear deterrent; each of the 900 weapons would be many times the explosive force of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. Such an agreement, moreover, could offer significant defense budget savings, particularly as we face tough decisions on recapitalizing our strategic nuclear systems. Read more ..


Broken Education

Class Size Tradeoffs in the Court of Public Opinion

January 30th 2013

Chinese-American kids

Budget cuts have caused increases in class size in states across the nation in recent years.  Between 2009 and 2010, the pupil-teacher ratio in the U.S. increased by more than half a student for the first time since the Great Depression.  The nationwide increase is quite small, but some states have experienced larger changes than others.  A notable outlier is California, where the pupil-teacher ratio increased by more than 4 students between 2009 and 2010, an increase of more than 20 percent.

Times of fiscal austerity renew debates about the best way to spend limited educational resources.  Class size is at the center of these debates because the size of the classes in which students are educated is one of the most important drivers of educational costs.  Smaller classes mean that more teachers must be hired and more classrooms built.  Conversely, allowing class sizes to increase can be a way to absorb budget cuts without cutting other programs such as athletics and the arts. Read more ..


Israel's Next Northern War

Did Israel Hit Lebanon or Syria?

January 30th 2013

Jets vapor trail

Whether an Israeli strike against a suspected transfer of missiles to Hezbollah took place within Syrian territory, or over the border in Lebanon, could affect any escalation from the incident. Iran, Israel's arch-foe and one of Damascus's few allies, said on Saturday it would consider any attack on Syria as an attack on itself. During and since Israel's 2006 war with Hezbollah, there have been unconfirmed reports of Israeli strikes on convoys just after they entered Lebanon from Syria.

Israel has long made clear it claims a right to act preemptively against enemy capabilities. Alluding to this, air force chief Major-General Amir Eshel on Tuesday said his corps was involved in a covert and far-flung "campaign between wars". He added, "This campaign is 24/7, 365 days a year," Eshel told an international conference. "We are taking action to reduce the immediate threats, to create better conditions in which we will be able to win the wars, when they happen." Read more ..


Israel's Next Northern War

Israel Reportedly Attacks Arms Convoy on Lebanon-Syria Border--12 Jets Destroy Shipments

January 30th 2013

Israeli Jet Dive Bombing

Unconfirmed reports indicate that Israel attacked an arms convoy traveling from Syria to Lebanon Tuesday night with as many as 12 Israeli jets participating in the raid.

According to Reuters, a "Western diplomat and security sources" said Israel attacked a convoy which may have contained chemical or conventional weapons. "There was definitely a hit in the border area," one security source said. A Western diplomat in the region who asked about the strike said "something has happened", without elaborating. An activist in Syria who works with a network of opposition groups around the country said that she had heard of a strike in southern Syria from her colleagues but could not confirm it. A strike just inside Lebanon would appear a less diplomatically explosive option for Israel to avoid provoking Syrian ally Iran.

Israel has expressed deep concern that chemical and advanced conventional weapons could end up in the hands of Hezbollah, a terror group allied with the terror state Iran. Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said Sunday that an arms transfer to Hezbollah “would be crossing a line that would demand a different approach.” According to multiple sources, Israel sent its national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, to Russia and its military intelligence chief Aviv Kochavi to the United States for consultations. Read more ..


Economic Jihad

Taxpayer Funded BDS at CUNY Is Illegitimate, Racist and Anti-Semitic

January 30th 2013

Boycott Israel

In my 13 years as a trustee of CUNY, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to observe the intellectual corruption and anti-Semitism of many in America’s academic elite. I hear about it from trustees in colleges and universities across America and it’s become more common at CUNY, with Brooklyn College as an unexpected hotbed. The current plans for an anti-Israel BDS conference with the school’s co-sponsorship by the political science department raises new questions.

If an individual professor engages in selective hatred of Israel and the resulting intimidation of Jewish students, that is bad enough. If branches of the MSA (Muslin Students Association, all chapters of which are affiliated with ISNA – the Islamic Society of North America, which is the Muslim Brotherhood on our soil), that is bad enough. I’ll be damned however, if I were to be silent on the official co-sponsorship by an entire academic department of a Nuremberg-like conference on a CUNY campus. This is a misuse of tax-levy funds. This is NOT an academic conference in any sense. Furthermore, other than through the intimidation of liberal arts professors who might support Israel, how do we know that EVERY professor in that department supports this drivel? Read more ..


The Edge of Health

The Heart Ache of Infertility in Ghana

January 29th 2013

Nigerian baby with cap

In Ghana, infertility is rarely discussed nor is treatment sought, despite a high priority placed on having a family. The issue causes heartbreak in most Ghanaian homes, where children are seen as a means of preserving family names and traditions. They also serve as economic support for aging parents. Unfortunately, women are mostly blamed for childlessness in marriages, irrespective of the underlying causes.

“In our communities, a woman who does not have a child of her own is treated as an outcast," says Jonathan Adabre, a policy analyst at the Integrated Social Development Center (ISODEC). "They are treated with scorn, they are insulted, and they can’t speak their mind in public.” Read more ..


Palestine on Edge

Welcome to State of Palestine?

January 29th 2013

PLO Flags

Nationalism and peoplehood are just part of the ingredients of statehood, or rather state building. Pronouncing their existence does not actually connote that the work is actually being done. The best illustration of this imaginary state is the newly inaugurated Palestinian one, as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas officially changed his government's name to "the State of Palestine" in an attempt to implement, albeit cosmetically, the recent UN vote granting it status of nonmember observer state.

Therefore, US United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice unequivocally stated that the US does not recognize the "State of Palestine" and that "the only way to establish a real Palestinian state is through the painstaking work of direct negotiations on final-status issues, without preconditions, between the Israelis and Palestinians." Yet, the question of what stands behind this declaration still remains. Read more ..


Authors on Tour

Edwin Black at Florida Atlantic University-Jupiter Chronicles How British Petroleum Made the Modern East

January 29th 2013

Edwin Black

Bestselling author Edwin Black will chronicle the complex saga of how the oil giant British Petroleum invented the modern conflict-ridden Middle East at a Florida Atlantic University presentation 7 PM, February 5, at the Elinor Bernon Rosenthal Lifelong Learning Complex, John D. MacArthur Campus, Florida Atlantic University. The event, Petropolitics, Oil and the Middle East, caps a day of "oil and history" events with the author who first coined the term "petropolitics" in 2005. 

The author says the lynchpin of BP’s statecraft in the Mideast was the legendary but secret pact known as “The Redline Agreement.” Black was the first to publish the secret agreement in his recent critically acclaimed book, “British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement: The West's Secret Pact to Get Mideast Oil.” The author was granted extraordinary unrestricted access to BP’s corporate archives where he uncovered the documents.

“The story of the Redline Agreement, the West’s secret pact to get Mideast oil,” says Black, “is a tortuous international escapade that travelled through World War I, the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and a tense story of greed and personal conflict to secure control of Mideast oil fields, and the pipelines to carry the crude that were laced across Palestine and Syria.” The Washington Post, speaking of his historical research, said, “Black’s impressive analysis, which included looking at more than 50,000 original documents and hundreds of scholarly books and articles ... explains why the West's record in the region so complicates nation-building there today ... Many readers may find the breadth of analysis too ambitious.” See more information about the Redline Agreement here, and a the book trailer here.

The main evening event follows two campus sessions for students. A morning session "The History of Oil Addiction and a Plan for Interruption" is based on the award-winning bestseller Internal Combustion--How Corporations and Governments Addicted the World to Oil and Derailed the Alternatives. Internal Combustion won four major editorial awards: Best Book by American Society of Journalists and Authors, a Rockower, the Green Globes, and the Thomas Edison Award. See more information about Internal Combustion here. Read more ..


Pakistan on Edge

Pakistan Women Decry Lack of Safe Public Transport

January 29th 2013

Bus decorated

Barely one-fifth of Pakistan's women work in paid jobs, according to the International Labor Organization. The group says a lack of safe, secure public transportation is one of the reasons even skilled and educated women are unable to break out of a cycle of grinding poverty.

Covered in the traditional headscarf as she waits in Islamabad's crowded Abpara market, nurse Farzana Liaqat says women don't feel safe using public local buses, and often have to wait hours for a seat. In Pakistan, typically the two front seats next to the driver are reserved for women. The rest of the bus is for the men.

Syed Saad Gilani, who has studied the question of decent public transport for women for the ILO, says women complain of being inappropriately touched, pushed and humiliated on buses. Farzana Liaqat says there's not much women can do about getting harassed. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Oil Industry Stages Another Sham Anti-Ethanol Press Conference

January 29th 2013

Oil Barrels

This morning, the American Petroleum Institute held their latest telephone press conference in their continuous attempt to undermine any alternative fuel solutions and keep us addicted to gasoline.

The information released by the API today during the press conference added nothing new or significant in their fallacious assault on ethanol…except one thing. The two presenters took on the surprisingly conciliatory pretense of “having nothing against ethanol.” They went so far as to say that there are fine “blending qualities” about ethanol.

They just don’t want it living in their neighborhood, so to speak.

API did what they have done for decades: they made up lies and insinuations, and they mischaracterized ethanol. To listen to them, anyone would think that vehicles that run on gasoline never experience any engine breakdowns or system failures, and that fuel pumps, fuel lines, pistons and cylinder walls only ever show signs of wear if alcohol somehow gets into the fuel system. They warned about consumers experiencing roadside breakdowns and costly repairs because of E15 use. What? Are they suggesting that the millions of vehicles that have broken down over the past 100-years only broke down because they used fuel other than gasoline? Read more ..


Palestine on Edge

Hamas's Talibanization of the Gaza Strip

January 29th 2013

Palestinian Authority police

Those who thought that Hamas would ever establish a modern and liberal regime in the Gaza Strip received another reminder this week of how the radical Islamist movement is pursuing its effort to create a Taliban-style entity in the territory that has been under its control since 2007. The reminder came in the form of a decision taken by the Al-Aqsa University administration in the Gaza Strip to force female students to dress in accordance with Islamic teachings.

This means that all female students would be required to wear the hijab or niqab which cover their heads and faces. This latest measure is part of a Hamas campaign aimed at "inculcating [Islamic] values and virtues" in the Gaza Strip, Hamas officials explained. As part of this campaign, Hamas last week imposed a ban on low-waist trousers, Western-style haircuts and tight gowns. Read more ..


The Arab Winter of Rage

As Goes Egypt, So Does the Rest of the Arab Spring

January 29th 2013

Jump at Cops

The U.S. appears to acknowledge the economic and political mess that the last two years have brought to the Arab world and Africa generally in high-flown rhetoric devoid of reference to American interests. But things appear to be getting much worse quickly.  We have been watching it accelerating in Libya and Syria, the Maghreb and Sahel, and now in Arab-Spring “poster-child” Egypt.

Charles Holmes, writing for Foreign Policy, calls what’s going on “a confrontation with modernity.” Arab regimes have been repressing political opposition for a very long time, and neither Arab nationalism nor Arab socialism or Baathism has yielded an antidote to the region’s economic primitivism and potential for violence created by economic failure. Holmes likes to blame former Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser (1956-1970), and sees Morsi’s regime as the end of the line for all things Nasserite. He may be right in a way, but Morsi’s imposition of Shari’a, is unlikely to be challenged simply for being “unmodern.” Read more ..


The North Korean Threat

Ferocious, Weak and Crazy: The North Korean Strategy

January 29th 2013

Kim Jong-Un

North Korea's state-run media reported Sunday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered the country's top security officials to take "substantial and high-profile important state measures," which has been widely interpreted to mean that North Korea is planning its third nuclear test. Kim said the orders were retaliation for the U.S.-led push to tighten U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang following North Korea's missile test in October. A few days before Kim's statement emerged, the North Koreans said future tests would target the United States, which North Korea regards as its key adversary along with Washington's tool, South Korea.

North Korea has been using the threat of tests and the tests themselves as weapons against its neighbors and the United States for years. On the surface, threatening to test weapons does not appear particularly sensible. If the test fails, you look weak. If it succeeds, you look dangerous without actually having a deliverable weapon. And the closer you come to having a weapon, the more likely someone is to attack you so you don't succeed in actually getting one. Developing a weapon in absolute secret would seem to make more sense. When the weapon is ready, you display it, and you have something solid to threaten enemies with. Read more ..



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