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Archive for November 2013

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Iran's Nukes

Obama's Administration and Iran Policy Dissolves into Mystery

November 30th 2013

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With its attempt to tame the Tehran mullahs, the Obama Administration now adds mystery to its already established credentials for obfuscation and incompetence.

Obfuscation. President Barack Ohama’s special friend and adviser, Iranian-born Valerie Jarrett, apparently, has been secretly creeping around the Persian Gulf for a year holding “unofficial” talks with the Persians, without informing allies including Israel.

Meanwhile, not so secretly, the Obama Administration has reinforced its entreaties to the mullahs by partially defanging the sanctions. As a token of Foggy Bottom’s love and devotion to successful Geneva negotiations at any price (i.e., Laos, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.), the Treasury Department has not been going after new sanctions violations or violators. Read more ..

Uruguay on Edge

Uruguay's First Lady Should Condemn All Perpetrators of Political Violence

November 30th 2013

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In an October 3 interview with The Associated Press, Uruguayan First Lady and former guerrilla activist Lucía Topolansky was asked about the past justification for the execution of unarmed prisoners at the hands of urban guerrillas, known as Tupamaros, during their turbulent uprising against the Uruguayan government in the 1970′s and 1980′s. Topolansky, while being detained at the hands of the military junta (1973-1985), replied, “[h]istory is what it is. We are not going to go back and analyze it.”

While there is no denying that egregious human rights violations were systematically perpetrated by Southern Cone military regimes, Topolansky’s rather lukewarm and evasive remark echoes sentiments often resorted to by supporters of the regional dictatorships that sprung up in order to combat guerrilla movements throughout the 1970′s and 1980′s.  Read more ..

Broken Justice

Los Angeles Contemplates Juvenile Justice Reforms

November 30th 2013

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Responding to demand for reforms, the nation’s largest school police force — in Los Angeles — will stop issuing tickets to students 12-years-old or younger for minor infractions allegedly committed on or near campuses during school hours.

A memo this month to officers from Los Angeles Unified School Police Department Chief Steven Zipperman outlined the new policy, which goes into effect in December. The announcement comes in the wake of community demands for the school district to “decriminalize” minor school disciplinary matters and use more discretion when involving law enforcement personnel.

The post-Newtown push to place more police in schools nationwide makes it more urgent to set standards for officers’ roles, some juvenile court judges and others have warned.

In 2012, a series of reports documented the citations of thousands of kids in middle school and even some elementary schools for disturbing the peace, graffiti, marijuana and cigarette possession, truancy, trespassing, jaywalking and other allegations. Read more ..

After the Holocaust

Nazi Gun Bans Precipitated Infamous 'Kristallnacht'

November 30th 2013

Parabellum Luger 9mm

This month marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Night of the Broken Glass, or Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom against Germany’s Jews in November 1938. Historians have documented everything about it except what made it so easy to attack the defenseless Jews without fear of resistance. Their guns were registered and were easily confiscated in the weeks before the onslaught.

How this was possible can be seen through the eyes of one of the countless victims, who happened to be a renowned German athlete. Alfred Flatow won first place in gymnastics at the 1896 Olympics. In 1932, he dutifully registered three handguns as required by a decree of the Weimar Republic. The decree also provided that, if “public safety” so required, the guns could be confiscated. Officials gullibly neglected to consider that only law-abiding citizens would register, while political extremists and criminals would not. But the interior minister warned that the gun registration records must be carefully secured so they would not fall into the hands of extremist elements. Read more ..

Book Review

Front Porch Politics: A Long Overdue Revisionist History of Politically-Engaged Americans

November 30th 2013

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Front Porch Politics: The Forgotten Heyday of American Activism in the 1970s and 1980s. Michael Stewart Foley. Hill and Wang (2013)

Most Americans tell an identical story of the last decades of the twentieth century: Around 1968 the heightened political activism we call “the Sixties” began to overreach itself. Unreasonable, utopian demands replaced the practical, reasonable goals that had driven the civil rights and student movements of the previous decade. Those excesses, found especially in the rhetoric of “black power,” multiculturalism and universal equality, reportedly provoked a “backlash” of conservative politics. Around 1979 or 1980 that surge of right-wing reaction took over national government, first in the White House and then in Congress. Meanwhile, frustrated with a decade of social and political turmoil, Americans retreated from civic engagement. The “Age of Reagan” thus began.

A good story perhaps, but not one fully supported by the historical record. Using that record, Michael Stewart Foley offers, in this very readable and adept book, an alternative account of the era, one that discards the “two now-tired tales” of rising conservatism and declining civic engagement at the heart of the Reagan-era myth.

Such tales are believable, Foley argues, only if we focus on the period’s electoral and party politics and if we fail to take a closer look at what was happening in America’s neighborhoods, on its city streets, and across its backyard fences as the millennium came to a close. Instead, Foley urges us to turn our gaze downward and outward in order to look more closely at "another kind of political experience,' one that was 'much more likely to propel Americans into action' and one that has had a much greater impact on our political life than generally assumed. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obamacare is Driving Costs Up, Not Down

November 30th 2013


The past two months have laid bare the emptiness of the president’s most prominent Obamacare promises.  Millions are losing the plans they have and like against their wishes, contrary to the president’s oft-repeated pledge.  And those being forced into Obamacare could lose access to the doctors and hospitals they trust, also contrary to assurances from the president.  The evidence demonstrating that these commitments cannot be met is so overwhelming that even the administration has abandoned defense of the president’s previous statements.

But there’s still one claim the Obama administration hasn’t yet admitted will not come true, which is that Obamacare will drive overall health costs down, rather than up.  More precisely, the administration continues to insist that the law is responsible for slowing the pace of rapidly rising health costs and will continue to slow the growth of such costs in the future, with great economic benefits for families and the entire country. Read more ..

Broken Economy

Equity, Not Inflation, Drives Innovation and Growth

November 30th 2013

One Million Dollars

It has finally dawned on left-leaning economists like Paul Krugman and Larry Summers that the U.S. economy is not suffering from a temporary lull in demand but rather from a structural problem that yields slower growth from a permanently lower base. If this economic outlook is correct, and there is plenty of evidence that it is, there is little reason for Keynesian stimulus, which sacrifices long-term growth to avoid permanent damage from a temporary lull in demand. When a slowdown is structural, as it is today, the damage from economic displacement is unavoidable. If government spending could permanently grow an economy, Europe, especially Southern Europe, would have proven to be one of the faster growing economies in the world, rather than the opposite.

Paul Krugman correctly notes that savings now outstrip the need for investment, but mistakenly attributes the reason to slowing population growth. The notion that all investment waits for growing demand is extreme. Today, innovation drives growth. Investments in innovation create value independent of population growth and force competitors to respond in kind in order to avoid losses and preserve their profits. Read more ..

America's Darkest Edge

Deadline Looms on Undetectable Guns

November 30th 2013

Beretta 90TWO

Guns that cannot be detected by X-ray machines will no longer be banned if Congress does not renew the decades-old prohibition by Dec. 9.

The 1998 Undetectable Firearms Act will sunset that day, ending the prohibition at a time when new technology has made it easier than ever before to manufacture plastic guns with 3-D printers. Gun control activists warn that a lapse would allow anyone with a few thousand dollars to build a homemade gun that would be undetectable at airports, government buildings or schools.
That threat was little more than “science fiction,” when Congress overwhelmingly backed the ban 25 years ago,” said Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who is pressing legislation to renew the law. “We didn’t think it would be a good idea to let the bad guys get a gun through metal detectors,” Israel said. Read more ..

Broken Government

D-Day for HealthCare.gov Fixes

November 30th 2013

No Obamacare

Today marks the deadline for federal health officials to fix massive problems with ObamaCare’s enrollment website.

Meeting the Nov. 30 deadline would provide a major boost for the administration, which has been mired in unprecedented conflict over its healthcare rollout for two straight months. It would also help push back against criticism surrounding the administration's decision to delay the law's online sign-up system for small businesses.

Another month of serious problems at HealthCare.gov would be disastrous. Without a smoothly running site, it will be difficult for the administration to enroll the millions of people necessary for stability on the new insurance exchanges. A paltry enrollment number would likely raise next year's prices on the marketplaces and cause insurers to withdraw their plans. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Reading Karzai's Mind

November 30th 2013

Obama - Karzai

A contentious security deal between Afghanistan and the United States looked all but signed.

The Loya Jirga, a key national gathering of Afghan elders, had given its unanimous backing. All that was left was for both parliament and Afghan President Hamid Karzai to approve it.

But Karzai has stubbornly refused to sign the deal, a move that has infuriated Washington and baffled many Afghans. Here are several reasons why Karzai might be dragging out the process:

Reason No. 1: Karzai Thinks He Has Leverage
Karzai has played a high-stakes game over the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) -- making new demands, breaking promises, criticizing Washington, and defying the wishes of the Loya Jirga.

He says he will only sign the deal after April’s Afghan presidential election -- and only if his new terms are met. These include the release of all Afghan prisoners held in the U.S.-run detention center at Guantanamo Bay and a complete halt to controversial U.S. raids on Afghan homes. Read more ..

The Way We Are

From Yurts To Kimchi, Protecting The World's 'Intangible' Cultures

November 30th 2013

Brazilian Amazonian people

Seventy-year-old Kakesh Jumabai-Kyzy has spent her entire life working with felt.

The mother of eight lives in the mountainous Kyrgyz area of At-Bashy, where many families still tend flocks of sheep that provide the warm, fluffy wool that Jumabai-Kyzy transforms into traditional Kyrgyz clothing and the colorful felt rugs called shyrdaks.

"I learned carpet-making from my mother, and after that I continued working by myself. I make yurts, shyrdaks, kementais (wool coats for men), and kalpaks (national wool hats)," Jumabai-Kyzy says. "Dozens of my items have been sold abroad. But only my younger daughter-in-law and one of my own daughters are continuing my craft. My other children didn't learn it."

Jumabai-Kyzy is one of a dwindling number of artisans skilled in making shyrdaks and alakiyiz, an appliqued felt carpet. Kakesh Jumabai-Kyzy, a 70-year-old craftswoman living in Kyrygyzstan's remote At-Bashy region, collecting the dried wool she uses to make felt for traditional shyrdak and alakiyiz carpets. Read more ..

Ancient Days

Palatial Wine Cellar in Israel may be World's Oldest

November 30th 2013

A team of American and Israeli researchers has unearthed what could be the largest and oldest wine cellar in the Near East. The group made the discovery at the 75-acre Tel Kabri site in Israel, the ruins of a northern Canaanite city that dates back to approximately 1700 B.C.

The excavations at the vast palace of the rulers of the city are co-directed by Eric H. Cline of the George Washington University (GW), and Assaf Yasur-Landau of the University of Haifa, with Andrew Koh of Brandeis University as associate director. As researchers excavated at the site, they uncovered a three-foot-long jug, later christened "Bessie."

"We dug and dug, and all of a sudden, Bessie's friends started appearing—five, 10, 15, ultimately 40 jars packed in a 15-by-25-foot storage room," said Dr. Cline, chair of GW's Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations within the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. Read more ..

The Healthy Edge

The Sea Offers New Developments to Improve Human Bone Grafting

November 30th 2013

Sea coral could soon be used more extensively in bone grafting procedures thanks to new research that has refined the material's properties and made it more compatible with natural bone.

By partially converting calcium carbonate―found in the exoskeleton of sea coral―into coralline hydroxyapatite (CHA), the refined material, called coralline hydroxyapatite/calcium carbonate (CHACC), has been shown to 'considerably improve' the outcome of bone grafts in 16 patients.

The results of the small clinical study, showed that bone healing was observed in each of the patients after four months and that the CHACC had fully biodegraded after two years. CHA derived from sea coral has been used for many years as a successful bone graft material; however, its use has been limited to specific bones because it does not fully biodegrade. Read more ..

Broken Government

A Watershed Moment for the Obama Administration and Healthcare

November 30th 2013

Today marks the deadline for federal health officials to fix massive problems with ObamaCare’s enrollment website.

Meeting the Nov. 30 deadline would provide a major boost for the administration, which has been mired in unprecedented conflict over its healthcare rollout for two straight months. It would also help push back against criticism surrounding the administration's decision to delay the law's online sign-up system for small businesses.

Another month of serious problems at HealthCare.gov would be disastrous. Without a smoothly running site, it will be difficult for the administration to enroll the millions of people necessary for stability on the new insurance exchanges.

A paltry enrollment number would likely raise next year's prices on the marketplaces and cause insurers to withdraw their plans. It would also take a political toll on Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections, when ObamaCare is already expected to be a major issue. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Human Rights Groups Criticize U.S. Drone Strikes

November 29th 2013

MQ-1 Predator Drone

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW), two influential human rights organizations, released separate reports on Tuesday criticizing the Obama administration's use of drones in the fight against al Qaeda terrorists. The reports detail instances of where secret drone strikes killed civilians and violated international law in Pakistan and Yemen.

Amnesty International's investigation into nine strikes in Pakistan's North Waziristan region between January 2012 and August 2013 finds civilians were disproportionately killed by U.S. drone attacks. In one incident, Amnesty reported that the U.S. killed 18 laborers as they waited to eat dinner. According to locals, who often fear of reprisals from Taliban in the area, the men were not engaged in militant activities. Amnesty believes more justification, other than "association" with a terrorist group, is needed to carry out a strike. "[We have] serious concerns that this attack violated the prohibition of the arbitrary deprivation of life and may constitute war crimes or extrajudicial executions," said the report. HRW focused on six drone strikes in Yemen in which 57 civilians were killed. Read more ..

Broken Bookselling

Faltering Barnes and Noble Nook Revenue Drops Again--This Time by 32%

November 29th 2013

Barnes-and-Noble store shot

On Christmas morning children will unwrap their gifts to find a shiny new tablets and e-readers, but this year the Nook is not likely to be one of them. Revenues for Barnes and Noble’s Nook e-reader division went down 32 percent to $109 million, according to its most recent earnings report. That’s not good for a business that it competing against both Amazon’s Kindle and the general tablet market.

Barnes and Noble only sold $51 million worth of the e-readers, which in itself represents a fall of 41 percent year over year.

The company has otherwise suffered personnel losses while dealing with its Nook failures. In July, then chief executive William Lynch quit after having served the company for three years. He left saying that he believed there was a good executive team in place and that he looked “forward to the many innovations the company will be bringing to its million of physical and digital media customers in the future.” Read more ..

The Way We Are

The Curse of Longevity

November 28th 2013


The Social Security Act was passed in 1935 guaranteeing retirement pensions to all Americans over the age of 65. Sounds like a good deal… except for the fact that the average American life expectancy back in 1935 was 61.7 years. FDR and his administration were as far-sighted as any politician in America, meaning not-at-all. Everything was supposed to remain the same so their plan would work perfectly -- get the young and poor to pay for the federal pensions of the old and wealthy.

As time marched on, access to food and healthcare, as well as the automation of labor, granted longevity to even the poorest in America. In 2010, the average lifespan was 78.7 years. The number of centenarians (people over 100 years old) in the US that year was more than 53,000. Interestingly enough, there were more centenarians in 2010 then there were Social Security recipients in 1937, the first year benefits were distributed. Those first recipients received a total of $1.278 million in 1937. The Class of 2010 centenarians had received no less than $18 billon at the time of the 2010 census. That is $18 billion -- with a B.

There is absolutely no way that FDR thought social security would pay 53,364 people a monthly stipend for over 35 years. Less than 1 percent of the U.S. population was 65 or older in 1940; by 2011, that figure had exceeded 18 percent. To give those percentages a number, 222,488 people in 1940 versus over 56 million in 2011.

The lifespan of the average American in 1935 was already unprecedented in the history of the world. In 1900, the average lifespan was 31 years, which was the norm for every advanced civilization at their peaks. Hobbes may have been describing the State of Nature when he said life was “… nasty, brutish, and short,” but it just as much describes life in civilization until the last half of the 20th Century. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Autistic Children Shine on Youth Hockey Team

November 28th 2013

Autistic child

 At ice rinks across America, parents taking their children to hockey practice are a common sight. Many think it not only helps their children stay fit, but also teaches important life lessons, like the value of teamwork. In Rockville, Maryland, near Washington, D.C., a special group of young players has an inspiring story to tell.

On a recent Saturday morning in a quiet neighborhood in Rockville, the Blaisdell family got up before dawn. David Blaisdell was preparing for his son Christopher's weekly hockey practice.

Christopher is 14 years old and plays on a team called the Montgomery Cheetahs. The Cheetahs look no different than young hockey players across the U.S., but their path to the game has been very different. All the players on the team have varying degrees of developmental challenges, including autism. The team was founded in 2006 with only 10 players and two coaches, but now has more than 80 players and a larger coaching staff.  Head Coach David Lucia helped start the team. Read more ..

Destination Virginia

Claude Moore Colonial Farm Steps Back in Time

November 28th 2013

Small Farm

On the outskirts of Washington, there's a place where it seems time has stopped.  Claude Moore Colonial Farm is a U.S. national park in McLean, Virginia, which recreates and reenacts life on a tenant farm around the year 1771.  The vast majority of Virginians at that time were tenant farmers, who grew tobacco to pay their rent and buy food. 

When you visit the Claude Moore Colonial Farm, you step back almost two and a half centuries, to a time when this part of America was under British Rule.

Life was governed by the rhythms of agriculture. People worked from dusk to dawn - and in the colony of Virginia, spent much of their time growing tobacco. The U.S. Park Service created the farm just before the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial celebration.  But facilities manager Jon David Engle says it’s now privately operated - unlike any other national park in the country. Read more ..

The Automotive Edge

Using Moving Cars to Measure Rainfall

November 28th 2013

traffic jam

Drivers on a rainy day regulate the speed of their windshield wipers according to rain intensity: faster in heavy rain and slower in light rain. This simple observation has inspired researchers from the University of Hanover in Germany to come up with 'RainCars', an initiative that aims to use GPS-equipped moving cars as devices to measure rainfall. The most recent results of the project are now published in Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, an open access journal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU).

Rainfall can be very variable across different parts of a region such as Northern Germany. Conventional rain gauges are accurate, but are often distributed too sparsely to capture much of this variation. Having good information about precipitation is important for flood prediction and prevention, for example. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Tajik Authorities Frown On Home Births

November 28th 2013

Newborn baby

Suffering from the highest maternal mortality rate in Central Asia, Tajikistan has embarked on an ambitious plan to improve access to obstetric care. But statistics on home births show the country has a long way to go.

A recent survey found that at least 44 percent of the women who gave birth in Khatlon Province's Yovon district over the past year delivered their babies at home. In nearly half of those cases, the women gave birth without the assistance of a qualified midwife.

Strategia Center, whose survey covered September 2012 to September 2013, earlier identified Khatlon Province as having the highest rates of home births in the country, with about one out of every three women giving birth at home. In the northern province of Sughd, the number stands at about 20 percent, and in the eastern Badakhshan Province, 10 percent. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

How U.S Policy Is Betraying Not Only Israel, but also Sunni Arabs

November 28th 2013

Obama Cairo Speech

In 1948, there were hopes that the Arab-Israeli conflict would be resolved in the long-run. But it wasn’t. In 1967, there was hope that the magnitude of Israeli victory meant that the Arabs would eventually come to terms (Egypt and Jordan did in a way, although the final word has not been written). In 1982, people believed that the conflict could still be solved, but it wasn’t. And finally, during the negotiations from 1993-2000, there were renewed hopes that the conflict would be resolved. It wasn’t.

Today, the conflict is even further from being resolved, especially with the entry of Iran, Islamism, and the radical government in Turkey. Maybe it is time to conclude the Arab-Israeli conflict will never be resolved. There have since been at least three more examples following the same pattern. The first is obviously Iran, its nuclear intentions, its trickery, and its desire to dominate the region. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

The Next Steps for Washington and Tehran in a Nuclear Negotiation

November 28th 2013

What was unthinkable for many people over many years happened in the early hours of Nov. 24 in Geneva: The United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran struck a deal. After a decadelong struggle, the two reached an accord that seeks to ensure that Iran's nuclear program remains a civilian one. It is a preliminary deal, and both sides face months of work to batten down domestic opposition, build convincing mechanisms to assure compliance and unthread complicated global sanctions.

That is the easy part. More difficult will be the process to reshape bilateral relations while virtually every regional player in the Middle East seeks ways to cope with an Iran that is no longer geopolitically encumbered.

The foreign ministers of Iran and the six Western powers that constitute the so-called P-5+1 Group clinched a six-month deal that begins the curtailment of Iran's nuclear program while relaxing as much as $6 billion in sanctions -- basically those embargoes that do not require President Barack Obama to secure approval from Congress. Allowing Iran to enrich uranium to "civilian" levels while making sure the know-how is not diverted to military purposes will be complex. Read more ..

Broken Government

Congressional Democrats Close Ranks with Obama on Healthcare

November 28th 2013

The White House and congressional leadership are urging Democratic lawmakers to highlight ObamaCare success stories in an effort to take the offensive on the healthcare rollout after two months of backpedaling, according to two memos obtained by The Hill.

The memos, one from the Democrats’ messaging arm and one from the White House, advise members on how to establish the narrative that the Affordable Care Act is already working.

“There are actions Democrats can take to address the Republican attacks and go on offense,” reads the memo from the Democratic Policy and Communications Center (DPCC). The memo outlines a compilation of “messaging ideas to highlight the benefits of the ACA and generate positive press and social media coverage.” Read more ..

The Race for Ethanol

Diverting Grain to Ethanol Makes Turkeys More Expensive

November 28th 2013

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Turkey farmers’ feathers are being ruffled by a federal biofuel mandate they say is increasing the cost of the corn they feed their birds and making it harder for them to turn a profit.

Corn that should be going to feed their turkeys is being diverted to produce ethanol, according to the National Turkey Federation, which is increasing corn prices across the board.

“There’s got to be more of a cost that is passed along somehow,” Keith Williams, a spokesman with the trade group, told The Hill. “That’s going to go to the consumer. It’s increasing the food cost.”

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) calls for petroleum refiners to mix a certain amount of biofuel like ethanol, which is made from corn, in with conventional gasoline. Congress created the program in 2005 to reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil, combat climate change and expand the nation's renewable fuels sector. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Reconverting Iran's Enriched Triuranium Octoxide Back into UF6 Feedstock

November 28th 2013

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What do we really know about Iran’s capability to reconvert triuranium octoxide (U3O8) enriched to 20% U-235 back into UF6 feedstock that can be further enriched to produce weapon-grade uranium? Can Iran do it? And if so, how fast? The answer matters considerably, as Iran, Israel, and the P5+1 will make decisions this year, based in part on their assessment of risk, about the fate of current efforts to negotiate a comprehensive crisis settlement.

In the policy world, there are two opposing views being expressed, whether they are informed by the facts on the ground in Iran–or not.

Advocates of stepped-up diplomacy with Iran argue that Iran, by not accumulating 20%-enriched EUP from the Fordo enrichment plant as UF6 but instead converting some of it to U3O8, is signaling to the powers its willingness to compromise and de-escalate the crisis. In U3O8 form, they argue, the material would be less directly usable should Iran want to dash to a bomb, because Iran would have difficulty reconverting the oxide to UF6, especially if the oxide had been fabricated into finished research-reactor fuel. Iran's determined adversaries assert to the contrary that there is no nonproliferation benefit in Iran converting its 20%-enriched Fordo output to U3O8 because Iran could reconvert the material back to UF6 easily and in a hurry. Read more ..

The War on Terror

The Lucrative Business of Funding Terrorism in North Africa

November 28th 2013

Financial resources and funding methods of the North African terrorist organizations have been largely influenced by two factors. The first is their longtime strategic and tactical independence. Despite the fact that several of these organizations emerged in the aftermath of the Afghan conflict, including the historical GSPC – Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (now AQIM), the LIFG and the MICG to name a few, they have mostly followed a regional agenda since their inception.

While traditional financial resources have declined, post 9/11, including support from charities and individual donations, these groups had already shifted to more local sources of revenue generated from various traffics in the Sahara and Sahel regions, the most common being cigarettes, cars and arms. This is not say that charities have disappeared. Qatari and Saudi charities are active in Mali and provided support to the jihadists, especially to Ansar Dine and the Mujao.

Drug trafficking is repeatedly mentioned as a source of revenue for these groups, but various investigations reflect the fact that none of them were directly involved in this traffic. Instead, they indirectly benefited from drug trafficking by receiving payments, protection money, to allow dealers to freely move in the regions they controlled. Read more ..

Broken Government

White House Fears of Website Collapse Causes Delayed Obamacare Marketing

November 27th 2013

The White House is delaying a planned ObamaCare marketing campaign because it remains fearful that a rush of consumers to the troubled HealthCare.gov website would overwhelm the system.

According to a New York Times report on Wednesday, the Obama administration is trying to strike a balance between the push for a diverse pool of healthcare enrollees, and the reality of what the problem-plagued website can handle.

The first month’s enrollment numbers were embarrassingly low because of the website's problems, and the administration needs a diverse group of young and healthy consumers to sign up so premiums don’t spike in 2015. Read more ..

Assertive China

China Warns of Military Action in its Self-Declared Asian Defense Zone

November 27th 2013

China said Wednesday that it would take action against aircraft in its new defense zone based on the threat level.

The comments came a day after two U.S. B-52 bombers flew through the newly defined Chinese air zone in a direct rebuke of Beijing’s claim for the air space. China’s government said it monitored the two bombers and chose not to respond to the move, despite its threat to take defensive measures against unidentified foreign aircraft.
The air space had previously been seen as international space.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said at a briefing Wednesday that the reaction to the U.S. bombers was “in accordance” with its new rules.

It said its response to flights in the air space going forward would depend on “how big the threat was,” The New York Times reported. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama Protects Putin, Assad and Khamene'i

November 27th 2013

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When protests broke out in Syria in late 2011, Russia hoped for a short, nasty war as a matter of Russian national interest -- just enough to put the Muslim Brotherhood and assorted Sunnis in their place. Violence from its own Sunni Muslim population has plagued Russia for decades. Saudi Arabia took over the defeated nationalist Chechen rebellion in the late 1990s, infusing it with money and Islamist overtones, prompting the second Chechen war. More recently, there has been open fighting and rioting in Moscow between Muslims and Slavs.

Iran counted on a short war as well -- something to shore up the Shi'ite crescent from Iran through Iraq to Syria and Lebanon out to the Mediterranean Sea.

It didn't work. Turkey and the Gulf States armed and trained various Sunni militias, including the Free Syrian Army, the Muslim Brotherhood, and "foreign" jihadists of many stripes, including al-Qaeda and Chechens. Keeping Assad armed, fed, and reinforced with Iranian and Hezb'allah troops was an immense drain on the Iranian treasury, already under duress from Western sanctions. More sanctions were brewing in the U.S. Congress, and Iran needed relief at many levels. The question for the Islamic Republic was whether it was possible to protect Assad, put money in the bank, and shore up the Shiite axis without giving up its nuclear program. Read more ..

Antisemitic Europe

How Fear of Muslims Leads to Hatred of Jews in Europe

November 27th 2013

When European history teachers omit the Holocaust from their curriculum, they do not do this because they hate their Jewish students more than their Muslim students. They omit it because they are afraid of their Muslim students. They might also believe they do it to be "nice," but then how come this same "niceness" is not afforded to the Jews?

In the "Stockholm Syndrome," now seen, ironically, in Sweden, victims start bonding with their abusers in the wish that if they share the same values as their abusers, their abusers might stop abusing them. "We must be open and tolerant toward Islam and Muslims because when we become a minority, they will be so toward us." — Jens Orback, former Swedish government minister. Read more ..

Fashion on Edge

In The Land Of Fur Coats, An Embryonic Animal-Rights Movement

November 27th 2013


Alfia Karimova's path to animal-rights activism started when she was shopping online -- for a fur coat.

The 34-year-old woman from the industrial city of Magnitogorsk was already the proud owner of an elegant silver-fox-fur coat. And with winter coming, she was in the market for another, this time mink.

But as she surfed the web for the perfect mink "shuba," she happened across an article describing how some coat makers use animals that have been skinned alive, electrocuted, gassed, confined in small cages, or ensnared in cruel traps. And she was horrified.

"Of course it's a cause of constant shame. How was it possible to live for so many years, never pausing to wonder and understand that what you're consuming is in actual fact perpetuating cruelty and barbarism?" Karimova says. "It's a mystery to me and a shame. It's a reason I want somehow to make up for this guilt and at least do something." Read more ..

Energy Edge

Plasma-Enhanced Combustion Makes Jets Fly Higher, Faster, Longer

November 26th 2013

Mix together air, fuel, and heat and you get combustion, the chemical reaction that powers most engines in planes, trains and automobiles. And if you throw in some ionized gas (plasma), it turns out, you can sustain combustion even in conditions that would otherwise snuff out the reaction: at low air pressure, in high winds or when there's low fuel.

Such plasma-assisted combustion can potentially give an efficiency boost to high-performance aircraft. The technology could help military jets fly at high altitudes, passenger planes and unmanned drones cruise for long distances while conserving fuel, and supersonic jets maintain ignition at breakneck speeds that would normally suffocate flames with fast-flowing air.

Scientists know that by introducing plasma to the reaction – near or at the location where the flame ignites – new chemical species are produced that catalyze combustion. But no one knows precisely what species are involved, what the reactions are, and what their rates are. "It's not well understood at all," said Igor Adamovich of Ohio State University. Read more ..

The Ocean's Edge

Google Earth Images Reveal Unaccounted Fish Catches

November 26th 2013

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Large fish traps in the Persian Gulf could be catching up to six times more fish than what’s being officially reported, according to the first investigation of fish catches based on images recorded from space. Using satellite imagery from Google Earth, researchers at the University of British Columbia estimated that there were 1,900 fishing weirs along the coast of the Persian Gulf during 2005. These weirs may have caught as much as 31,000 tonnes of fish that year. The official number reported by the seven countries in the region to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization was only 5,260 tonnes.

Fishing weirs are semi-permanent fence-like traps that take advantage of tidal differences to catch a wide variety of marine species. Used in Southeast Asia, Africa and parts of North America, some weirs can be more than 100 metres long. Read more ..

The Economic Edge

U.S. Economy May See Continuous Growth for the Next Two Years

November 26th 2013

The U.S. economy will continue its steady climb upward over the next two years, say economists at the University of Michigan. "Washington inflicted quite a bit of short-term damage to the U.S. economy in 2013," said Daniil Manaenkov of the Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics in the U-M Department of Economics.

"Despite a seemingly heavy burden of domestic fiscal austerity and monetary slip-ups, the U.S. economy has demonstrated remarkable resilience. This makes us hopeful that once fiscal headwinds abate, we will see a meaningful acceleration of GDP and payroll job gains."

In their annual forecast of the U.S. economy, Manaenkov and colleague Matthew Hall predict the creation of more than 5 million jobs over the next two years—2.5 million jobs next year and another 2.8 million during 2015, as unemployment falls from 7.1 percent to about 6 percent during that time. Read more ..

The Diplomatic Edge

Secretary Kerry Spells Out the Obama Doctrine for Latin America

November 26th 2013

In a speech delivered on November 18 before the Organization of American States (OAS) and cosponsored by the Inter-American Dialogue, Secretary of State John Kerry did not exactly stun his audience by declaring “the era of the Monroe Doctrine is over.” At best, this grand gesture evoked a somewhat hesitant applause. Could it be that the audience was taken by surprise? After all, just seven months ago, Kerry referred to Latin America as “our back yard.” The use of such language engendered disbelief because this was not the first time a Secretary of State announced a significant shift in US policy towards Latin America. At the 1933 Pan-American Conference in Montevideo, Cordell Hull echoed President Franklin Roosevelt’s good neighbor policy by backing a credo that “No state has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another.” But a long series of US interventions in Latin America has undermined the credibility of that promise and forever placed a burden of proof on any new such declarations of a change of course called for by a United States official. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Obama's Deal with Wayward Iran is a Losing Proposition

November 26th 2013

“Always believe the threats of your enemies, more than the promises of your friends,” Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel has said.

This wise advice is becoming a cold reality for many of America’s longtime allies in the Middle East amid an unprecedented breakdown in U.S. foreign policy and credibility in the region.

Indeed, America’s allies in an extremely volatile part of the world have been left stunned by a foreign policy – from Egypt to Syria and now to Iran -- which has been bumbling at best and damaging at worst. This foreign policy fumble has serious long term implications for U.S. national security.

But today, with Iran within reach of the technical capacity to build a nuclear weapon, the U.S. itself is nearing a point of no return. There is grave concern in Congress, (and across America) that an emerging agreement being brokered by the U.S. and world powers with Iran in Geneva will irrevocably weaken sanctions against Iran without doing anything about the infrastructure of their nuclear program. Read more ..

Broken Government

Obama Faces tough Fight with Supremes over Obamacare Mandate

November 26th 2013

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The Obama administration faces a tough task in convincing the Supreme Court to rule in favor of ObamaCare’s contraception mandate, according to legal experts. They say Chief Justice John Roberts’s court, which upheld the health law in a landmark 2012 decision, has generally set a high bar for limiting religious rights. In addition, Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the court’s swing vote, authored a 1993 decision that exempted a religious group from following laws it said were contradictory with its beliefs.

The Supreme Court announced on Tuesday that it would consider the case, possibly in its spring term. While Hobby Lobby and other businesses opposed to the mandate don’t have a slam dunk case, experts said it will be tough to convince the court that the federal government can order businesses to pay for contraception coverage that goes against their owners' religious beliefs. Read more ..

Film Review

Blue is the Warmest Color: Nothing to See Here, Folks

November 26th 2013

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Blue is the Warmest Color (La vie d'Adèle). Director: Abdellatif Kechiche. Starring: Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos. Length: 90 mins.

One of my favorite recent Guardian headlines — right up there alongside "Why do normal men turn sexist when they get in front of a barbecue?" or "Snowden's revelations must not blind us to government as a force for good" — is this one, to an article by Nick Dastoor: "A single man's guide to seeing Blue Is the Warmest Color." As self-parody, that could have topped even Julie Bindel’s "What straight men don’t understand about lesbians" of a couple of years previous except that, unlike her piece, Mr Dastoor’s turned out to have been a deliberate self-parody. I find that a hopeful sign. If even the unfailingly p.c. Guardian can recognize something of the absurdity in the political controversy surrounding Abdellatif Kechiche’s Palme d’Or-winning movie — which, by the way, the Guardian’s critic absolutely loved — then maybe the islands of sanity in the sea of Media Madness are larger and more accommodating than I have hitherto supposed.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean we can quite ignore the controversy or the politics in order to look at this very pretty and well-made movie as "just" a movie. No more can Mr Kechiche successfully renounce his or his camera’s "male gaze" at the naked bodies of two remarkably attractive young women who are apparently not lesbians in real life but are pretending to be lesbians in the movie. Or, rather, they are pretending to be what he, or they, or even certain authoritative lesbians themselves must imagine "authentic" lesbians to be.

A certain uneasiness on this point was doubtless what led the jury at Cannes, presided over by Steven Spielberg, to award the top prize not just to the director but also to the two young women in question, Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos, both of whom have since criticized Mr Kechiche for mistreating or exploiting them. That criticism is also, I suspect, at least partly politically motivated, since it forestalls any censure of themselves for acting like sexual performing seals at the bidding of a man with a camera. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Obama Modifies Relations with Israelis and Saudis by Negotiating with Iranians

November 26th 2013

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A deal between Iran and the P-5+1 (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) was reached on the night of November 23. The Iranians agreed to certain limitations on their nuclear program while the P-5+1 agreed to remove certain economic sanctions. The next negotiation, scheduled for six months from now depending on both sides' adherence to the current agreement, will seek a more permanent resolution. The key players in this were the United States and Iran. The mere fact that the U.S. secretary of state would meet openly with the Iranian foreign minister would have been difficult to imagine a few months ago, and unthinkable at the beginning of the Islamic republic.

The U.S. goal is to eliminate Iran's nuclear weapons before they are built, without the United States having to take military action to eliminate them. While it is commonly assumed that the United States could eliminate the Iranian nuclear program at will with airstrikes, as with most military actions, doing so would be more difficult and riskier than it might appear at first glance. The United States in effect has now traded a risky and unpredictable air campaign for some controls over the Iranian nuclear program. Read more ..

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