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Archive for October 2013

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Financing the Flames

Financing the Flames on a Scorched Budget

October 31st 2013

Nabi Saleh Villagers with Rocks

Our country is wracked by one budget crisis after another. When the IRS permits an organization to enjoy 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, every American must pay the difference. Knowledgeable tax experts tell us that for every one million dollars in donations received by a 501(c)(3) charity, $440,000 of it is subsidized by US taxpayers. That is why we must ensure that taxpayer dollars going to activities in Israel are working to achieve peace and reconciliation—which remains an American priority in the Middle East.

But now we learn in a powerful new book, Financing the Flames: How Tax-Exempt and Public Money Fuel a Culture of Confrontation and Terrorism in Israel, by New York Times bestselling investigative author Edwin Black, that some of the biggest tax-exempt organizations operating in Israel are doing the opposite. Black cites prominent critics in Israel who say these organizations are devoted not to charitable works but to political turmoil and confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis. And this agitation is powered by US taxpayer money. Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Automated System Promises Precise Control of Medically Induced Coma

October 31st 2013

head injury

Putting patients with severe head injuries or persistent seizures into a medically induced coma currently requires that a nurse or other health professional constantly monitor the patient's brain activity and manually adjust drug infusion to maintain a deep state of anesthesia. Now a computer-controlled system developed by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators promises to automate the process, making it more precise and efficient and opening the door to more advanced control of anesthesia. The team, including colleagues from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), reports successfully testing their approach in animals in the open access journal PLOS Computational Biology.

"People have been interested for years in finding a way to control anesthesia automatically," says Emery Brown, MD, PhD, of the MGH Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine, senior author of the report. "To use an analogy that compares giving anesthesia to flying a plane, the way it's been done is like flying a direct course for hours or even days without using an autopilot. This is really something that we should have a computer doing." Read more ..


Broken Government

Regime Change - Home Edition

October 31st 2013

People lined up for jobs

A poll of 1,504 adult Americans taken nationwide earlier this month (Oct. 9-13) by the respected Pew Research Center found that just 14 percent of us are satisfied with “the way things are going in this country today.”

At about the same time, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found similarly that only 14 percent of U.S. adults feel that “things in the nation are generally headed in the right direction.”

For both organizations, those are historically low figures.
Yes, things have been bad for some time now, but lately they are getting absolutely, positively worse. Let’s be honest — if we saw these sorts of numbers in a developing nation or Third World country, we’d be thinking that regime change or worse lies ahead. Numbers like these signal that a governmental collapse, military coup, civil war or worse could be in the offing. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Time for the American Right to Declare Peace on the US Welfare State

October 31st 2013

American poverty

Are we better off today than we were six years ago? Apparently not. The US Census Bureau finds the pretax income of the median US family nearly 10% lower today — four years into a supposed economic recovery — than at the Great Recession’s start.

Except that alarming statistic on “market income” is deceptive. The federal government’s income definition misses a lot of stuff such as food stamps, subsidized school lunches, Medicare, Medicaid, and Earned Income Tax Credit benefits. Add in all that, factor for taxes, and you’ll find, as e21 economist Scott Winship has, middle-income buying power is essentially back at its 2007 peak — which was an all-time high. “In short, while the middle class—and especially the poor—saw declines in market income after 2007, the safety net appears to have performed just as we would hope, mitigating the losses experienced by households,” Winship concludes. Read more ..


Broken Government

Dems Renew 'Nuclear Option' Talk

October 31st 2013

Capitol Senate

Senate Democrats are again threatening to change Senate rules after Republicans blocked a pair of the president’s nominees on Thursday.

The blockade of two of the president’s picks has renewed talk among Democrats about the “nuclear option," which would change Senate rules to allow a nominee to be confirmed with a majority vote.

Republicans on Thursday blocked motions to end debate on confirming Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) as director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency and Patricia Millett to join the D.C. Circuit Court.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called the obstruction “unprecedented,” and said changes must be made going forward. However, he said he hoped to make those changes “through cooperation” with Republicans.  Read more ..


The Race for Hydro

The Dam that May Damn Egypt’s Future

October 31st 2013

Glen Canyon Dam

In a strange and surprising twist, Egypt says it will consider participating with its neighbour Ethiopia in the construction of the Renaissance Dam, a project which it had staunchly opposed (and even suggested sabotaging).

The dam known formally as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will provide much-needed hydro-power to Ethiopia, but downstream it is expected to change the face of the Mighty Nile and the Fertile Crescent as we know it.

According to Al Monitor, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced that his country welcomes the participation of Egypt and Sudan in the construction of the dam and stressed that his government considers the dam will be jointly owned by Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt. Cairo viewed this statement as a positive step toward reaching a consensus on the Nile project, despite its earlier sharp criticism of it. Read more ..


The Democratic Republic of Congo on Edge

DRC Seeks M23 Rebels’ Extradition from Neighboring Countries

October 31st 2013

Congo M23 Rebels

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) information minister says Kinshasa is seeking the extradition of M23 rebels who fled to neighboring countries following recent clashes with the national army (FARDC).

Lambert Mende says the request is part of a government effort to end armed insurgencies.

“We need to fight impunity among the few [rebels] who have criminal records,” said Mende. “Secondly, we need to give a chance to others who are not criminals to re-insert themselves socially and professionally. This is for us the only way to avoid the restart of insecurity in the region.” Mende’s comments came after the FARDC recaptured the country’s eastern town of Bunagana, one of the last remaining strongholds of the M23 rebels. Read more ..


Broken Government

Virginia Vote Could Send National Message on Political Gridlock

October 31st 2013

capitol building night #2

The political fallout from the recent U.S. government shutdown over a dispute about the Obama administration's health care policy can already be seen in the upcoming election for governor in the U.S. state of Virginia.  In this swing state where neither party can claim an overwhelming majority of support, voters are voicing support for compromise over ideology.

In the Republican leaning town of Culpeper, Virginia, diners at the Frost Cafe like Mike Luhko are still angry over the recent federal government shutdown.  And they want to punish politicians who will not work together for the greater good.

“I’m just like a lot of people.  I hear this from a lot of people.  I’m a sales rep [representative] and I see a lot of people every day and most people are fed up with our president and with this congress and with this state," said Luhko. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Citizen Or Foreign Migrant? In Moscow, The Line Is Often Blurred

October 31st 2013

Migrant Workers

The two men have a lot in common. Both are in their 20s and moved to Moscow in search of a better life. Both face discrimination with employment, encounter harassment from police, and have struggled to find places to live. Neither has many Russian friends.

But there is one important difference between Mirzo Kurbonov and Zubeir (who declined to give his last name). The former is a foreign migrant from Tajikistan, while the latter is a Russian citizen from the North Caucasus. Despite his Russian passport, as an ethnic Ingush living in Moscow Zubeir’s experience is, in many ways, similar to that of an immigrant. He says he feels like an outsider in his own country. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Tehran Softens Image Abroad But Remains Hard-Line At Home

October 31st 2013

Hassan Rowhani

Soft on the outside, hard on the inside. That may be the best way to describe the often startling contrast between Iran's current foreign and domestic policies.

Since taking office in August, President Hassan Rohani has won widespread praise for showing greater flexibility in nuclear talks with the international community.

The praise has come even from countries usually highly skeptical of Iran's readiness to solve the nuclear crisis through negotiations.

As U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said following this month's talks in Geneva between Tehran and the six world powers, "We are at a different point in this with a new government in place, and we are having a level of conversation that is different from what we had in the past." Read more ..


The Edge of Diplomacy

Iraqi Dancers in US on First Hip Hop Diplomacy Tour

October 31st 2013

Iraq Election 2010

A group of Iraqi urban dancers is visiting major U.S. cities this month as part of a first-ever Iraqi hip hop diplomacy tour of the United States. The U.S. government-sponsored tour is the culmination of years of training inside Iraq, where the Kurdish and Arab dancers face tougher conditions to develop their skills than their American counterparts.

Husain Simko is one of the six Iraqi breakdancers bringing their interpretation of the American-originated art of hip hop to U.S. audiences. The tour already has taken them to the cities of Dearborn, Detroit, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, and ends in Boston on October 23-24. Twenty-year-old Husain, who is from the Iraqi Kurdish city of Irbil, showed off some impressive moves when the group performed at Washington D.C.'s Dance Place theater on Saturday.
 
Hip hop beginnings
 
Husain said he first discovered breakdance from U.S. soldiers stationed in Irbil in 2004.
 
"One of the soldiers, he was standing on the car - between all of the kids, he calls me, and says, 'come here, and do the wave move,'" he said. "And I was like, how did this [arm] bone go up?  It was something I didn't know about.  So I just went home and practiced and practiced until 2005," said Husain.
 
Husain joined fellow Kurdish hip hop enthusiast Shalaw in signing up for an Iraqi dance academy launched by U.S. non-profit group American Voices in 2007. Led by executive director John Ferguson, it is the only group coaching Iraq's aspiring hip hop artists. "We put them through a long series of auditions and chose six of the best and most dedicated and most talented dancers to participate in this tour to the United States," said Ferguson.  "It's the very first time any of them have been to America, and the very first time they've participated in a full-length hip hop dance show." Read more ..


Broken Government

U.S. Foreign Policy from the Founders’ Perspective

October 31st 2013

US Capitol through trees

Recently, I discussed how the Founding Fathers might view the American debt crisis and the government shutdown. This week, we consider how the founders might view foreign policy. It was argued that on domestic policy they had clear principles, but unlike their ideology, those principles were never mechanistic or inflexible. For them, principles dictated that a gentleman pays his debts and does not casually increase his debts, the constitutional provision that debt is sometimes necessary notwithstanding. They feared excessive debt and abhorred nonpayment, but their principles were never completely rigid.

Whenever there is a discussion of the guidelines laid down by the founders for American foreign policy, Thomas Jefferson’s admonition to avoid foreign entanglements and alliances is seen as the founding principle. That seems reasonable to me inasmuch as George Washington expressed a similar sentiment. So while there were some who favored France over Britain during the French Revolutionary Wars, the main thrust of American foreign policy was neutrality. The question is: How does this principle guide the United States now? Read more ..


The Race for Solar

BrightSource Builds 121 MW Solar Thermal Baby in Israel

October 30th 2013

BrightSource array

The earth revolves around the sun, and so does the green-tech industry. Some of the earliest pioneers of solar energy started in Israel 30 years ago with the company Luz.

Luz went on to become Luz II, then BrightSource, which is now a US-based solar power company about to flip the switch on a massive 377-megawatt solar thermal farm in the California desert.

And at the start of 2014, the sun and stars will align and a dream will be coming true for Israeli solar pioneers and visionaries like BrightSource Israel CEO Israel Kroizer.

BrightSource will break ground on one of the world’s largest solar thermal energy plants, in Israel. The Ashalim plant is expected to produce 121 megawatts of solar energy in the Negev Desert by 2016, providing enough “green” energy to fuel 40,000 Israeli homes.  Read more ..


The Edge of Robotics

Gimball: A Crash Happy Flying Robot

October 30th 2013

Flying Robot

Gimball bumps into and ricochets off of obstacles, rather than avoiding them. This 34 centimeter in diameter spherical flying robot buzzes around the most unpredictable, chaotic environments, without the need for fragile detection sensors. This resiliency to injury, inspired by insects, is what sets it apart from other flying robots. Gimball is protected by a spherical, elastic cage which enables it to absorb and rebound from shocks. It keeps its balance using a gyroscopic stabilization system. When tested in the forests above Lausanne, Switzerland, it performed brilliantly, careening from tree trunk to tree trunk but staying on course. It will be presented in public at the IREX conference in Tokyo, Japan from November 5-9, 2013.

Powered by twin propellers and steered by fins, Gimball can stay on course despite its numerous collisions. This feat was a formidable challenge for EPFL PhD student Adrien Briod. "The idea was for the robot's body to stay balanced after a collision, so that it can keep to its trajectory," he explains. "Its predecessors, which weren't stabilized, tended to take off in random directions after impact." With colleague Przemyslaw Mariusz Kornatowski, Briod developed the gyroscopic stabilization system consisting of a double carbon-fiber ring that keeps the robot oriented vertically, while the cage absorbs shocks as it rotates. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Improving Earthquake Early Warning Systems

October 30th 2013

Chile earthquake

Earthquake early warning systems may provide the public with crucial seconds to prepare for severe shaking. For California, a new study suggests upgrading current technology and relocating some seismic stations would improve the warning time, particularly in areas poorly served by the existing network – south of San Francisco Bay Area to north Los Angeles and north of the San Francisco Bay Area.

A separate case study focuses on the utility of low cost sensors to create a high-density, effective network that can be used for issuing early warnings in Taiwan. Both studies appear in the November issue of the journal Seismological Research Letters (SRL).

"We know where most active faults are in California, and we can smartly place seismic stations to optimize the network," said Serdar Kuyuk. Richard Allen, director of the Seismological Laboratory at UC Berkeley, is the co-author of this study. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Deficit Was $680 Billion in 2013

October 30th 2013

Whitehouse

The federal budget deficit for fiscal 2013 was $680 billion, the Treasury Department reported Wednesday.

This is the first time that the deficit has fallen below $1 trillion during President Obama's time in the White House.

The monthly Treasury statement for September had been delayed by a government shutdown at the beginning of October. Fiscal 2013 ended on Sept. 30. The deficit has dropped $409 billion from 2012, when it was $1.089 trillion.

Most of the change comes from higher tax receipts. Receipts rose to $2.77 trillion in 2013, up from $2.45 trillion in 2012. Spending was $3.45 trillion, down from $3.53 trillion in 2012. White House Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell hailed the deficit total, noting that the deficit is now less than half what it was in 2009, when it stood at $1.4 trillion in the wake of the recession. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Majority Can Keep Plans

October 30th 2013

Obama in front of AMA

President Obama on Wednesday for the first time defended his claim that every American would be able to keep their health insurance plans under ObamaCare.

Obama accused his opponents of “grossly misleading” the public as Republicans seize on reports that hundreds of thousands of people have received letters notifying them that their plans will be cancelled by the end of the year.

Obama said Republicans weren't giving the full picture even as he acknowledged that some people will not be able to keep their health plans under the new law. Those forced from their plans, he said, represent a small portion of the population. He also said they would get a better deal. “For the vast majority of people who have health insurance that works, you can keep it," Obama said in a speech at Boston’s Fanueil Hall. “For the fewer than 5 percent of Americans who buy insurance on your own, you will be getting a better deal.”  Read more ..


Broken Economy

The Beginning of the End of the Financial Crisis

October 30th 2013

Congress-senate

Five years later, it is clear that the decisive actions to stabilize the financial system were those of Oct. 14, 2008, when the United States government put taxpayer money into banks and guaranteed their lending. With American markets closed for the Columbus Day holiday, the chief executives of nine large banks trooped past waiting television cameras into the Treasury to be told — or in a few cases, persuaded — that they would receive $125 billion in taxpayer money from the $700 billion TARP fund and that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation would use emergency authority to guarantee bank debt and business checking accounts, neither of which were covered by the F.D.I.C.’s usual deposit insurance. The nine firms together accounted for about half of the assets and deposits in the United States banking system; another $125 billion was to be allocated to the 8,000-plus institutions that made up the rest of the system. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

A Surfeit of Modesty

October 30th 2013

Susan Rice

Whether it’s “pivoting” or “rebalancing,” the Obama administration’s unceasing efforts to turn retreat into a virtue – particularly when it comes to the Middle East – have become a distinguishing feature of this president’s national security strategy.

The New York Times’ weekend account of its interview with Susan Rice, wherein the national security adviser spins the Syria fiasco as a kind of “midcourse correction,” marks a new chapter in the leading-from-the-rear saga. In elaborating on the president’s recent speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Rice explained that the administration “can’t just be consumed 24/7 by one region, important as it is. [President Obama] thought it was a good time to step back and reassess, in a very critical and kind of no-holds-barred way, how we conceive the region.” Read more ..


Destination Istanbul

Bosporus Tunnel Opens Linking Europe, Asia

October 30th 2013

Istanbul's main square

For the first time, Turkey has connected its European and Asian sides with a railway tunnel. The Marmaray tunnel, which runs underneath the Bosphorus Strait, will link the Asian and European shores of Istanbul. Concerns and criticism, however, surround what is being described as one of the country's greatest-ever engineering projects.

Tuesday’s opening ceremony for the Marmaray railway tunnel drew thousands. Addressing the crowds, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan invoked the country’s historical past.

It was the dream of Sultan Abdulmescid [the Ottoman sultan from 1839 to 1861] to build this tunnel, he said. "Today we have fulfilled this dream. We have many historical projects to finish for Turkey and Istanbul. This is in the service of the people," said Erdogan. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Briton Arrested for Hacking US Military Computers

October 30th 2013

Computers/Nerd Silhouette

A British man is free on bail after being charged with hacking into U.S. government military and civilian computer systems.  The case highlights the difficulty of securing sensitive data, and could be complicated by anger in Europe over revelations of U.S. intelligence agencies tracking millions of emails and phone calls. 

The 28-year-old from a rural village in eastern England is charged with cybercrimes in the United States and Britain.  He allegedly worked with hackers in Sweden and Australia to repeatedly break into the computer systems of thousands of U.S. organizations, including the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the NASA space agency, over the past year.  Read more ..


The Way We Are

Abandoned US Railroad Tracks Find New Life

October 30th 2013

amtrak train engine

The morning sun shines like gold on the two rails of train tracks that run through Sedalia, Missouri. An automobile rumbles over the tracks then disappears up the street.

A clanging crossing gate drops, allowing a lone engine to chug by pushing a single boxcar. When trains were king

Ten blocks away, three dozen tourists, dressed in bicycling clothes, gaze up at a train museum that looks like a palace topped by a towering, green tiled roof.

Tour guide Kathleen Boswell says this historic depot dates back to the 1860s, when trains were king.

Hundreds of trains stopped at the depot along the Kansas-Missouri-Texas Railroad, also known as the Katy, each week. However, by the 1970s, so many trucks and planes carried freight and people, that the train tracks were largely abandoned. In the 1980s, private donors worked with government officials to turn this stretch of track into the tourist attraction it is today. Read more ..


France on Edge

Anti-Semitism Goes Mainstream in France

October 30th 2013

Click to select Image

"You show that it is possible to be of the Jewish faith without being completely disgusting." — Standup comedian Sebastian Thoen introducing Elie Semoun on Canal Plus TV.

When a leading Jewish organization complained about "a dangerous trivialization of anti-Semitism," the President of the TV channel responded by saying that the Jewish community had "no sense of humor."

When a leading Jewish organization complained about "a dangerous trivialization of anti-Semitism," the President of the TV channel responded by saying that the Jewish community had "no sense of humor."

A few weeks ago, when French Jewish actor Elie Semoun was a prime-time guest on one of the main French television channels, Canal Plus, the words of Sebastian Thoen, a standup comedian who introduced him may have been meant to be to be laudatory, but took quite a different turn: "You never plunged into communitarianism [Jewish activism] ... You could have posted yourself in the street selling jeans and diamonds from the back of a minivan, saying 'Israel is always right, f*** Palestine, wallala.' You show that it is possible to be of the Jewish faith without being completely disgusting." Read more ..


The Digial Edge

Seeing in the Dark

October 29th 2013

Radio and Infrared Emission

Thermal infrared (IR) energy is emitted from all things that have a temperature greater than absolute zero. Human eyes, primarily sensitive to shorter wavelength visible light, are unable to detect or differentiate between the longer-wavelength thermal IR "signatures" given off both by living beings and inanimate objects. While mechanical detection of IR radiation has been possible since Samuel Pierpont Langley invented the bolometer in 1880, devices that also can recognize and identify an IR source after detection have been more challenging to develop.

In a recent paper in the journal Review of Scientific Instruments, researchers at two Chinese universities describe a novel instrument that successfully does both tasks with extremely high sensitivity by splitting the IR radiation given off by an object into a long-wave portion for detection and a mid-wave portion that can be spectrally analyzed for accurate identification.

Conventional remote sensing systems share a single sensor for both imaging and spectral data processing. The new instrument designed by the Chinese researchers has separate sensors for each task and uses a dichoric beamsplitter to divide the IR signal from an object into two components, a long-wave IR (LWIR) beam and a mid-wave IR (MWIR) beam. Read more ..


Broken Education

What Schools Can Do To Help Boys Succeed

October 29th 2013

school kids

Being a boy can be a serious liability in today’s classroom. As a group, boys are noisy, rowdy and hard to manage. Many are messy, disorganized and won’t sit still. Young male rambunctiousness, according to a recent study, leads teachers to underestimate their intellectual and academic abilities. “Girl behavior is the gold standard in schools,” says psychologist Michael Thompson. “Boys are treated like defective girls.”

These “defective girls” are not faring well academically. Compared with girls, boys earn lower grades, win fewer honors and are less likely to go to college. One education expert has quipped that, if current trends continue, the last male will graduate from college in 2068. In today’s knowledge-based economy, success in the classroom has never been more crucial to a young person’s life prospects. Women are adapting; men are not. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Failures Go Far Past the Obamacare Website

October 29th 2013

Obamacare

It’s not just the Web site that’s broken — the Obamacare marketplace itself is failing.

Despite much talk about using competition, the Obamacare law and the regulations that enable it are all but eliminating competition from the exchanges. In its zeal to micromanage every aspect of peoples’ health benefits and the profits that insurers can earn off these services, the administration guaranteed that few health insurers or care providers will show up to play.

Let’s start with private insurers, who’ve been extremely selective in the regions where they’ve stood up health plans. Obamacare largely outlaws charging less to younger or healthier people and more to older, less-healthy ones; insurers have gamed this rule by only offering plans in select areas, plainly those where they believe the underlying demographic and socioeconomic trends will allow them to come out ahead. Read more ..


Justice on Edge

The Supreme Court and the Perils of Advocacy Science: Examples from the Schuette Oral Argument on Affirmative Action

October 29th 2013

Supreme Court at the 2010 SOTU

The Supreme Court has a history of getting itself in trouble when it too readily turns to social science and statistics to bolster its legal decisions. The oral argument in the recently submitted Schuette case offers two examples of how the Court may be led astray. Citing the work of UCLA law professor Richard Sander, who submitted an amicus brief in Schuette, Chief Justice Roberts suggested that maybe in banning affirmative action Michigan’s voters were acting in the interest of the state’s minorities and saving them from the harm of “academic mismatch.” Later Michigan’s Solicitor General John Bursch, responding to a question about the harm to diversity that the ban on affirmative action is likely to bring about, gave answers that can only mislead a conscientious Court.

The mismatch hypothesis that Roberts is willing to buy has an intuitive appeal. It makes sense that students admitted to competitive schools with academic credentials (mainly test scores and grades) considerably lower than those of their peers would feel overmatched and flounder as a result, and affirmative action students get, on average, worse grades than their peers. Read more ..


Cities on the Edge

Why Isn't There a More Robust 'Local Energy' Movement?

October 29th 2013

Minneapolis skyline

Metropolitan areas are the nation's economic powerhouses, producing over 75 percent of its output and serving as its chief centers of manufacturing, innovation, and opportunity. Such production, though, requires energy—to fuel our cars, homes, and factories.

New research conducted as part of the Global Cities Initiative now enables us to put a number on those demands. The 100 largest metro areas are responsible for 65 percent of our energy imports. They also serve as the major consumers of domestic energy, whether it’s oil refined along the Gulf Coast or coal mined in Wyoming. All told, large metro areas annually purchase almost $688 billion in energy. Read more ..


Africa on Edge

Africa May be Next Factory to World

October 29th 2013

Nairobi Square

The three-day (10/28-30) African Economic Conference is underway in Johannesburg, South Africa. Heads of state, business leaders and development experts are discussing how regional integration can boost economic growth.

African countries have seen high levels of economic growth over the past decade. That’s despite the global economic crisis that struck in 2008 and 2009. But conference organizers say growth could have been even better had countries made it easier to do business with each other. They say that’s where regional integration plays a major role.

It means investing in infrastructure, education, labor and technology – ensuring good management of shared natural resources – and having uniform rules, standards and regulations so goods and services don’t get delayed or blocked at the border. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Groundbreaking Ceremony for US Missile Defense Facility Held in Romania

October 29th 2013

patriot missile

Romania and the United States have inaugurated a military site that will be part of the NATO missile defense system that protects Europe from attack. Russia has vigorously opposed having a U.S. missile system so close to its borders, and a Russian analyst told VOA that Moscow is sure to retaliate. 

The land-based missile defense facility is located in a former air base near Deveselu village, 180 kilometers east of Romania's capital, Bucharest. U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller attended the groundbreaking ceremony there on Monday.

"When phase two is completed here in the 2015 time frame, Europe will be safer, U.S. forces will be better protected, Romania will be safer, and the NATO alliance will be stronger," said Miller. Romanian President Traian Basescu also attended the ceremony. Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

Polio Confirmed in Syria

October 29th 2013

Polio Vaccination Clinc

The World Health Organization (WHO) says it has confirmed 10 cases of polio detected in northeast Syria in mid-October.  The WHO warns protective measures must be taken to prevent the crippling disease from spreading in the region. 

The World Health Organization says 12 other suspected cases of polio are still under investigation.  A spokesman for WHO’s Polio Eradication Program says in a VOA interview there are no additional so-called hot cases at the moment.

Oliver Rosenbauer says disease surveillance is ongoing in Syria and in neighboring countries to look for other cases of acute flaccid paralysis.  But, for now, he says the only known cases are the 22 in Deir Ezzor that were detected and initially reported on October 17. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Iranian Reformist Daily Becomes First Publication Banned Under Rohani

October 29th 2013

Rowhani

Iran's reformist "Bahar" daily has become the first publication to be banned since President Hassan Rohani came to office in August.

The closure was imposed by Iran's state press watchdog over publication of an article that critics say undermined Islamic principles.

The controversial article was an opinion piece that questioned the Shi'ite belief that the Prophet Muhammad had appointed his son-in-law, Imam Ali, as his successor.

Culture Minister Ali Jannati claimed the article distorted the history of Islam and created religious divisions. "Unfortunately, 'Bahar' has committed several [press] violations in the past year-and-a-half. It has received written warnings, but the daily has not paid attention," Jannati was quoted as saying by the semiofficial Mehr news agency. The hard-line daily "Kayhan" reacted to the piece by accusing reformists of attacking the rule of religious figures. Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

Turkey's Erdogan - an Autocratic Islamist Bigot

October 29th 2013

Erdogan

After over 50 years of Israeli-Turkish intelligence co-operation and sharing, the Turkish disclosure to Iran of the identities of Mossad operatives – apparently subsequently executed, illustrates the depths to which Israel-Turkey relations have descended under Islamist autocrat, Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan.

Erdogan seeks to conceal his true intentions and convey the illusion that he is himself a role model for an enlightened Islam which blends with democracy.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Erdogan is a fanatical Islamist and a vile bigot who lavishes praise on the Moslem Brotherhood, Hamas and Hezbollah and whose behavior is more reminiscent of an Ottoman Sultan than a democratically elected leader. Read more ..


Book Review

A Comprehensive Surveys of Films About War in the Post-Vietnam Era

October 28th 2013

American War Cinema & Media Scince Vietnam

American War Cinema and Media Since Vietnam. Patrica Keeton and Peter Scheckner. Palgrave Macmillian. 2013. 276 pp.

In this first comprehensive survey of films about war in the post-Vietnam era, Patricia Keeton and Peter Scheckner identify a significant shift in Hollywood away from the celebration of military prowess and pseudo-democratic values.  No longer do films simply embrace the familiar combat stories of the “band of brothers” triumphing against arrogant and authoritarian enemies. American cinema instead has begun to treat war more critically, incorporating the perspectives of the poor and marginalized, who in the era of the volunteer army increasingly fight our wars of choice.  Since the strategic, political and social catastrophe of Vietnam, Keeton and Scheckner tell us, “American war cinema has changed, possibly forever, from mindless flag waving to juggling and making sense of a complex patchwork of social and political contradictions.”

Yet, as the authors also argue, Hollywood has hardly taken a radical left turn, especially when it comes to connecting foreign policy failures to the structural inequities of American empire building.  Although it has become “nearly impossible…not to see the worker behind the warrior” in American film narratives, Hollywood’s class perspective is still rather limited. No surprise.  Little has changed in the relationships of power and authority that, on the one hand, send working-class Americans to fight overseas and, on the other, control the production and distribution of the war films that show that fighting to the rest of us.

At best, contemporary films merely displace “class tensions and doubts about contemporary wars” onto stories of past conflicts or into futuristic narratives of interstellar strife.  Thus, Steven Spielberg can give a “nod to the worker behind the warrior” in a World War II flick like Saving Private Ryan (1998), but such class identities largely would be avoided in films about contemporary conflicts such as the war in Iraq.  Or James Cameron can pay tribute in Avatar (2009) to anti-imperialist rebellion, so long as it is by the inhabitants of a moon light-years distant.  Moreover, when Hollywood cinema of the post-Vietnam era occasionally questions the motives and competence of specific American foreign policies, as do films like The Green Zone (Paul Greengrass, 2010) and Three Kings (David O. Russell, 1999), it generally has avoided addressing the corporate empire-building that the authors argue lies behind the United States’ seemingly endless drive toward war.  Hollywood can indeed tolerate some level of dissent about the “military-industrial complex,” however it cannot see through mere political malfeasance (lying to the public about WMDs for instance) to the larger questions of who rules that system and why they need ordinary Americans to fight and die for it. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Historic Demonstration Proves Laser Communication Possible

October 28th 2013

xray laser

In the early morning hours of Oct. 18, NASA’s Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) made history, transmitting data from lunar orbit to Earth at a rate of 622 Megabits-per-second (Mbps). That download rate is more than six times faster than previous state-of-the-art radio systems flown to the moon.

“It was amazing how quickly we were able to acquire the first signals, especially from such a distance,” said Don Cornwell, LLCD manager. “I attribute this success to the great work accomplished over the years by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory (MIT/LL) and their partnership with NASA.”

On Oct. 18, 2013, the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) made history, transmitting data from lunar orbit to Earth at a record-breaking rate.

LLCD is being flown aboard the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer satellite known as LADEE, currently orbiting the moon. LADEE is a 100-day robotic mission designed, built, tested and operated by a team from NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. Its primary science mission is to investigate the tenuous and exotic atmosphere that exists around the moon.

LADEE, with LLCD onboard, reached lunar orbit 30 days after launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va., on Sept. 6.  During the trip, the LADEE team provided an opportunity for LLCD to make post-flight calibrations of its pointing knowledge. “Being able to make those calibrations allowed us to lock onto our signal almost instantaneously when we turned on the laser at the moon,” said Cornwell. “A critical part of laser communication is being able to point the narrow laser beam at a very small target over a great distance.” Read more ..


The US and Pakistan

Divided They Stand

October 28th 2013

Pakistani protest Nov 2011

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's visit to Washington and his meeting with President Barack Obama reopened lines of communication broken over the last few years by drones and commando raids. The atmospherics were good; the two had a longer than planned one-on-one. But the visit produced no breakthroughs in what has become an increasingly dysfunctional relationship. The United States and Pakistan are more opponents than allies, but it is important to keep the lines of communication open and Sharif's visit will provide a base for future efforts to find common areas of cooperation, especially as the situation in Afghanistan clarifies in 2014.

A decade ago, George W. Bush embraced Pervez Musharraf as America's top ally in the war against terror. In the years that followed, Bush and Obama provided Pakistan with over $25 billion in military and economic aid, including 18 F-16 jet fighters and a Perry Class frigate. The goal was to fight al-Qaeda. Only Israel got more aid from America in the last decade. Read more ..


Broken Government

An Emerging Nightmare: The Impact of U.S. Political "Dysfunction"

October 28th 2013

Congress-senate

Ask a U.S. senior intelligence officer what is his recurring nightmare: what is it that wakes him at 3 am trembling in uncontrollable anxiety? In a public place, where he is likely to be quoted, he is almost certain to answer: a terrorist with a nuclear weapon. And that’s true enough. Ever since 9/11, administration officials, both Republican and Democratic, have worried about another terrorist attack against the “homeland,” as they put it. And though we came close on two or three occasions (remember the Christmas “underwear” bomber?), we managed to escape another attack.

But ask this intelligence officer the same question in an off-the-record session, where he is not to be identified or quoted in any way, and he will give you an answer much closer to his true concern: that the United States government has become “dysfunctional.” Meaning what exactly? We have no real budget, he goes on, and haven’t for a long time. Read more ..


Inside Politics

Business Groups Assail Political Transparency

October 28th 2013

Lobbyist

Three of the nation's most prominent trade associations are striking back at a corporate disclosure study that concludes large companies are increasingly more transparent about their politicking.

In a letter dated Oct. 17, obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, the groups slams the CPA-Zicklin Index of Corporate Political Accountability and Disclosure as peddling false information aimed at quieting big business.

They argue that most large companies' shareholders have not supported proxy resolutions meant to enhance corporate political disclosure and that the CPA-Zicklin Index's methodology is flawed.

"Corporations do NOT support increased political and lobbying 'disclosure,'" reads the letter, which is signed by U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue, Business Roundtable President John Engler and National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons. Read more ..


Broken Government

Healthcare.gov Disaster Symptom of Larger Problem

October 28th 2013

No Obamacare

The glitch-plagued HealthCare.gov website has, as expected, given critics of health care reform another opportunity to persuade the American public that Obamacare is a failure and should be scuttled.

The House Energy and Commerce committee hearing last week was — surprise — little more than a forum for critics of the Affordable Care Act to use the pithiest sound bites their staffers could come up with to embarrass the Obama administration.

Let’s suspend disbelief for a moment and pretend that members of Congress care more about the health and well-being of the country and its citizens than in getting re-elected and amassing more power. In such a make-believe world, what should Congress really be trying to do in light of the fiasco surrounding the rollout of the HealthCare.gov  insurance marketplace website? Read more ..


The Race for Renewable Fuel

AAA: New Fuel Regulations Could Increase Gas Prices at the Pump

October 28th 2013

E15 fuel

New fuel regulations could drive up gas prices if they require car owners to use a “potentially damaging” type of gasoline that could hurt cars' engines, according to AAA.

The automobile club said in a statement on Monday that the Environmental Protection Agency could cause gas prices to surge if it requires fuel refiners to blend a high percentage of ethanol in with conventional gas as part of the 2014 renewable fuel standard (RFS).

“There is a real opportunity to put motorists first in what has been a very contentious disagreement between various industries,” said AAA President Bob Darbelnet. “Gas and car maintenance costs are high enough as it is, and it would be a relief to know that the RFS will not cause significant problems for consumers next year.”

The fuel mandate, which is expected from the EPA in coming weeks, requires refiners to mix certain amounts of ethanol and other biofuels in with gasoline each year as a way to spur innovation in new fuel sources and reduce American dependence on foreign oil. Read more ..



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