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Archive for December 2014

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Broken Government

Democrats are Circumspect about Republican Whip Steve Scalise

December 31st 2014

Democrats are taking a strikingly cautious approach to the controversy surrounding House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and his speech to a white supremacist group in 2002.

The vast majority of Democrats are not calling for Scalise to resign, or for leadership to drop him. But they are tying Scalise to other Republicans and arguing the issue is emblematic of a party Democrats argue is at odds with minority groups on a range of policies.

Strategists say the approach reflects a few factors.

Democrats don’t want to get too far in front of the story, particularly since it is unclear whether Scalise’s 2002 address to the European-American Unity and Rights Organization is an isolated incident. Read more ..


Authors on Tour

Author Road Warrior Looks Back on 2014

December 31st 2014

Edwin Black

If you’re award-winning bestselling human rights author Edwin Black, much of your life is spent on the road in book tours, lectures, media events, and scholar-in-residence sessions — scores of them each year. With 1.4 million books in print worldwide, why does he keep doing events?

"Because, even with a million copies," Black explains, "people have questions — shall we say a million questions about my work — issues I wrote about, and quite often, issues that I have not yet written about. That means, I must connect one on one, face to face. I never stop doing that, and never stop enjoying that."

Black wrote IBM and the Holocaust documenting Big Blue's coordination with the Third Reich in its war against the Jews, War Against the Weak about the medical crime known as eugenics, and nine other prize-winning volumes.

He adds, "My inbox receives hundreds of messages each year. In many ways, the book is just the beginning of a relationship. There is always so much more to communicate."

In 2014, Black embarked upon several major "themed" book tours. The publication of his bestselling human rights volume Financing the Flames found legislators worldwide startled at his discoveries about Palestinian terrorist salaries and the conduct of leading Israel-based NGOs, such as the New Israel Fund. Black alleged that NGOs in Israel that were purportedly pursuing peace and reconciliation were in fact misusing taxpayer monies to promote agitation and confrontation in Israel that promoted anything but peace and reconciliation.

Financing the Flames launched in November 2013 at the U.S. House of Representatives live on C-SPAN. That led to his "Parliamentary Tour" in February and March 2014. In a whirlwind effort, Black appeared at four parliaments in four weeks: The House of Commons in London, the European Parliament in Brussels, the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem, and as a sworn witness before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Congress. Read more ..


Campus Jihad

Anti-Jewish Bullying at Brandeis

December 30th 2014

Brandeis

Khadija Lynch, the Brandeis University student whose obscene tweets about the recent murder of two New York City police officers have become a national scandal, won the backing of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP,) a violently anti-Semitic group, when she ran for election as a student senator in 2013.

Lynch’s tweets about the murdered officers were highlighted by Daniel Mael, a leading pro-Israel activist on the Brandeis campus, in an article for the Truth Revolt website that subsequently went viral. Mael, who has energetically countered SJP’s activities on campus, is presently facing harassment and calls for his expulsion from university radicals who have decried him as a “white supremacist” for the offense of drawing attention to Lynch’s extraordinary online rant, which included such missives as “i just really dont have sympathy for the cops who were shot. i hate this racist f**king country” and “amerikkka needs an intifada. enough is enough.” Read more ..


Phase IV: Ants Rule

Pheidole: the Ants That Conquered the World

December 29th 2014

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About one tenth of the world's ants are close relatives; they all belong to just one genus out of 323, called Pheidole. "If you go into any tropical forest and take a stroll, you will step on one of these ants," says Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University's Professor Evan Economo. Pheidole fill niches in ecosystems ranging from rainforests to deserts.

Yet until now, researchers have never had a global perspective of how the many species of Pheidole evolved and spread across the Earth. Economo, researchers in the Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit, and colleagues at the University of Michigan compared gene sequences from 300 species of Pheidole from around the world. They used these sequences to construct a tree that shows when and where each species evolved into new species.

At the same time, in a parallel effort, they scoured the academic literature, museums around the world, and large databases to aggregate data on where all 1200 or so Pheidole species live on Earth, creating a range map for each species. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Says 'Never Say Never' to U.S. Embassy in Tehran

December 29th 2014

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

President Obama refused to rule out one day opening an American embassy in Iran in an interview released Monday, but said the nuclear issue remains an obstacle in relations with the country.

In the wake of Obama's announcement of a move to resume diplomacy with Cuba, NPR's Steve Inskeep asked him about opening an embassy in Tehran during his final two years in office.

"I never say never, but I think these things have to go in steps," Obama said.
The U.S. and other world powers are in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, talks that were extended for the second time without a final agreement last month, while Obama faces a restless Congress pushing for more sanctions.

"In order for us to, I think, open that aperture with respect to Iran, we have to get this nuclear issue resolved — and there's a chance to do it and the question's going to be whether or not Iran is willing to seize it," Obama said. Read more ..


The 2016 Vote

Jeb Bush Takes Lead as Republican Presidential Front-Runner

December 29th 2014

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) is suddenly leading the pack of 2016 presidential hopefuls in the Republican Party. A CNN/ORC poll released on Sunday found Bush with the support of 23 percent of Republicans, 10 percentage points higher than his nearest rival, New Jersey Gov. Chris Cristie. The poll provided further evidence of how Bush has shaken up the field since his announcement he's "actively exploring" a presidential bid, an aggressive early move that thrilled the donor class.

The field is in a state of flux, however, with rivals such as Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) also raising their profiles and courting support. Here’s how the candidates stack up as 2014 draws to a close. Read more ..


The Caliphate

Horrifying Tactics used by Caliphate Described to Journalist

December 29th 2014

Israeli journalist Itai Anghel said in a radio interview last week that it was “horrifying” to hear about terrorist tactics and their graphic details described to him by captured ISIS fighters he spoke with while in Iraq and Syria.

Anghel spent a week in each country, staying in the Kurdish-held territories to report on ISIS for the Israeli television show Uvdah. He interviewed ISIS fighters captured by Kurdish forces about acts they committed as members of the terrorist group, including beheadings, as well as their stance on Jews and Israel. Some of the captives were blindfolded during their interviews with Anghel and none of them knew that the reporter was Israeli. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Waiting for the Caliph in Jerusalem

December 29th 2014

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In Israel the preaching of many imams close to the Muslim movement spreads hatred towards the West and those who are associated with it, such as Christians and Jews. Whilst they appear to be condemning the violence of Isis, in fact they await the arrival of the Caliphate to their home as well.

The so-called ‘Palestinian question’ has always had a predominantly political nature rather than a religious one. It is a question of the unresolved tension between the two nations, if one can call them as such. However in Israel in 1971 a political and religious party called ‘Muslim movement’ was founded by Shaykh ‘Abd Allah Nimr Darwîsh. Since 1989 it has been able to have some representatives in some Arab villages and cities, and from 1996 to elect representatives to the Knesset of Israel. Although there are different streams within the same party, causing divisions (today there are three streams with three different leaders), this movement gives the Palestinian issue a religious character. Read more ..


The Caliphate

Islamic State Fighters are Moving Ever Closer Towards Israel

December 28th 2014

IS with Missile

Islamic State has suffered severe losses as a result of coalition air strikes in the last months. Over 1,000 of its fighters have been killed, and Kurdish peshmerga forces have driven the jihadists back on a wide front between the cities of Erbil and Mosul.

The terror movement has also failed to conquer the symbolic town of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) close to the Syrian-Turkish border (further south, Islamic State losses have been more modest and at least partially reversed).

Yet despite these setbacks, there are no indications that Islamic State is anywhere close to collapse. And while American bombers and Kurdish fighters are preventing its advance further east, there are many indications the jihadists are continuing to advance their presence in a south and westerly direction – from the borders of their entity towards Damascus and Lebanon, and incidentally, in the direction of Israel. Read more ..


Edge of Life Sciences

Scientists Create Precursors to Human Ova and Spermatozoa

December 27th 2014

Scientists at the University of Cambridge working with the Weizmann Institute have created primordial germ cells - cells that will go on to become egg and sperm - using human embryonic stem cells. Although this had already been done using rodent stem cells, the study, published today in the journal Cell, is the first time this has been achieved efficiently using human stem cells. When an egg cell is fertilised by a sperm, it begins to divide into a cluster of cells known as a blastocyst, the early stage of the embryo. Within this ball of cells, some cells form the inner cell mass - which will develop into the foetus - and some form the outer wall, which becomes the placenta.

Cells in the inner cell mass are 'reset' to become stem cells - cells that have the potential to develop into any type of cell within the body. A small number of these cells become primordial germ cells (PGCs) - these have the potential to become germ cells (sperm and egg), which in later life will pass on the offspring's genetic information to its own offspring. "The creation of primordial germ cells is one of the earliest events during early mammalian development," says Dr Naoko Irie, first author of the paper from the Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute at the University of Cambridge. Read more ..


After the Holocaust

Is it Time to Reconsider the Observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day?

December 27th 2014

Since some of you may be incredulous that I even asked that question, let me first explain why I am doing so.

Over the last week, a scandal has erupted in Ireland regarding whether or not Israel can be mentioned at the forthcoming official Holocaust commemoration on Sunday, Jan. 25. (The official international remembrance day follows two days later.)

It was Yanky Fachler, the avuncular Irish-Jewish broadcaster who has been master of ceremonies of the event for several years now, who alerted the outside world to this development when he released a letter from Peter Cassells, the chair of Holocaust Educational Trust Ireland (HETI), informing him that he could not say the words “Israel” or “Jewish state” in any of his remarks. Read more ..


Broken Government

Cyber-Security in U.S. Congress is in Hackers' Crosshairs

December 27th 2014

Government agencies and congressional offices are vulnerable to the same kind of cyberattack that hit Sony Pictures, experts say.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are well aware of the growing threat online, and many tell staff to act as if everything they write in email could one day become public.

“I try to inspire my staff often that when they write an email, they write it as if it should be right on the front page of your newspaper,” said Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), whose district includes Hollywood, in an interview with The Hill.
The assault on Sony exposed humiliating internal conversations, unveiled secretive plans and caused the studio to temporarily press pause on a multi-million dollar motion picture.

During a recent congressional hearing, an FBI official estimated the tactics used in the Sony hack would have evaded 90 percent of the American government’s cyber defenses. Security researchers backed the assessment. Read more ..


Book Review

41: A Portrait of My Father - The Dynamic Duo of the Bush Family

December 27th 2014

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41: A Portrait of My Father. George W. Bush. Crown Publishers. 2014. 304 pp.

In November 2014, George Walker Bush, forty-third president of the United States (hereafter “43”), published a book about the forty-first president, George Herbert Walker Bush (hereafter “41”). He is the second former president to have written a book about another (Herbert Hoover’s book on Woodrow Wilson). Few associates of either man -- father and son -- seemed to have had any inkling of this project until 43 announced in July that its release would coincide with the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. 41: A Portrait of My Father includes as frontispiece a photograph of an oil portrait the author has painted of his subject. The author narrates an audio version of the book as well. He has produced a compelling account of the life of a thoroughly decent man.

The first two-thirds of the book cover the period leading up to 41’s inauguration in January 1989. The reader learns of such things as the high standards of waltzing in Greenwich, Connecticut, where 41 first met Barbara Pierce at a country club dance in December 1941. And that, upon setting out to West Texas after World War II, young 43 in tow, the family once shared a house with a “mother-daughter pair who made their living by entertaining male clients throughout the night.” There is additional folksiness and a tale about an office party where 41 placing a rubber onion in a colleague’s martini.

There are also wrenching accounts of the two defining experiences in the lives of the author’s parents: 41’s surviving the 1944 downing of his Grumman TBM Avenger, when his two crewmembers did not; and the loss of three-year-old Paula Robinson “Robin” Bush, who succumbed to leukemia in 1953. Whether or not journalists covering 41 over the course his political career comprehended the magnitude of these devastating moments, they focused more on his privileged background than his humanity. 43 recalls an arresting moment in the 1980 presidential campaign when a reporter asked if 41 had ever experienced “personal difficulties.” The latter responded: “Have you ever sat and watched your child die? I did, for six months.” Read more ..


Film Review

Critics Hate 'The Interview'

December 25th 2014

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Movie critics say the controversy surrounding “The Interview” is much more interesting than the movie itself.

The movie is scoring just a 50 percent positive review from critics on the Rotten Tomatoes website.

It’s fairing even more poorly with top critics, who give it a measly 32 percent positive rating.
The film is doing better with regular fans, however. It gets a 73 percent “liked it” audience score from Rotten Tomatoes.

Critics say the satire about a television host and producer asked by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jung-un doesn’t deliver the goods. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Reinvigorated Economy Fills Obama's Sails

December 25th 2014

Democrats on Tuesday received a gift high on their wish list — an invigorated economy that they believe will give President Obama much-needed clout when he faces off with a Republican Congress next year.

Current and former Obama aides say they expect the White House to get a year-end boost from the 5 percent expansion rate of the economy in the third quarter, and expect the president to aggressively talk up the gains in the months to come.

The growth figures also could give the White House new leverage as it seeks common ground with Republicans on a range of policy areas, such as trade and taxes, and as it prepares for battle in others, like changing the healthcare law.
"The proof is in the pudding," one former senior Obama administration official said. "There's really nothing else to say." Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Was New York City's Cop-Killer a Radical Muslim?

December 24th 2014

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When Ismaaiyl Brinsley set out to murder two New York City police officers, his motive may have been more than revenge for the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, the two men killed by police. Brinsley appears to have been influenced by Islamic extremism.

On his Instagram account several months ago, Brinsley revealed he was planning to visit “Al-Farooq Tomorrow inshallah.” This appears to be a reference to Masjid Al-Farooq in Brooklyn, a mosque with a history of hosting terror sympathizers and allegedly raising funds for al-Qaeda.

Images from Brinsley’s Facebook page (now removed) captured by the website Jihad Watch, reveal he posted one of the most controversial quotes from the Quran (8:60) in March:

And prepare against them whatever you are able of power and of steeds of war by which you may terrify the enemy of Allah and your enemy and others besides them whom you do not know (but) whom Allah knows. And whatever you spend in the cause of Allah will be fully repaid to you, and you will not be wronged. Read more ..


The Catholic Edge

Make Ready for Pope Francis

December 24th 2014

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What better time than Christmas to turn our thoughts to Pope Francis, a voice for our generation and all generations who teaches, as all great faiths teach, that those who have the most should extend their hands to those who have the least and that those who have power should serve those who do not.

Francis is the people’s pope. He is most popular public figure in the world because the people know it! Citizens in America and across the globe are ready for the people’s pope who embodies modesty over arrogance, justice over inequity, kindness over selfishness, love over hatred and faith in the teaching of Jesus over the cruelty of communism and poverty created by the excesses of capitalism in an economy he has called a “dictatorship” grounded in a “cult of money.” Read more ..


The Caliphate

DoD confirms ISIS has Captured a Jordanian Pilot

December 24th 2014

The Pentagon confirmed Wednesday that a Jordanian F-16 jet crashed in Syria and that the pilot has been taken captive by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

"A Jordanian F-16 aircraft crashed in the vicinity of the northern Syrian city of Ar-Raqqah on Wednesday and the pilot has been taken captive by ISIL forces," U.S. Central Command said in a statement, using an alternate name for the terrorist group.

"The Jordanians are highly-respected and valued partners and their pilots and crews have performed exceptionally well over the course of this campaign," Centcom's commander Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III said in the statement.

Jordan has been participating in the U.S.-led coalition's airstrikes against ISIS in Syria since September. Read more ..


Violence in America

Missouri Police Kill Armed Black Teenager

December 24th 2014

A police officer has shot and killed an armed black 18-year-old man in a St. Louis suburb near where an unarmed black teen was killed by a white officer in August.

The shooting took place at approximately 11 PM on December 23 at a gas station in Berkeley, Missouri. The officer reportedly was given a body camera but it was not activated at the time of the shooting, according to officials. The incident took place just three miles away from the scene of the August 9 shooting death of Michael Brown. The latter's death sparked weeks of rioting, arrests, and controversy since Brown was unarmed at the time and was shot by a white police officer.

St. Louis County Police Spokesman Jon Belmar says the officer encountered two men during a routine check at a gas station. Read more ..


The Race for Natural Gas

Israel's Gas Dream -- the End May Be Near

December 23rd 2014

Tamar-gas-drill-ocean

In the five years since the discovery of the Tamar and Leviathan natural gas fields off the coast of Israel, the Israeli energy discourse has focused on questions like what to do with the gas, how much of it to export and to whom, and what the fairest distribution of profits would be among the gas partners, headed by Noble Energy and Delek Energy, and the Israeli public.

But after years of delays and billions of dollars spent, a new and increasingly likely scenario should be considered – the premature – and tragic – death of the Israeli gas dream. I alluded to this option in an August 2013 article titled “Israel’s Zero Gas Game” in which I warned that Israel has become so busy dividing the pie that its leaders forgot it must first be baked and that due to the failure of the  government to present a clear vision for the country’s energy sector, articulate the rights and responsibilities of foreign investors and most importantly set rules and stick to them, “the gas will be left in the ground and the startup nation will be more worthy of the title ‘shutdown nation’.” Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama at Center of National Imbroglio over Race and Police

December 23rd 2014

President Obama’s Hawaii vacation had barely begun when the news broke that two New York City police officers had been shot dead by a lone assailant who posted anti-police screeds on social media.

The shocking story returned Obama to the center of a raging national debate over race and police tactics that he has repeatedly sought to manage with care — just as that debate had started to cool.

The targeted killings of the two officers also put those who in recent weeks had criticized police tactics on defense, with some politicians blaming the rhetoric by Obama, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and others for inciting violence.
That’s made the situation more difficult for Obama.

“It’s a tough balance,” said Princeton political historian Julian Zelizer. “Politically, it’s very explosive, and there are heated passions on all sides.”

Obama has taken a cautious approach to the latest story, and has yet to appear on-camera to discuss the killings of the two New York cops. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

The Geopolitics of Obama's Opening to Cuba

December 23rd 2014

Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro agreed to an exchange of prisoners being held on espionage charges. In addition, Washington and Havana agreed to hold discussions with the goal of establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries. No agreement was reached on ending the U.S. embargo on Cuba, a step that requires congressional approval.

It was a modest agreement, striking only because there was any agreement at all. U.S.-Cuba relations had been frozen for decades, with neither side prepared to make significant concessions or even first moves. The cause was partly the domestic politics of each country that made it easier to leave the relationship frozen. On the American side, a coalition of Cuban-Americans, conservatives and human rights advocates decrying Cuba's record of human rights violations blocked the effort. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

The Coming Historic Election in Israel

December 22nd 2014

"In a place where there are no worthy men, strive to be worthy." — Ethics of the Father

Today, as Palestinians stage a pro-Hamas rally at Temple Mount, as a deputy speaker in the Swedish parliament calls on Jews to abandon their religious identity, the better to become proper Swedes, as Jews here and everywhere light a candle against the darkness, today, in an essay titled "The Embattled Dream of Palestine," The New York Times celebrates its "vision of two separate states, with Israelis and Palestinians living side by side in peace," as "[having] been at the core of years of arduous negotiations to solve the Middle East conflict."

But the "Embattled Dream" was not Israel's dream; it was America's. It was Jimmy Carter's (who identifies himself today as a world "elder"), Bill Clinton's, George W. Bush's and Barack Obama's. The "two-state solution" they longed so long for is "no closer to reality than it was decades ago." Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama and Castro: Who Doesn't Want Cuban Cigars?

December 22nd 2014

When the president of the United States moved to normalize relations with the communist nation, many on the right cried foul. One critic charged that the president was a terrible negotiator who acted "as though [c]ommunist intransigence could be overcome through concessions." Another said that the president had "undermined our national security."

These criticisms refer not to President Obama's new Cuba policy, but to President Nixon's opening to China in 1971. Nixon's critics were on the wrong side of history then, just as Obama's critics are now.

Few if any Americans today think that Nixon made the wrong move on China in 1971. His opening up of China drove a wedge between China and the Soviet Union. It impelled the Soviets to pursue arms control agreements with the United States. It helped the U.S. deal with China on the world stage and it opened up trade and commercial relations. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Republicans Seek Obscure Budget Rule to Scuttle Obamacare

December 21st 2014

Republicans on and off Capitol Hill are rallying behind using a rarely-deployed budget tool next year to dismantle ObamaCare.

But the issue of how to use “budget reconciliation” has divided Republicans, with some calling for it to be implemented to overhaul the tax code or to push through major energy reforms.

The tool is useful because it could allow newly-empowered Senate Republicans to pass legislation with a 51-vote simple majority rather than the usual 60, greatly increasing the chances of moving legislation to President Obama’s desk.

And while Obama is certain to veto anything that tries to roll back his landmark healthcare law, Republicans increasingly see reconciliation as an important messaging tool to help paint a contrast with Democrats on Obamacare ahead of 2016. Read more ..


Significant Lives

Robert Wolfe--History's Gain and Loss

December 21st 2014

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Robert Wolfe, RIP

My most distinct memory of Robert Wolfe was that day in October of 1999 when he stood in the dreary, grey rain outside a heretofore unknown archive in Sindelfingen, Germany, a suburb of Stuttgart. He was attempting to gain entry when the archive unexpectedly shuttered its doors and refused him. With the chilled drizzle running rivulets down his cheeks, Wolfe summoned an intense inner anger, born of decades of devotion to documenting Nazi history. He shook with disbelief and demanded they open the door. They would not. No matter. Despite that refusal, Wolfe persevered, and the information was revealed.

Who was Robert Wolfe? Wolfe was the irreplaceable chief archivist for captured Nazi documents at their main repository, the National Archives and Record Administration in Washington, D.C. He died just before dawn December 10, 2014, at the age of 93.

Wolfe, who lived in Alexandria, VA, left behind his gentle German-born wife, Ingeborg. They met when she was an office manager in Occupied Germany where Wolfe was stationed. During Wolfe’s archival career, Ingeborg traveled with him extensively. Two sons also survive Wolfe, one in Virginia and the other in Florida. The pragmatic Wolfe ruled out any funeral in his final instructions. His wish for interment at Arlington Cemetery will be granted in spring 2015.

With Wolfe’s death, a legacy also dies.

Wolfe set the standard, hammered together the ethical strictures, and single-handedly galvanized a generation of Holocaust and Nazi-era historians and authors — including me. Read more ..


Author's on Tour

NY Times Bestselling Author Explains IBM's Pivotal Involvement with the Holocaust

December 21st 2014

Edwin Black

Newsweek called it “Explosive and Stunning.” The Washington Post called it “Beyond Dispute.” The Milwaukee Journal asserted it was “Impossible to Refute.”

Buy IBM and the Holocaust
Learn More About IBM and the Holocaust

Now New York Times bestselling author Edwin Black comes to Tallahassee’s Holocaust Education Resource Council to deliver an electrifying presentation entitled “How IBM Co-Planned and Co-Organized the Holocaust,” based on his global bestseller IBM and the Holocaust. Black’s presentation is scheduled for 7 PM January 21, 2015 at the FSU Alumni Center Grand Ballroom, 1030 W. Tennessee St., Tallahassee, sponsored by the Florida State University College of Law & the Holocaust Education Resource Council.

More than 1.2 million copies of IBM and the Holocaust are in print in numerous editions in more than 14 languages in more than 65 countries. The author has lectured around the world explaining how IBM’s punch card technology, a precursor to the modern computer, organized and systemized the Nazi identification and extermination of six million Jews and millions of other Europeans. The custom-made processes for the Third Reich were micromanaged from the company’s New York headquarters and later its overseas offices after America entered WWII. Black explains how IBM programs organized all six phases of the Holocaust: 1) identification; 2) exclsuion from society; 3) confiscation; 4) ghettoization; 5) deportation; and 6) even extermination.

Brad Pitt and recently optioned the book for a major Hollywood feature film, according to press reports. Read more ..


The Way We Are

When Criticized for Their Weight, Women Tend to Put on Pounds

December 20th 2014

Women whose loved ones are critical of their weight tend to put on even more pounds, says a new study on the way people's comments affect our health.

Professor Christine Logel from Renison University College at the University of Waterloo led the study, which appears in the journal Personal Relationships.

"When we feel bad about our bodies, we often turn to loved ones--families, friends and romantic partners--for support and advice. How they respond can have a bigger effect than we might think," said Professor Logel, who teaches social development studies.

The study found that women who received a higher number of what the researchers called acceptance messages about their weight saw better weight maintenance and even weight loss than their counterparts who did not receive this positive messaging from their loved ones. Read more ..


Ageing with Grace

Is Ibuprofen a Fountain of Youth for Ageing Adults?

December 20th 2014

Ibuprofen, a common over-the-counter drug used to relieve pain and fever, could hold the keys to a longer healthier life, according to a study by researchers at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. Buck Institute scientists showed that regular doses of ibuprofen extended the lifespan of yeast, worms and fruit flies. The research appears at PLOS Genetics.

"There is a lot to be excited about," said Brian Kennedy, PhD, CEO of the Buck Institute, who said treatments, given at doses comparable to those used in humans, extended lifespan an average of 15 percent in the model organisms. "Not only did all the species live longer, but the treated flies and worms appeared more healthy," he said. "The research shows that ibuprofen impacts a process not yet implicated in aging, giving us a new way to study and understand the aging process." Read more ..


National Security

Hack of Sony Reveals Wide Open National Cyber Vulnerability

December 20th 2014

The Sony Pictures hack has forced Americans to confront an aspect of cyber warfare common overseas but rarely discussed domestically — psychological cyberattacks.

When U.S. policymakers discuss the threat of cyberattacks, the focus is often on their destructive potential — overheating a nuclear power plant’s core reactor, or eliminating essential financial records.

But the apparent success of the Sony hit has exposed the effectiveness of psychological cyber attacks. The attack prompted the studio to pull the movie, costing millions of dollars, damaging Sony’s reputation and reportedly leaving its top executives on the ropes.

“Where cyber can probably be successful is in these psychological operations,” said Dmitri Alperovitch, co-founder of cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, which monitors critical infrastructure attacks. “Cyber is not necessarily extremely useful in conducting physically destructive attacks.”

That raises the question: Has the U.S. been miscalculating a major looming cyber threat? Read more ..


The 2016 Vote

Are You Ready for Elizabeth?

December 20th 2014

After listening to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on NPR refuse four times to directly say that she will not run for president in 2016, I now believe the odds are 40 percent that she ultimately throws her hat into the presidential ring, which I do not advocate here.

After learning that Hillary Clinton will apparently continue her paid speaking tour through March 2015, I now believe Clinton is more ambivalent about whether to run than most commentators suspect.

After watching the sad performance of President Obama and Democrats in Congress as they orchestrated a stunning retreat from the limited Dodd-Frank financial reforms, endorsed losses from highly speculative Wall Street trading as being eligible for future bailouts, and legalized far more lavish spending by wealthy donors seeking to buy influence with both political parties, it is clear there is now a battle for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party.

If Warren were a tech company, she would be called a disruptor. She is like the iPad, which did not exist five years ago but has revolutionized personal computing. Last week, Warren, as a member of the Senate Democratic leadership, denounced what other Democratic leaders and the Democratic president were doing. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Cuba is Still Communist, Says Raul Castro

December 20th 2014

Cuban president Raul Castro thanked President Obama for “a new chapter” in U.S.-Cuban relations on Saturday, but said the resumption of diplomatic relations would not mean abandoning communist governance.

“Every country has the inalienable right to choose its own political systems,” Castro said, according to the New York Times. “No one should believe that improving relations with the United States means Cuba renouncing its ideas.”

Castro said the island nation would begin undertaking gradual economic reforms to allow a system of “prosperous and sustainable communism” to take hold.

He also said that the rapprochement between the two countries was just beginning, saying of the sweeping changes to U.S. trade and travel policies that “the only way to advance is with mutual respect.” Read more ..


Looking for America

Las Mañanitas: Tradition of Faith Gains Ground in New Mexico

December 20th 2014

On the evening of December 11th, the pews quickly filled as parishioners and visitors alike patiently waited to hear singers, mariachis, and other musicians sing “Las Mañanitas” to the Virgin of Guadalupe at the stroke of midnight. They gather faithfully each year at her namesake parish in Albuquerque’s historic Los Griegos neighborhood to continue a vibrant cultural and religious tradition that supersedes the modern U.S.-Mexico border.

For 18 years now, the red brick parish has been standing room only on the eve of December 12, the Virgin of Guadalupe’s feast day, as traditional serenades and dances that have traveled up and down the Camino Real for centuries are performed in Spanish. The first Mañanitas at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Parish was held in 1996, under the leadership of retired Rev. Ramón Aragón, and has become a major event in the local Hispanic community. Read more ..


The Edge of Justice

Noted Attorney Benjamin Brafman Receives AAJLJ Pursuit of Justice Award

December 18th 2014

Supreme Court Lady Justice

The American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists (AAJLJ) presented its 2014 Pursuit of Justice award on December 15, 2014, to renowned criminal defense attorney Benjamin Brafman at the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, Shearith Israel, in New York City. Attorney Brafman joined a lengthy list of distinguished lawyers and judges who previously received the AAJLJ’s award including Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Stephen Breyer, Justice Elena Kagan, Justice Aharon Barak (of the Supreme Court of Israel), Chief Judge of the State of New York Jonathan Lippman, former Chief Judge of the State of New York Judith Kaye, and former U.S. Solicitor General Seth Waxman.  The award is presented by the AAJLJ to an attorney, judge, or law professor, who shares and epitomizes the Association's commitment to justice and advocacy for human rights. Read more ..


The Caliphate

Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights Reports One Militant Shoots and Beheads Pregnant Women En Masse

December 18th 2014

ISIS Shooters

At least 150 women, most of whom Yazidi, who refused to marry militants of the Islamic State were executed in the western Iraqi province of Al-Anbar, Iraq's Ministry of Human Rights said on Tuesday.

"At least 150 females, including pregnant women, were executed in Fallujah by a militant named Abu Anas Al-Libi after they refused to accept jihad marriage," the statement said.

"Many families were also forced to migrate from the province’s northern town of Al-Wafa after hundreds of residents received death threats." Read more ..


The Race for Nuclear

Energy Department Inspector Blocked From Probing Dismissal Of Hanford Engineer

December 18th 2014

Nuclear Waste

When nuclear engineer Donna Busche was fired in February from her job managing safety at the Hanford nuclear site in Washington state, she complained that it was a reprisal for her repeated warnings that the government and its contractors were ignoring serious safety risks there.

Energy Department inspector general Gregory Friedman took the allegations seriously enough to open an investigation after the department asked him to in March. But on Monday, his office announced in an exceptionally brief report that it had been blocked from conducting its work by the refusal of primary Hanford contractor Bechtel National Inc., as well as Bechtel subcontractor and Busche’s employer, URS Energy and Construction Inc., to turn over 4,540 documents.

Those documents included emails that referenced Ms. Busche during the period just before her firing, according to Tara Porter, a spokeswoman for the inspector general.

Read more ..

EPA Announcement Brings A Cloud of Uncertainty with a Silver Lining

December 18th 2014

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced it is delaying finalization of the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) Renewable Volume Obligations (RVO) until 2015. Deciding not to decide is not a decision. Unfortunately, the announcement today perpetuates the uncertainty that has plagued the continued evolution of biofuels production and marketing for a year. Nevertheless, the Administration has taken a major step by walking away from a proposed rule that was wrong on the law, wrong on the market impacts, wrong for innovation, and wrong for consumers. Moreover, it is clear that one of the reasons we find ourselves in this position is that the oil industry has steadfastly refused to make the investments in infrastructure or allow their marketers to offer higher ethanol blends like E85 or E15. In the absence of their dogged efforts to undermine the RFS, this would be far simpler for EPA. The monopoly-protecting talking points of the oil industry notwithstanding, the RFS has been enormously successful. It has compelled competition in motor fuel markets, lowered consumer gasoline costs, and reduced the carbon footprint of transportation fuels. We look forward to working with the Administration to assure this critically important program is implemented consistent with congressional intent, to the benefit of consumers and with the goal of advancing the evolution of biofuels production and marketing. Refiners will continue to resist the competition from biofuels. The RFS must be allowed to be the market forcing mechanism it was designed to be. In the end, the verdict on today’s announcement can only be made after a decision on a path forward for biofuels is identified.

Bob Dinneen is president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association.


Broken Government

Some Key Provisions in the $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill

December 18th 2014

Click to select Image

The $1.1 trillion spending bill approved by the Senate Saturday includes emergency funding and dozens of policy riders that will affect policy throughout the government.

The main purpose of the bill is to keep the government funded, and the so-called “cromnibus” includes 11 appropriations bill that will fund most of the government through September 2015. It also includes a continuing resolution (CR) that funds the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 27. This is to answer GOP critics of President Obama's immigration executive actions, who had pushed to defund the agency.

Here's a look at some of the key riders in the bill:

Wall Street un-reform

The bill includes language repealing part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law that will allow banks covered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to directly engage in derivatives trading. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

The United States and Cuba Begin Restoring Relations

December 18th 2014

Cuban Capitol

The United States and Cuba on Dec. 17 took their most assertive step in several decades toward normalizing relations. The most important announcements concerned the resumption of high-level political discussions focused on renewing formal diplomatic ties between the countries, which have been nonexistent since 1961. Cuban and U.S. officials will hold high-level meetings in the coming months, and the two countries will work toward establishing embassies in Havana and Washington. The United States will also immediately relax some sanctions on trade and travel to Cuba. President Barack Obama announced that the United States would loosen certain restrictions on financial transactions with Cuba, remove some restrictions on U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba, and authorize the export of certain goods to the Cuban private sector.

Read more ..

Computer Age

Europe's War on the Internet

December 17th 2014

The Internet giant Google has announced that it is shutting down its Google News service in Spain. The move came in response to a new copyright law in Spain that would require Google and other news aggregators to pay Spanish publishers for linking to their content. The Spanish law follows similar legislation in other parts of the European Union, where politicians are increasingly lashing out at Google over a host of complaints about antitrust, privacy and taxation issues.

Google has accommodated critics in some countries, but with Spain, the government appears to have completely overreached: Spain's ailing newspaper industry, which is utterly dependent upon Google News to drive traffic and revenues, is now at risk.

Spain's new Intellectual Property Law (Ley de Propiedad Intelectual) was approved in February 2014 and enters into effect on January 1, 2015. Also known as the "Google Tax" (tasa Google), the purpose of the new law is to force predominately American internet content aggregators to pay for the rejuvenation of digital media in Spain. Read more ..



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