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Archive for February 2014

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Iran's Nukes

"Iran Deal," May be Washington’s Gravest Foreign Policy Mistake

February 28th 2014

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

The Obama administration, in its first and second terms, has committed strategic mistakes in the Middle East which will undermine U.S. national and security interests for many years, even under subsequent administrations after 2016.

The damage done is severe, and a remedy seems out of reach unless earth shattering changes are applied to Washington’s foreign policy—either under the incumbent’s administration or the next. The common core of U.S. strategic mistakes has been the perception of partners in the region since day one of the post-Bush presidency. While Bush’s narrative on backing pro-democracy forces was right on track, the bureaucracy’s actions betrayed the White House’s global aim. By the time the Obama administration installed itself on Pennsylvania Avenue in 2009, little had been accomplished by the Bush bureaucrats in regards to identifying these pro-democracy forces and supporting them. When the current administration replaced Bush, however, civil society groups in the Middle East were systematically abandoned—aid to their liberal forces was cut off and engagement with the radicals became priority. The mistakes of the Bush bureaucracy became the official policy of the Obama administration.

The Race for Solar

Uganda's Newest Utility: Pay-as-you-go Solar Power

February 28th 2014

Photovoltaic cells

In Uganda, telecom provider MTN and a company called Fenix are gearing up this year for a nationwide rollout of pre-paid electricity, similar to pre-paid airtime, but using solar kits. Uganda has one of the lowest electrification rates in Africa - a continent where some 600 million people are off the power grid.

​The village of Kiwumu lies less than 32 kilometers from the Ugandan capital, Kampala. But the bright lights of the city seem worlds away. Like the vast majority of Uganda, Kiwumu is off the electrical grid, and teacher Michael Mugerwa does not expect things to change any time soon.

"I'm not dreaming of having grid power here in the next 15 years, because power distribution is influenced by government, and government seems to have preference elsewhere. So it's not easy to get grid in these residential communities," he said. Read more ..

Islam and Europe

The Taste of Muslim Integration in the UK

February 28th 2014

In the city of Bradford UK, the local Reform synagogue was about to close its doors when members of a nearby mosque and some Muslim businessmen stepped in with money and advice -- and the synagogue has been saved. The two sides have started what they hope will become a tradition.

Although immigration can be of great benefit to societies, when it goes wrong -- such as illegal immigration, or when incomers cannot find work, or when new citizens refuse to adapt to the societies they enter -- the benefits are eroded and the native population starts to resent the people it had originally invited to join them.

The United States seems to have done a good job on integrating its immigrants, to the point where its many groups have made such wonderful contributions to life in their new country that it is hard to see what America would be without them. Although, as Moynihan and Glazer revealed in Beyond the Melting Pot, the pot never completely melts, the Poles have learned to speak English; they pledge allegiance to the flag and they serve -- and die -- in the military. But they still eat pierogi, attend Mass in a Polish church, play Polish music (however corrupted) and preserve memories of their grandmothers and grandfathers. To them, the future is American, and tastes of pierogi, kiełbasa, and hamburgers. Read more ..

The Ukraine on Edge

In Crimea, A Simmering Cauldron

February 28th 2014

Protest in Ukraine

This week's standoff in Crimea was a long time coming. The emerging crisis pitting ethnic Russians seeking integration with Moscow and Crimean Tatars who wish to remain in Ukraine is emblematic of the smoldering tensions that have been a fact of daily life on the sunny Black Sea peninsula for the last quarter-century.

Because of the region's unique and tortured history, Crimean Tatars are afraid, says Igor Semivolos, director of the Center for Near East Studies in Kyiv. He says that the Tatars feel "threats from the Russian-speaking population, or more concretely, from groups of Cossacks and other formations that are now being created under the conditions of political hysteria that we see now in Crimea. And [Tatars] see a threat to themselves from these groups -- including a physical threat." Read more ..

The 2014 Election

Obama Readies 2014 Pitch

February 28th 2014

Obama with baseball bat

Obama will argue that the 2014 midterm elections represent a clear choice between "opportunity for all" versus "opportunity for few" in his speech to the Democratic National Committee's winter meeting Friday afternoon.

The remarks to Democratic officials and lawmakers are designed to set the terms for the upcoming midterms, the White House said, with a particular focus on the president's economic agenda.

Obama will argue his recent efforts on raising the minimum wage and making college more affordable will illustrate that Democrats are more interested in addressing everyday issues for middle class Americas. He'll also slam Republicans as intransigent and argue that GOP lawmakers look for ways to benefit the wealthiest Americans.

"The Republican Party can keep telling the country what they’re against – whether it’s the Affordable Care Act, or the minimum wage, or equal pay laws, or commonsense immigration reform, or the very existence of climate change," Obama will say, according to excerpts of his speech. Read more ..

Inside Politics

Bill Clinton's Rescue Ride

February 28th 2014

Bill & Hillary Clinton

Springtime is coming, baseball teams have reassembled for training, Robert Redford is back on cable playing Roy Hobbs in “The Natural” and Bill Clinton has begun his ride to rescue Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections.

In politics, the trick is to know the difference between the noise and the music. What passes for discourse in Washington is noise, which most Americans deplore, while the Democratic call to arms of Clinton, who reminds Americans of a time when jobs were plentiful and politics was not a dirty word, is pure music.

The 2014 midterm elections will be decided by votes in about 40 races for the House and Senate, which could well be won by either party with razor-thin margins. What distinguishes 2014 from midterm elections in 2006 and 2010 is that power in Washington today is divided between the two parties, and voters are unhappy with both of them.

Enter the former president, who began his rescue ride for Democrats this week in Kentucky, a state he carried in 1992 and 1996, which is now led by a widely respected Democratic governor, Steve Beshear. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

Obamacare Navigator Revealed as Convicted Palestinian Terrorist Bomber

February 28th 2014

A terrorist from Jordan briefly worked as an Obamacare navigator in Illinois while authorities remained unaware of her conviction for involvement in a deadly grocery store bombing and two other attacks.

Rasmieh Yousef Odeh was convicted in Israel for her role in several bombings, including the 1969 attack on an upscale Shufersol grocery store, which killed two Hebrew University students who had stopped in to buy groceries for a hiking trip in the Jerusalem hills. Leon Kanner and Eddie Joffe were killed by a bomb hidden in a candy box tucked on a shelf, which also injured nine or 10 others, according to a website maintained by the Israeli government to commemorate terror victims.

The Illinois Department of Insurance quietly revoked Odeh’s certification as a Navigator In-Person Counselor on November 24, explaining in a disciplinary report that the decision was “based on an investigation which revealed that she had been convicted in Israel for her role in the bombings of a supermarket and the British Consulate in Jerusalem and failed to reveal the conviction on her application.” Read more ..

Broken Government

Dave Camp's One Huge Tax Problem

February 28th 2014

IRS building

Representative Dave Camp, the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, released his tax-reform plan yesterday. Here are the four best elements of the plan, the three worst -- and its biggest missed opportunity.

     Let's start with the good stuff:
--The plan cuts taxes on business investment. Those taxes are now higher than in any other developed country, which encourages companies to invest abroad rather than in the U.S. The Camp plan changes those incentives, which ought to mean more capital domestically -- and, in the long run, higher wages. It would be even stronger on this front if it didn't drag out how long it takes for businesses to write off investments.

--It ends the tax deduction for state and local taxes. That deduction is a subsidy from people in low-tax states to those in high-tax ones. It also puts a federal thumb on the scales in the debate over how big state and local governments should be. Camp is right to seek its end. Read more ..

Environmental Edge

Ecological Disaster Looms over Lake Erie

February 28th 2014

Reducing the size of the Lake Erie "dead zone" to acceptable levels will require cutting nutrient pollution nearly in half in coming decades, at a time when climate change is expected to make such reductions more difficult. That's one of the main conclusions of a comprehensive new study that documents recent trends in Lake Erie's health. It offers science-based guidance to policymakers seeking to reduce the size of toxic algae blooms and oxygen-starved regions called hypoxic zones, or dead zones—two related water-quality problems that have seen a resurgence in the lake since the mid-1990s.

The report from the multi-institution EcoFore-Lake Erie project states that a 46 percent reduction in the amount, or load, of phosphorus pollution would be needed to shrink Lake Erie's Central Basin hypoxic zone to a size last seen in the mid-1990s—a time that coincided with the recovery of several recreational and commercial fisheries in the lake's west and central basins. Read more ..

The Healthy Edge

New Diabetes Treatments May be Ineffective

February 28th 2014

Click to select Image

Two newer classes of drugs to treat adult-onset diabetes may be no more effective than the old standby, yet they cost significantly more over the course of a patient's disease.

That's according to a National Science Foundation-funded study by researchers at the University of Michigan, Mayo Clinic and North Carolina State University.

Based on a simulation model that involved 15 years worth of actual patient data from more than 37,000 individuals, the researchers found that the newer drugs cost patients and insurance companies anywhere from $1,600 to $2,400 more.

That's from the time a person is diagnosed until he or she develops heart problems, circulatory complications or dies. The exact time period varies widely, but it can be more than a decade.

Some 25 million Americans live with type 2 diabetes today, so the researchers say the findings offer an avenue for substantial savings. Read more ..

Turkey on Edge

Erdogan Clamps Down on Turkey as Corruption Scandal Widens

February 28th 2014

Tayyip Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen

For months, the corruption scandal rocking Turkey has centered on people around Recep Tayyip Erdogan while stopping just short of the prime minister himself. But the release on February 24 of an alleged recording of a phone conversation between him and his adult son Bilal is now making the scandal very personal for Erdogan indeed.

In the recording, released anonymously on the Internet, Erdogan purportedly tells his son to get tens of millions of dollars out of the house because an investigation is closing in. The prime minister has called the tape a gross fabrication but the country's leading opposition party, the Republican People's Party (CHP), says it has confirmed the recording's authenticity. Read more ..

Ukraine on Edge

Russia Stirs the Water with Invasion of Crimea

February 28th 2014

Ukraine's new interior minister says Russian naval soldiers are blocking Crimea's Sevastopol airport, while other Russian forces are patrolling the airport in the regional capital, Simferopol. Arsen Avakov described the airport seizures as "a military invasion and occupation." Interfax quoted military sources in the region as saying that the soldiers had gone to Sevastopol's airport to stop "militants" from flying in.

Ukraine's UNIAN news agency said six military trucks full of armed soldiers had arrived at the airport, which also doubles as a Ukrainian Air Force facility. Russia's Black Sea Fleet, which has a base in Sevastopol, denied its forces were involved in seizing or blockading the airport.

Ukraine's parliament, meanwhile, on February 28 urged Moscow to stop any moves that could undermine the country's sovereignty.

The Verkhovna Rada called on the United States, Britain, and Russia to uphold Ukraine's territorial integrity in line with a memorandum they signed in 1994. It also suggested the UN Security Council meet to consider the crisis. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Targeting Metabolim to Develop New Prostate Cancer Treatments

February 27th 2014

Docs and Tech

A University of Houston (UH) scientist and his team are working to develop the next generation of prostate cancer therapies, which are targeted at metabolism.

With approximately one out of six American men being diagnosed and nearly a quarter of a million new cases expected this year, prostate cancer is the most common malignancy among men in the U.S. Since prostate cancer relies on androgens for growth and survival, androgen ablation therapies are the standard of care for late-stage disease. While patients initially respond favorably to this course of treatment, most experience a relapse within two years, at which time limited treatment options exist. At this stage, known as castration-resistant prostate cancer, androgen-deprivation therapies are no longer effective, but interestingly, androgen receptor signaling is still active and plays a large role in the progression of the cancer. Because of this, both androgen receptors and the processes downstream of the receptor remain viable targets for therapeutic intervention. Unfortunately, it is unclear which specific downstream processes actually drive the disease and, therefore, what should be targeted. Read more ..

The Race for Wind and Sun

Green Energy Expansion in Germany Comes at a Hefty Price

February 27th 2014

Wind Farm

Germany is one of the top producers of renewable energy in the world. Since the year 2000 the country’s production of clean electricity jumped from a modest 6 percent to 25 percent last year in an effort to shift the German economy from nuclear power and fossil fuels towards wind and solar energy. Despite the progress, German consumers pay among the highest electricity prices in the European Union. 

Lissy Ishang started turning off appliances to save energy when she moved away from home a decade ago. Back then, Lissy’s family was paying half the price Germans pay today for electricity and this year German consumers are expected to pay even more.

Today an average family of four in Germany spends about $107 a month for electricity. This year, their monthly bill will be $129, almost three times more than a family in the United States. Read more ..

The Ukraine on Edge

Uprising Opens Doors for Ukrainian Women

February 27th 2014

Ukraine protest

Ukraine's protest movement, that led to the ouster of the government last week, involved many women in both traditional and non-traditional roles, and some of them hope it marked the start of a revolution in women's status.

Independence Square has been crowded with protesters and their supporters for months.  The men who guard the barricades against police assault are hailed as heroes, and those who were killed are honored as martyrs.

Women joined the effort, mostly in support roles - preparing food, passing bricks, and delivering sandwiches and tea to the men on the barricades. "The guys are just sitting there and pretending they are very important, very cool.  And the women are really working," said Nina, a security volunteer, who hides her face to stay safe. She broke out of the old stereotypes to stand guard with the young men. Read more ..

Pakistan on Edge

Pakistan Denies Protecting Pro-Taliban Haqqani Network

February 27th 2014

Terrorist Bombing

Pakistan claims its “precision” air strikes against suspected militant bases in and around the volatile North Waziristan border region are “successfully” underway. It denies reports in the American media, however, that the country plans no action against the Haqqani network, a key ally of the Taliban in Afghanistan, which is entrenched in the tribal territory and known for staging attacks on Afghan and U.S. forces.

During the past week, Pakistani jets and helicopter gunships have repeatedly bombed hideouts of militants of the outlawed Terik-i-Taliban Pakistan, known as the TTP. The attacks focused on parts of tribal areas in the northwest, including the militant-dominated North Waziristan district. Security officials say the action killed more than 100 Islamist militants, some of them belonging to the central Asian republic of Uzbekistan, and destroyed a number of their strongholds. Read more ..

Asia Rising

The Asian Status Quo

February 27th 2014


Arguably the greatest book on political realism in the 20th century was University of Chicago Professor Hans J. Morgenthau's Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, published in 1948. In that seminal work, Morgenthau defines the status quo as "the maintenance of the distribution of power that exists at a particular moment in history." In other words, things shall stay as they are. But it is not quite that clear. For as Morgenthau also explains, "the concept of the 'status quo' derives from status quo ante bellum," which, in turn, implies a return to the distribution of power before a war. The war's aggressor shall give up his conquered territory, and everything will return to how it was.

The status quo also connotes the victors' peace: a peace that may be unfair, or even oppressive, but at the same time stands for stability. For a change in the distribution of power, while at times just in a moral sense, simply introduces a measure of instability into the geopolitical equation. And because stability has a moral value all its own, the status quo is sanctified in the international system. Let us apply this to Asia. Read more ..

The Battle for Iraq

Battle Lines Drawn in Iraq’s Anbar Province

February 27th 2014

Iraqi Forces

Since the New Year, Iraq’s Anbar province has been wracked with violence as tribal militias, Iraqi government forces, and the al-Qaeda inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) have fought for control of key cities in the region.

Though the causes behind this current round of violence are multi-faceted, its outbreak can roughly be traced to December 28, when Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki dispatched troops to Ramadi to arrest Ahmed al-Alwani, an MP in the Iraqi Parliament.

Al-Alwani is a Sunni politician with ties to an Anbar-based protest movement against the al-Malaki government, which protesters accuse of unfairly targeting its Sunni political opponents.  The movement has decried the mass imprisonment of political prisoners, suspect executions under Iraq’s controversial Article 4 of the Terror Law, and Sunni expulsions at the hands of government-sanctioned militias. Al-Alwani acted as the group's voice in parliament, and it follows that he was likely targeted in an effort to stem criticism towards what many Sunnis believe to be an increasingly authoritarian and sectarian prime minister.

These events corresponded with a substantial increase in activity from the Anbar-based ISIS – an al-Qaeda affiliated militant group formed during the US occupation of Iraq.  Owing to its involvement in the Syrian civil war, recruitment and funding have spiked through 2013, allowing it to carry out more sophisticated bombing campaigns in Baghdad and Shiite strongholds in Iraq. Read more ..

Financing the Flames

Polish MEP to Question Ashton on EU Taxpayers Money 'Helping Fund Palestinian Terrorists

February 27th 2014

Edwin Black

Michal Kaminski, a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists group (ERCR), said he was ‘’shocked’’ by revelations made by American investigative author Edmin Black in his latest book Financing the Flames about how the money that’s going into the Palestinian Authority (PA) from the US and Europe is funding a specific terrorism program administered by the Palestinian Authority’ Ministry of Prisoners, pursuant to a law called the ‘law of the prisoner’, which creates monthly salaries for convicted terrorists which escalate by the number of people that are killed.

‘’If a terrorist in Israel commits an act of terrporism, if he blows up a bus or stabs a man at a tourist junction, he goes on immediate official Palestinian Authority salary. These salaries make up 6 percent of the entire PA budget,’’ said Edmin Black, who presented his book to members of the EU parliament this week in Brussels, told European Jewish Press.

‘’This is open, it’s not denied and they are getting hundreds of millions of dollars from the EU and from the United States tax payer. I am urgng the EU to immediately stop all payments to the PA until they rescind this program,’’ he added.

‘’My book is about the robust use of tax-exempt, charitable and public monies to promote a culture of confrontation and even terrorism in Israel. The public which wants its tax monies used to promote peace and reconciliation is doing the exact opposite, they are paying for specific acts of terrorisml and they are paying for organizations to promote hate,’’ said Black who cited in particular tax-exempt organizationsq like the New Israel Fund, the Ford Foundation and the George Soros Open Socitey Foundation

 ‘’I will write a parliamentary question to Madame Ashton to ask about the reaction of the European Union about the facts that were exposed in this book. Because the facts are really shocking,’’ said MEP Michal Kaminski. ‘’Unfortunately there are many people in the European Parliament who don’t see the truth. The truth is that Europe’s only reliable ally in the Middle East is Israel,’’ he added. Read more ..

Significant Lives

Barry Rubin: An Appreciation

February 27th 2014

Barry Rubin-Jonathan Spyer

Barry Rubin was one of the leading Middle East scholars and analysts of his generation.
He was also a patriot of two countries – Israel and the United States – a dissenter, and a moral and intellectual beacon for thousands of people in many lands.

Barry brought to his work a tremendous, searing energy, which made him famously prolific. This energy stayed with him throughout the illness which has now prematurely ended his life. He was still composing articles in the very last days, when his hands could no longer work the keyboard. He stayed with his chosen mission to the end.

What was the source of this extraordinary energy and commitment? It is vital to note that Barry’s work was characterized not only by its analytical depth, but also by a profound sense of moral urgency. This set him apart from the scholarly and academic mainstream. There was always a sense behind his words of some urgent wrong to be righted, or some piece of information which must be revealed and understood, with no time to waste. Read more ..

Book Review

Edwin Black Takes on the Non-Profit War Against Israel

February 27th 2014

Financing the Flames

Financing the Flames. Edwin Black. Dialog Press. 2013. 288 pp.

Many books have been written about the financing of war, but Edwin Black’s latest book is about the financing of peace. That would seem like a positive theme, except that Black reveals that the financing of peace is really the financing of war.

Edwin Black has a history of writing investigative reports about the financing of conflict and Financing the Flames: How Tax-Exempt and Public Money Fuel a Culture of Confrontation and Terror in Israel is firmly in that tradition. Black picks up where he left off with his investigation of the Ford Foundation’s bigoted Anti-Israel shenanigans at Durban to look at the left’s financing of the conflict in Israel.

Israel is a small country and most Israeli Jews and Arabs already know that the conflict is stirred up by interested parties. They know that rocks don’t just get thrown randomly at soldiers and confrontations between Jewish and Arab villages are often staged by interested parties who don’t even live there.

The conflict was always externally encouraged, whether it was the British and the Nazis playing spy games or Iran and the Soviet Union funneling money and instructions to terrorists, but the perpetuation of the conflict has interwoven a mesh of conflict profiteers into the country, from hordes of stringers and journalists looking for a conflict photo or terror interview to sell, and over to the networks of non-profit organizations stirring up violence on an even larger scale and for even uglier motives. It is this network of non-profits, some little known outside Israel, which is the topic of Black’s book.

The demonization of Israel, from the high range of official documents like the Goldstone Report to the low range of viral videos on YouTube, doesn’t just happen. It’s the for-profit work of non-profit organizations that finance a campaign that sometimes falls just narrowly short of open terrorism. Read more ..

Defense on Edge

Waking Up to Defense Cuts

February 27th 2014


If you are surprised by this week's announcement of major manpower cuts to the U.S. Army, you haven't been paying attention. For a long time.

There are two components to understanding America's defense spending choices -- the political and the budgetary; they are not the same. The Administration has made the political case clear.

     Beginning in 2011, President Obama pronounced himself committed to "ending the wars" in Iraq and Afghanistan "responsibly."
     The president committed to a turn inward, beginning with a 2011 statement that "the nation we need to build is our own," coupled with the promise to cut troops deployed abroad in half.
     The refrain "no boots on the ground," is the mantra of many administration officials, resurrected again last weekend by Susan Rice regarding limits to U.S. support of rebels in Syria -- although no one appears to have suggested so much as a huarache.
     Secretary Kerry's visit to Indonesia prompted him to declare global "climate change" as big a threat in Asia as "terrorism, poverty and WMDs." He skipped China's increasingly bold assertions of hegemony in Asian waters and increasingly large defense budget (still miniscule compared to ours, but one heads one way, the other the other way).  Read more ..

Tax Reform

GOP Way and Means Chairman Unveils Mammoth Tax Reform Bill

February 26th 2014


The House’s top tax writer rolled out a broad tax reform plan on Wednesday that would pare back tax breaks once thought untouchable and affect practically every part of American life.

The nearly 1,000-page plan unveiled by Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) would pull back on the cherished deduction for home mortgage interest and embraces some ideas touted by Democrats, like scrapping the “carried interest” tax break used by hedge fund managers.

Camp said a discussion on making the tax code fairer and a more positive force for the economy was long overdue in Washington, given that the last successful tax reform effort was in 1986. But the discussion draft, which included a summary that along ran almost 200 pages, quickly found detractors both on and off Capitol Hill, as trade groups and lobbyists found out who were the losers in the chairman’s outline. Read more ..

Inside Politics

Democrats' Enemy No. 1

February 26th 2014

Hillary Clinton in blue

Democrats have a big job in 2014: they need to hold onto control of the Senate, win back leadership of the House, and elect Democratic governors and state legislators in key states. But to get there, they face one big obstacle.

Arrayed against them will be an obscene amount of money. The dreaded Koch brothers alone, who spent $400 million in 2012 bashing President Obama and Democratic candidates, are expected to raise and spend just as much, if not more, in 2014. They’re already running TV spots against several incumbent senators and House members they deem vulnerable.

But Republican opponents and outside groups like the Koch brothers are not the Democrats’ biggest problem. Their No. 1 obstacle: themselves. As Pogo once famously said, “We have met the enemy — and he is us.” Here’s the problem: Too many Democrats, and too many members of the media, are spending too much time talking and scheming about 2016. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Individual Property Rights Trump Keystone XL in Nebraska

February 26th 2014

Keystone Pipeline

Should a Canadian corporation be allowed to take land rights from a small Nebraska rancher? Should conservatives side with Big Government and Canadians over private landowners?

A court in Nebraska has put the brakes on the Keystone XL pipeline in a case that started with land rights. The plaintiffs were landowners in Keystone's path who didn't want to sell, and so became victims of eminent domain to benefit Keystone.

The Keystone XL pipeline, being built by TransCanada, has generated dozens of passionate arguments on both sides. Keystone opponents say the pipeline will disrupt habitats. The pipeline has also become a totem for oil, and thus a symbol of so many things hated on the Left: profits, pollution, climate change, and Republicans. Read more ..

The Broken Economy

The Unemployment Trap

February 26th 2014

People lined up for jobs

In his State of the Union address last month, President Obama called on Congress to extend federal emergency unemployment benefits that expired in December 2013. “I’m also convinced we can help Americans return to the work force faster by reforming unemployment insurance so that it’s more effective in today’s economy. But first, this Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people.” The president didn’t seem to recognize the internal contradiction in his speech: The extended insurance was surely a significant cause of the surge in long-term unemployment that has left us with a lingering unemployment problem.

Extended unemployment benefits lower workers’ incentives to search for jobs and to take jobs that may not be a perfect fit, and they may also lower firms’ incentives to hire new workers. It might seem intuitive that these incentives sometimes lead workers to delay their return to work, but many on the left dispute this. Read more ..

The Edge of Ecology

Google Technology Powers Online Effort to Catch World's Forest Killers

February 26th 2014

Congo Forest

A powerful new online forest monitoring system is the latest tool in the fight against deforestation.

The world's tree cover is disappearing at an alarming rate - 2.5 million square kilometers since 2000, the equivalent of 50 football [soccer] fields every minute of every day - because of fire, illegal logging and land gobbled up by farms, mining and oil operations. By the time these activities are discovered, it is often too late to do anything about them, much less determine who is at fault.

Enter Global Forest Watch, created by the World Resources Institute and 40 partner groups. WRI president Andrew Steer says it's a game changer. “It is possible to bring for the first time ever really, real-time data at a very local level to everybody in the world," he said. "And that is what Global Forest Watch is all about.” Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Commercial Spyware Raises Privacy Concerns

February 26th 2014

Computers/Nerd Silhouette

While the National Security Agency has been getting a lot of attention for its global surveillance endeavors, a small army of private and often secretive companies is quietly peddling spyware with NSA-like capabilities to governments around the world.  Among their clients; the NSA.

Many of these products go beyond simple monitoring of huge amounts of traffic or stealing files. These new programs can target individuals, infect their computers, phones, web cameras or other devices to watch and record the every move of people targeted.

The software does have legitimate uses such as gathering data about criminal activities, but critics say it too often is used by authoritarian regimes to spy on their own people. The most recent public case involves an American citizen who goes by the alias “Mr. Kidane.” Read more ..

After the Holocaust

Japanese Authorities, Jewish Scholars Condemn Desecration of Anne Frank’s Diaries

February 26th 2014

Holocaust Tattoo

Japanese authorities are looking for suspects responsible for defacing almost 300 copies of books by and about Anne Frank, the young Jewish girl who’s famous Diary is considered one of the best-known testimonies about the Holocaust.

News of pages being torn from the books in 31 public libraries in Tokyo has left Jewish scholars shocked.   

“We know that there are scores of libraries and at least hundreds and maybe more copies of the diary of Anne Frank and other books that deal with Anne Frank, that have been vandalized, ripped apart, desecrated,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. Frank ’s Diary of a Young Girl  was written in World War Two by the Jewish teenager as she lived in hiding with her family in Amsterdam, then occupied by Nazi Germany. Read more ..

Nigeria on Edge

For Many Nigerians, Corruption Invincible Woe

February 26th 2014

Nigerian Pres Goodluck Jonathan

From the volatile oil-producing Niger Delta to northern forests where insurgents terrorize villagers, some Nigerians blame corruption for many of their woes, but no one knows how to stop it.

About half of all Nigerians are without electricity. Without a generator, no one, not even the richest Nigerians, has electricity all day.

At the University of Abuja, where the power is off, political scientist Abubakar Umar Kari blames corruption for the outage, along with a host of other problems.

“As far as we are concerned, corruption is the biggest industry in Nigeria," Kari said. "The Nigerian elite have perfected the act at not only perpetrating corruption but ensuring that they use the instrumentality of corruption as statecraft.” Early this month, Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi was suspended and placed under investigation after saying Nigeria’s national oil company had not accounted for $20 billion. Read more ..

The Ukraine on Edge

Who Might Lead Ukraine?

February 26th 2014


The ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych marks a resounding victory for Ukraine's pro-European protesters after their deadly, three-month standoff with the government. But it also plunges the country into new political uncertainty.

As the opposition-dominated parliament scrambles to work out who is in charge, speculation is rife about who will emerge as the new leaders of Ukraine and its 45 million people.

Oleksandr Turchynov
Ukraine's parliament overwhelmingly elected its speaker as interim president on February 23, just one day after throwing out Yanukovych.

Turchynov, a close confident of Yulia Tymoshenko, will serve as president until a presidential election on May 25.

A former head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), he is a leading member of her Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party whose political career has been closely intertwined with Tymoshenko's.

Turchynov is a Baptist -- setting him apart from the traditionally Orthodox and Catholic majority -- and a prolific writer, whose psychological thriller "Illusion of Fear" was made into a film and submitted as the country's entry for the Academy Award for best foreign-language film in 2008. Read more ..

The Ukraine on Edge

In The Shadow Of Lenin, Two Ukraines Face Off In Kharkiv

February 26th 2014

Ukraine protest

Wielding batons and riot shields, masked Euromaidan supporters have occupied the regional administration building in the eastern city of Kharkiv for several days. They vow to remain until "corrupt" officials resign.

Across the city's main square, a few hundred pro-Russia demonstrators shout insults like "scum" and deride them as "fascists." They have also set up an encampment under a towering statue of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin, which they claim to be guarding against vandalism from Euromaidan supporters. Russian flags flutter in the wind as pop anthems from Vladimir Vysotsky and the Perestroika-era rock band Kino boom out of speakers. Read more ..

Ukraine on Edge

Ukraine's President Yanukovych is At-Large and So Are His Secrets

February 25th 2014

Someone wanted the records to disappear without a trace under the gray waves of the Kyiv Reservoir. Instead, they are ending up on the Internet for everyone in the world to see. When ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his entourage were fleeing the lavish presidential residence at Mezhyhirya, outside of Kyiv, on the night of February 21-22, they dumped hundreds of documents into the reservoir in an amateurish attempt to conceal the information they contain.

But journalists and scuba divers showed up on the scene just hours later and began recovering the soggy papers. Some were floating surreally along the edges of the water; others were recovered in stuffed file folders from the depths. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Nothing to Show for Defense Department Psychological Health Programs

February 25th 2014

Despite numerous resilience and prevention programs to address the psychological health of military veterans and their families, no evidence exists to prove their effectiveness, according to a new report issued by the Institute of Medicine.

Kenneth Warner, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and chair of the committee that wrote the report for the U.S. Department of Defense, said the military should develop, track and evaluate programs based on scientific evidence to ensure their effectiveness. In addition, more frequent evaluations of programs are needed.

"Increasing rates of mental health problems among service members and the related psychological toll on families point to an urgent need to prevent and mitigate these conditions," said Warner, the Avedis Donabedian Distinguished University Professor of Public Health at U-M. "DOD should rigorously evaluate any new programs that are developed to do so, because we remain uncertain about which approaches work and which ones are ineffective." Read more ..

Petroleum Addiction

US Methane Leaks are Significantly Undercounted

February 25th 2014

About 50 percent more of the greenhouse gas methane has been seeping into the atmosphere than previously thought, according to far-reaching findings that synthesize two decades' worth of methane studies in North America. People who go out and actually measure methane pretty consistently find more emissions than we expect. Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas.

The study was a broad-based effort led by Stanford University that involved researchers from the University of Michigan, MIT, Harvard University and 11 other institutions and national laboratories. It's the first to integrate studies that looked at both individual ground-based components and continental-scale observations.

"People who go out and actually measure methane pretty consistently find more emissions than we expect," said Adam Brandt, an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. Read more ..

The Healthy Edge

Scientists Find a Way to Heal a Broken Heart

February 25th 2014

Poets and physicians know that a scarred heart cannot beat the way it used to, but the science of reprogramming cells offers hope—for the physical heart, at least. A team of University of Michigan biomedical engineers has turned cells common in scar tissue into colonies of beating heart cells. Their findings could advance the path toward regenerating tissue that's been damaged in a heart attack.

Previous work in direct reprogramming, jumping straight from a cell type involved in scarring to heart muscle cells, has a low success rate. But Andrew Putnam, an associate professor of biomedical engineering and head of the Cell Signaling in Engineered Tissues Lab, thinks he knows at least one of the missing factors for better reprogramming. "Many reprogramming studies don't consider the environment that the cells are in—they don't consider anything other than the genes," he said. "The environment can dictate the expression of those genes." Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Georgia Tech Project Ensures 'What You See Is What You Send’

computer keyboard woman hands

Imagine a user who intends to send $2 to a friend through PayPal. Embedded malware in the user’s laptop, however, converts the $2 transaction into a $2,000 transfer to the account of the malware author instead.

Researchers at Georgia Tech have created a prototype software, Gyrus, that takes extra steps to prevent malware from sending spam emails and instant messages, and blocking unauthorized commands such as money transfers.

Current protection programs might recognize the original user’s intent to send email, transfer money or engage in other transactions but cannot verify the specifics such as email contents or amount of money. Without context, it is impossible to properly verify the user’s full intent, regardless of whether the software is protecting a financial transfer, an industrial control system or a wide range of other user-driven applications. Read more ..

The Race for Electric

Chinese Electric Bus Company Charges into US

February 25th 2014

Dashboard for electric car

In the heart of southern California, home of packed freeways and major smog problems, help may be on the way from an unexpected source - China. The Chinese company BYD is trying to make an impact while overcoming new obstacles.

Outside the BYD U.S. headquarters in the heart of Los Angeles, Auto Marketing Manager Lifang Yan agilely moved a 12-meter-long BYD electric-powered bus. “Zero emissions, zero pollution, lower fuel costs, and lower maintenance costs," she said.

BYD, which is short for “Build You Dreams”, is the first Chinese company to manufacture cars in the United States. Its battery-powered buses should be a dream come true for a city with constant traffic jams and serious air pollution like Los Angeles.  And so far, the company has three small orders from southern California transit agencies. But now,  it needs to convince buyers to make larger orders. Read more ..

Education on Edge

Schoolchildren Design Cities of the Future

February 25th 2014

St Louis Cathedral, New Orleans at night

What will the cities of the future look like?

That was the challenge addressed by 40,000 middle school students from 1,350 schools across the U.S. in an annual competition to design the urban landscape of tomorrow. Thirty-seven teams made the finals and traveled to Washington, D.C., to defend their ideas before the judges at the Future City competition.

The annual contest aims to direct young people toward careers in science and technology. It is sponsored by a consortium of professional and technical societies and some major U.S. corporations.

The students built tabletop scale models of their designs using recycled materials, costing no more than $100. The teams also had to write essays about their solutions, explain their ideas to the crowd and answer the questions asked by a six-member expert panel. Read more ..

Egypt After the Revolution

Iranian-Born Artist Explores Cost Of Egypt's Revolution

February 25th 2014

Tahrir square at night

The work of Iranian-born artist Shirin Neshat, whose photographs, films and video installations deal with gender, politics and religion in the Islamic world, has been heralded by art critics and collected by major museums.

Although Neshat has lived in the United States since the 1970s, her work has most often been focused on the lives of women in Iran, and more recently with the aftermath of the Arab Spring in Egypt.
In 2010, a critic for The Huffington Post named her "Artist of the Decade," saying that Neshat's art reflects the struggle for human rights by "voiding stereotypes," revealing the "diversity within Islam and Iran." Neshat's 2009 film, Women Without Men, a magical-realist tale of women in Iran at the time of the 1953 coup, won the top directing award at the Venice Film Festival. Read more ..

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