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Archive for December 2011

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Iraq After Withdrawal

A Fresh Start to U.S.-Iraqi Relations

December 14th 2011

Iraq - Iraqi Forces

As the United States completes its military pullout from Iraq, two events this week will offer the opportunity for a clear statement of Washington's postwithdrawal policy toward Baghdad: today, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met with President Obama at the White House, and on Wednesday, the president will deliver a speech on Iraq at Fort Bragg. Ideally, this fresh start to bilateral relations will focus on establishing red lines concerning the protection of U.S. citizens in Iraq, counterterrorism cooperation, human rights, and the observance of democratic norms. Iraq should not be a place where Iranian-backed militants can threaten U.S. interests, nor where an authoritarian regime can violate the rights of its citizens with impunity.

The White House Visit

Maliki's trip to Washington was not a foregone conclusion -- Muqtada al-Sadr and his supporters have pressed the prime minister to cancel the visit since mid-October. That Maliki decided to come despite these pressures is indicative of his ongoing desire for a strategic relationship with the United States. His recent actions suggest that he feels insecure on a number of fronts. Notwithstanding his paranoia - a trait seemingly bred into him during long years of exile from Saddam-era Iraq - Maliki's concerns have some basis in reality.

Coup worries

Intelligence reports provided by either the Libyan or Syrian government (media reporting differs on this issue) appear to have stoked Maliki's fear of a Sunni-led coup backed by Gulf Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Read more ..

America and Israel

Disturbing and Anti-Semitic Tones of DoD Secretary Panetta Remarks about Israel

December 13th 2011

Presidential - Barack Obama

As next year’s presidential election approaches, U.S. President Barack Obama’s policies have moved in a more pro-Israel direction and his supporters have been desperately trying to make the case that he is Israel’s friend.

Last week’s comments by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta have done much to undermine that case, however, and appeared to make Israel the scapegoat for any negative consequences that could arise from the Jewish state having the audacity to defend itself against the existential threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb.

Worse than the actual comments were the disturbing anti-Semitic undertones inherent in Panetta’s remarks. The secretary warned of the potential negative consequences to the world economy of a military strike against Iran, but he only raised the danger to the world economy before the discussion with Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The impact on the economy would apply to any country attacking Iran, but the timing of his remarks were clearly aimed at Israel as that meeting took place amid a flurry of reports about Israel considering an imminent attack. Read more ..

The Musical Edge

Music Is The World

December 13th 2011

Jewish Topics - Klezmer (credit: Mitaskim)
credit: Mistakim

While I’m mostly inclined to listen to what is called “classical music,” upon occasion other musical genres have proven enticing and powerful. I grew up with classical music, but along the way, a few musicians not necessarily in that category have impinged their way onto my consciousness. I will humbly offer up a few of their names to make my point that what makes music great is not necessarily its genre.

Foremost among them was Giora Feidman, the greatest of the Klezmer musicians. The first time I heard him was in a small synagogue as the result of an invitation by an old friend, Marshall Levy, an amateur clarinetist and magician who said I just had to hear Giora.

As we sat on small uncomfortable wooden chairs, and I was intent on the stage, from behind me came this most haunting song being played on a clarinet.

Then this almost Charlie Chaplain-like figure strolled down the aisle, and my neck craned as he sauntered past me, clarinet in his mouth, and his arms holding the rest of the instrument on high. As he mounted the stage, he was playing Dixieland and Gershwin. Then he switched to “Jewish” music—you could hear those ancient tunes from Safed as if you were there. He also played Jazz, even cool Jazz. He was much better than Benny Goodman, who was his obvious inspiration. I didn’t know the clarinet was capable of such grand music. Read more ..

Ancient America

Clues to Ancient Hunters found on the Bottom of Lake Huron

December 13th 2011

Archaeology Topics - divers in Lake Huron

Under the cold clear waters of Lake Huron, University of Michigan researchers have found a five-and-a-half foot-long, pole-shaped piece of wood that is 8,900 years old. The wood, which is tapered and beveled on one side in a way that looks deliberate, may provide important clues to a mysterious period in North American prehistory.

"This was the stage when humans gradually shifted from hunting large mammals like mastodon and caribou to fishing, gathering and agriculture," said anthropologist John O'Shea of the University of Michigan. "But because most of the places in this area that prehistoric people lived are now under water, we don't have good evidence of this important shift itself– just clues from before and after the change. Read more ..

Immigration Edge

Catholic Bishops ask Americans to Thank Illegal Immigrants

December 13th 2011

Christian Topics - Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller
Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio TX

Writing in Spanish and English, 33 Catholic bishops of the US released a frank "letter to immigrants" suggesting illegal immigrants deserve thanks from Americans, while calling for "denunciation of the forces which oppress them."

The bishops, who the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops identified as 'Hispanic/Latino', support comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, a position which they reiterate in the letter. In it, they offer further support to illegal immigrants - the vast majority of whom come from Mexico. The letter was released by San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller and Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, the highest ranking Mexican-Americans in the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops. Archbishop Gomez and Archbishop Garcia-Siller are U.S. citizens born in Mexico, while the former is a member of Opus Dei. The rest of the bishops publishing the letter are U.S.-born. Read more ..

Edge of Space

Human-like Life Could Exist on Newly-discovered Planet

December 13th 2011

Science - kepler

A newly-discovered Earth-like planet could very well contain continental features where normal human-like life could exist. Or it  could be more of a water world with an ocean containing life forms similar to dolphins.

That’s according to Dr. Alan Boss, of the Carnegie Institution for Science, one of the researchers involved in  discovering the new planet. This past Monday, NASA announced that its Kepler space telescope confirmed the first planet orbiting a star in its “habitable zone,” the region where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface. Some scientists described this planet, known as Kepler 22B, as “Earth-like” with a star similar to our sun.

Located some 600 light-years away, Kepler 22B is about 2.4 times the radius of Earth.  And while scientists don’t yet exactly know if the planet is predominantly rocky, gaseous or liquid composition, its discovery has excited  scientists who now say we’re now one step closer to finding other Earth-like planets throughout the cosmos. If it is truly made of rock, as some speculate, Dr. Boss says it might look something like our own Earth with probably a fair amount of water on it as well. Read more ..

Film News

Angelina Jolie Makes Directorial Debut with 'In The Land of Blood and Honey'

December 13th 2011

Film - Angelina Jolie

American movie star Angelina Jolie is making her directorial debut with a film set during Bosnia's civil war in the 1990s. In an exclusive interview with VOA's Bosnian service, Jolie says the message of the film, titled In the Land of Blood and Honey, is one of tolerance and understanding.

Angelina Jolie is used to being in front of the camera. But for her latest project, the Academy Award-winning actress stepped behind it... and into the brutality of wartime Bosnia.

"The more I learned about it and the more I read about it, the more angry I got about the lack of intervention," Jolie says,  "the more emotional I was about the violence against women. And I wanted to do a film that would help to look into the relationships between not just a couple, but also sisters, and fathers and sons, and mothers and children."

Jolie wrote as well as directed In the Land of Blood and Honey. It is a love story between a Muslim woman and a Serb man during Bosnia-Herzogovina's bloody, three-year ethnic conflict. Jolie says she hopes the film sparks discussion about the war and Bosnia's continued struggle since the 1995 peace agreement.

"I want people to remember Bosnia, and I want them to remember what happened, and I want them to pay respect to all of the people who survived, and today, to remember that this country still has so much healing to do,” she explains.

As a United Nations goodwill ambassador, the mother of six and partner to Brad Pitt often brings her influence as an actress to global issues. But this time is different. "This film is the first time that these worlds have collided for me," Jolie says, "so this film means more to me than any film I’ve ever made." Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Iran, Hezbollah Tentacles Reaching Latin America

December 13th 2011

Terrorism - Hezbollah Troops

Prior to 9/11, no terrorist group had killed more Americans than Hezbollah. Like its patron, Iran, Hezbollah is committed to America's destruction. Now the two jihadist forces are spreading their tentacles throughout Latin America and, according to experts, could go operational at a moment's notice.

For more than two centuries, the United States has served as guardian of the Western hemisphere. That role only expanded with the Cuban missile crisis and the spread of Soviet communism into Latin America.

Iran and Hezbollah represent a new threat in America's backyard. "Over the last 10 years, we have seen a very concerted effort to expand," former Bush administration official Jose Cardenas saud. "They are using mosques in Argentina and all the way up through the continent to proselytize, to identify disaffected Latin youth, to recruit, to convert," he said. Read more ..

The Bear is Back

Russian Plans to Disrupt US and European Relations Over Missile Defense

December 13th 2011

Russian Topics - putin

Tensions between the United States and Russia have risen in the past month over several long-standing problems, including ballistic missile defense (BMD) and supply lines into Afghanistan. Moscow and Washington also appear to be nearing another crisis involving Russian accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The crises come as Washington struggles over its many commitments in the world and over whether to focus on present events in Afghanistan or future events in Central Europe. Russia has exploited the U.S. dilemma, using its leverage in both arenas. However, if Moscow takes its aggressive moves too far, it could spark a backlash from the United States and Central Europe.

The Persisting Disagreement over BMD

The U.S. BMD scheme for Europe has long been a source of U.S.-Russian tensions. Washington argues that its European BMD program aims to counter threats emerging from the Middle East, namely Iran, but its missile defense installations in Romania and Poland are not slated to become operational until 2015 and 2018, respectively, by which time Russia believes the United States will have resolved its issues with Iran. Moscow thus sees U.S. missile defense strategy as more about the United States seeking to contain Russia than about Iran. Moscow does not fear that the United States is seeking to neutralize or erode Russia’s nuclear deterrent, however; the issue is the establishment of a physical U.S. military footprint in those two states — which in turn means a U.S. commitment there. Romania and Poland border the former Soviet Union, a region where Russia is regaining influence. Read more ..

Book Review

Leningrad: The Epic Seige that broke Hitler's Back

December 13th 2011

Book Covers - Leningrad epic

Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941-1944. Anna Reid. Walker & Co. 2011. 512 pages.

Not since Harrison Salisbury’s book The 900 Days appeared in 1969, has an English-language book devoted to the German siege of Leningrad (now renamed back to St. Petersburg) appeared. The longest blockade in recorded history, it consumed 1.5 million people, half of them civilians, many of them children. In merciless, unvarnished detail, Anna Reid’s Leningrad is filled with searing images of starvation, cannibalism, corruption and death in that most Westernized and striking of Russia’s cities.

The siege has essentially been overlooked in the West.  But then, too, we’ve ignored the enormous sacrifices of the Russian people and its military forces in defeating Nazi Germany and its allies.

Reid is a onetime Ukraine correspondent for The Economist and Daily Telegraph, and a journalist who holds an advanced degree in Russian studies.  The heart of her book is the memoirs, archives, letters and diaries of people who lived through the siege.  Her heartbreaking and angry version does not spare the vicious German invaders, though she rightly excoriates the Communist regime for waging a reign of terror against the city’s imaginary dissenters.

Trapped Leningraders would in time turn livid at the sight of well-fed Party bureaucrats while the rest were starving,  Reid is on target in wondering why sufficient food supplies were not stocked before the Germans invaded and surrounded the city.  She also faults Party officials for failing to order a general evacuation until it was far too late.  While admittedly difficult to measure public opinion, Reid’s reading of the diaries and memoirs “show Leningraders raging as much against the incompetence, callousness, hypocrisy and dishonesty of their own officials as against the distant, impersonal enemy.”

Yet Stalin’s purges and punishments never ceased. The NKVD and two of Stalin’s closest henchmen, Andrei Zhdanov (who once denigrated the great Leningrad poet Anna Akhmatova as “a cross between a nun and whore”) and Georgi Malenkov (who would become one of Stalin’s successors after the dictator’s death in March 1953 and then just as abruptly would be removed and sent, or so it is said, to Siberia for an alleged offense) carried out a reign of fear aimed at domestic “enemies.” Read more ..

Latin America on Edge

Lagarde Meets with Rousseff and Mantega as Part of Her Visit to Latin America to Negotiate Brazil’s Lending to the IMF

December 13th 2011

IMF - Christine Lagarde
Christine Lagarde

For many years, Brazil was a constant borrower of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but this time the country has been formally requested to lend funds to the IMF, which shows a remarkable shifting of power in the international scenario. With that in mind, Christine Lagarde held a meeting with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her finance minister Guido Mantega as part of her first visit to Latin America as the IMF’s managing director.

Although the details of the lending proposal are still in negotiation, after the aforementioned meeting, Brazil has indicated that it would lend to the IMF on the condition that it restructures its quota system. The quotas have been denominated as Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), which is the IMF’s unit of account and affords the quota-holders voting power. Currently, Brazil accounts for 4,250.5 million SDRs, which represent 43,246 votes. Therefore, the country seeks to increase its influence with the previously mentioned quota restructuring initiative and take a more central role in the IMF’s decision-making process, a goal that is consistent with Rousseff’s aims to expand Brazil’s “great country” campaign to flex its influence in the global community.

According to Mantega, Brazil’s willingness to help is not only in response to the European crisis, but also with the destiny of the developing countries in mind: “I believe that the euro zone has the tools to overcome the crisis, but while it doesn’t happen, the situation is getting worse. Our concern is not only with the European countries, but mainly with the emerging countries.” Read more ..

Campus Misconduct

Binge Drinking by Freshman Women Tied to Sexual Assault Risk

December 12th 2011

Social Topics - victim

Many young women who steer clear of alcohol while they're in high school may change their ways once they go off to college. And those who take up binge drinking may be at relatively high risk of sexual assault, according to a University at Buffalo-led study in the January issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. The college years are famously associated with drinking. But little has been known about how young women change their high school drinking habits once they start college.

So for the new study, the research team followed 437 young women from high school graduation through freshman year of college. They found that of women who had never drank heavily in high school (if at all), nearly half admitted to heavy episodic drinking -- commonly called binge drinking -- at least once by the end of their first college semester. Young women who were already engaging in binge drinking in high school continued drinking at similar levels in college.

What's more, binge drinking was linked to students' risk of sexual victimization - regardless of what their drinking habits had been in high school. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

Administration Excoriates Israel ... Again

December 12th 2011

Presidential - Obama Campaign 2012

Enduring spiteful swipes against America’s most loyal ally in the Middle East. “Let every eye negotiate for itself and trust no agent,” says the deceived Claudio in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. However cynical it sounds, there are times when a maxim like this one rightly guides the affairs of diplomacy, just as it does the affairs of the heart. And if it encapsulates Israel’s current attitude to the prospect of peace negotiations, what fair-minded person—after two decades of frustrated exchanges, spurned offers and frequent, blood-curdling denunciations of Zionism across the Arab and Muslim worlds—could find this unreasonable?

The Obama Administration, apparently, does. Within the last fortnight, two top-level officials and one ambassador have, on three separate occasions, taken Israel to task for an extraordinary range of alleged misdeeds, including its hardline intransigence, its poor record on civil rights, and the way its policies have enabled the spread of anti-Semitism among Europe’s Muslim populations. Read more ..

Mideast on Edge

Mideast Water Shortages Threaten Millions

December 12th 2011

Environment Topics - Arid Desert

At Cairo's posh Gazeera Club, workers leave the showers running as they sit nearby drinking tea and chatting. Large quantities of water pour down the drain as water pipes around the city and its suburbs run dry.

For inhabitants of Cairo’s poor neighborhoods, water only infrequently arrives via government pipes. In order to cook and stay hydrated, says resident Hossam Abdel Razaq, housewives trek to a local water dealer and buy the precious liquid for 25 cents. When water does briefly flow, he adds, kids run to the faucets to drink.

A regional problem

Due to increasing populations, climate change, poor infrastructure and inefficient use of resources, serious water shortages are threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions of people across the Middle East.

In Egypt, government statistics indicate the country uses 55 billion cubic meters of water per year, 87 percent of which comes from the River Nile. But conflict with neighboring states upriver, however, is creating tension and could exacerbate the crisis. Governments in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Southern Sudan argue that they should get a larger share of the Nile's waters, but Egypt and Sudan insist that a British colonial agreement gives them the right to use most of the Nile's waters.

Omar Ashour, who teaches political science at the University of Exeter in Britain, says Egypt is paying a price for years of benign neglect of southern neighbors. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Israeli Officials Slam Obama as Soft on Iran

December 12th 2011

Obama Admin Topics - Obama in Thought

Despite maintaining a veneer of happy collaboration, Israeli officials are deeply unhappy with the Obama administration's approach to the Iranian nuclear program.

It has long been assumed by observers that this is the case, but thus far there has been no public confirmation of it. That changed on Sunday night, when officials speaking under the cover of anonymity said that all is definitely not well behind the scenes.

"While the House of Representatives and the Senate are promoting (anti-Iran) legislation," said one of the officials, the White House is operating according to an ideology which could be defined as "hesitant." The Iranian issue calls for a clear stance, but the administration has yet to take the necessary measures to significantly hurt the ayatollahs' regime. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Lobbyists go to battle over Keystone pipeline

December 12th 2011

Energy / Environment - Keystone Pipeline

At least 42 lobbying firms, associations and companies have lobbied on the Keystone XL pipeline since 2009, Senate records show.

Lobbying on the controversial project accelerated this year as the pipeline became a hot-button political issue. Of the 42 entities that have lobbied since 2009 on Keystone, at least 33 of them lobbied on the issue in the most recent quarter, records indicate.

The pipeline began to draw widespread attention earlier this year when environmentalists staged a series of protests at the White House to try and stop the pipeline, which would carry oil sands crude from Canada to Texas. Read more ..

Latin America on Edge

Big Hopes for CELAC, but Little Outcome (At Least for Now)

December 12th 2011

Latin American Topics - Hugo Chavez somber

The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) held its first summit on December 2 and 3 in Caracas, Venezuela. The group’s purported purpose is to create a deeper relationship among the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, one that is able to function free of the all-pervasive daily political and economic influence coming from Washington. In fact, out of all the sovereign nations in the hemisphere, the United States and Canada are the only ones that are not scheduled to be included in the organization. For some of CELAC’s members, their far from hidden aims are to substitute membership in CELAC for their current reliance on the OAS. Presidents Hugo Chávez and Sebastián Piñera were appointed by the members of CELAC as its co-leaders, which could be an ironic development given that Chávez is maybe the most radical chief of state of the organization, and Piñera maybe its most conservative. Read more ..

Book Reviews

Pearl Harbor: FDR goes to War through Fire and Fog after a Day of Infamy

December 12th 2011

Book Covers - Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor: FDR leads the Nation into War. Steven M. Gillon. Basic Books. 2011. 248 pages.

One of the most difficult tasks when “thinking historically” is to avoid presentism and instead see the world as it looked at the time through the eyes of participants who acted on the basis of incomplete or inaccurate information and couldn’t know for sure how their decisions would turn out. Steven Gillon, a historian at the University of Oklahoma and author of (among other books) The Kennedy Assassination—24 Hours After, is up to it. He vividly recreates and interprets President Franklin Roosevelt’s activities in the 24 hours after the Japanese attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, famously designated by FDR as “a date which will live in infamy.”

Taking the long view, Gillon asserts that “Pearl Harbor was the defining event of the twentieth century” because “it changed the global balance of power, set the stage for the Cold War, and allowed the United States to emerge as a global superpower.” But no one could know that then. At the time, FDR needed to find out quickly what had happened (at a time when “intelligence was scarce and difficult to obtain”), then decide how to set America on the right path for its next step. The President, Gillon says, “was forced to make every major decision based on instinct and his own strategic sense of right and wrong. There were no instant surveys to guide his actions, no twenty-four-hour television coverage offering him a glimpse into the national mood. Making matters worse, the president’s advisors were anxious and divided.”

Compared to news of the Kennedy assassination or the 9/11 attacks, “news about Pearl Harbor spread slowly, trickling out over the radio in the afternoon.” The White House press corps included only about a dozen reporters, all of whom were off duty on that Sunday afternoon when the first word came through. FDR himself initially heard about it at 1:47 p.m. Thus began “perhaps the most well-documented day of the Roosevelt presidency,” written about by the people around Roosevelt and subsequently by several government investigations into how the disaster could have happened. Roosevelt retreated to his Oval Study (his private office, far more informal than the Oval Office), where, surrounded by the clutter of his books, stamp collection, ship models, and other miscellanea, he met with advisors, pieced together the shards of information that came in, and crafted the brief, 500-word war message that he would deliver the next day. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Hamas Base Rocket Production Facility in Sinai

December 12th 2011

Terrorism - Hamas Rocket

Hamas has established forward bases and rocket production facilities in the Sinai Peninsula, according to The Jerusalem Post's veteran military affairs correspondent Yaakov Katz. 

Hamas believes that relations between Israel and Egypt will deter Israel from attacking the weapons facilities with air strikes.

Though the Israeli government have issued requests for order to be restored in Sinai, the Egyptian military have made no moves to dissemble Hamas infrastructure in the peninsula.

Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Yaakov Katz reports that under the terms of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, over a dozen Egyptian army battalions operate in Sinai but they have had little effect in preventing terrorist activity or the passage of arms bound for the Gaza Strip. Advanced weaponry stolen from the Libyan military and Russian-made shoulder-to-air missiles are amongst some of the munitions that have been smuggled into the Gaza Strip recently. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Solar Power Development in US Southwest Could Threaten Wildlife

December 12th 2011

Energy Topics - Solar panels

Government agencies are considering scores of applications to develop utility-scale solar power installations in the desert Southwest of the United States, but too little is known to judge their likely effects on wildlife, according to a recent sudy. Although solar power is often seen as a "green" energy technology, available information suggests a worrisome range of possible impacts. These concern wildlife biologists because the region is a hotspot of biodiversity and includes many endangered or protected species, notably Agassiz's desert tortoise. It and another tortoise, Morafka's, dig burrows that shelter many other organisms.

The study, by Jeffrey E. Lovich and Joshua R. Ennen of the US Geological Survey's Southwest Biological Science Center, notes that solar energy facilities are poised for rapid development and could cover hundreds of thousands of hectares. Read more ..

The Arab Fall

Middle East Studies’ Failure to Predict or Address the “Arab Spring”

December 12th 2011

Egypt - Flames in Cairo

When the young Tunisian burned himself in protest against authoritarian oppression and lack of economic justice, triggering massive demonstrations in this small North African country, commentators hesitated to coin the movement as an Arab Spring. It took months, and events exploding in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria before the West labeled the upheavals “Arab Spring.”

And as the movement was developing throughout the region the West was also unsure as to which direction these revolutions are going to go. The main slogan in the media, and often in academia was—for many months—“we don’t know who the rebels are, we don’t really know if the Arab protesters are liberal, Islamists, or populists.” And at times few months before and still as elections have been taking place in Tunisia and Egypt, scholars and Government experts have been arguing that the Islamists who are winning the elections, “probably will behave as democrats and would be moderated by the political process.” What was intriguing in these Western reactions was the number of questions: we don’t know, perhaps, maybe, probably. Read more ..

Edge on Economic Crisis

Wall Street may soon Take a Page from the Occupiers' Playbook

December 12th 2011

Politics - Guy Fawkes

The Occupy Wall Street crowd could see the tables turned soon. Not only are law enforcement officers folding up their tents in parks and plazas around the world, but Wall Street could start an occupation of its own.

In September, a prominent business journalist asked me whether it was politically feasible for Congress to take a big step toward the resolution of our federal fiscal imbalance, given the looming 2012 election. I said that, sooner or later, the market would force politicians to take action. It hasn’t happened in the U.S. — yet. But we can foresee our future in Europe, where financial markets have already forced rapid change through Europe’s reluctant and tangled political apparatus, most dramatically pushing Prime Ministers Silvio Berlusconi and George Papandreou out of office. Read more ..

Edge Next Society

National Pride Brings Happiness — But What You’re Proud of Matters

December 12th 2011

Social Topics - International Flags

Research shows that feeling good about your country also makes you feel good about your own life—and many people take that as good news. But Matthew Wright, a political scientist at American University, and Tim Reeskens, a sociologist from Catholic University in Belgium, suspected that the positive findings about nationalism weren’t telling the whole story. “It’s fine to say pride in your country makes you happy,” says Wright. “But what kind of pride are we talking about? That turns out to make a lot of difference.”

Reeskens and Wright divided national pride into two species. “Ethnic” nationalism sees ancestry—typically expressed in racial or religious terms—as the key social boundary defining the national “we.” “Civic” nationalism is more inclusive, requiring only respect for a country’s institutions and laws for belonging. Unlike ethnic nationalism, that view is open to minorities or immigrants, at least in principle.

The study authors analyzed the responses to four key questions by 40,677 individuals from 31 countries, drawn from the 2008 wave of the cross-national European Values Study. One question assessed “subjective well being,” indicated by general satisfaction with life. Another measured national pride. The other two neatly indicated ethnic and civic national boundaries—asking respondents to rate the importance of respect for laws and institutions, and of ancestry, to being a true . . . fill in the blank . . . German, Swede, Spaniard. The researchers controlled for such factors as gender, work status, urban or rural residence, and the country’s per capita GDP. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

DNA found on Bombers' Backpacks may Thwart Terrorists

December 12th 2011

Transportation Topics - crowded subway

Catching terrorists who detonate bombs may be easier by testing the containers that hide the bombs rather than the actual explosives, according to pioneering research led by Michigan State University. Currently, law enforcement labs tend to test for DNA on the exploded bomb fragments – but this has a low success rate, said David Foran, an MSU forensic biologist and lead investigator on the research project.

Through the MSU-led study, researchers obtained DNA from eight backpacks that had been blown up with pipe bombs inside, and subsequently obtained full DNA profiles that matched all eight volunteers who had carried the backpacks for a week.

The findings could ultimately change the way law enforcement officials investigate bombings, Foran said. Read more ..

Edge of Nature

Bee Swarms Sweetly Unlock Secrets of the Human Brain

December 12th 2011

Animals - European honeybee and flower

Scientists at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom believe decision making mechanisms in the human brain could mirror how swarms of bees choose new nest sites.

Striking similarities have been found in decision making systems between humans and insects in the past but now researchers believe that bees could teach us about how our brains work.

Experts say the insects even appear to have solved indecision, an often paralysing thought process in humans, with scouts who seek out any honeybees advertising rival nest sites and butt against them with their heads while producing shrill beeping sounds.

Dr. James Marshall, of the University of Sheffield's Department of Computer Science, who led the UK involvement in the project and has also previously worked on similarities between how brains and insect colonies make decisions, said: "Up to now we've been asking if honeybee colonies might work in the same way as brains; now the new mathematical modelling we've done makes me think we should be asking whether our brains might work like honeybee colonies. Read more ..

Venezuela on Edge

Hugo Chavez and Venezuela's Cloudy Future

December 12th 2011

Venezuela Topics - Hugo Chavez sick
President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela

As the 2012 Venezuelan presidential electoral season begins, many question whether Hugo Chávez will manage to remain in power and if his overall performance merits another term in office. As expected, Chávez’s presidency has been filled with instances of both success and failure since he came to power in 1999, and his past record has led the Venezuelan people to contend over the future of Venezuela and whether Hugo Chávez should be a part of it. An analysis of Venezuela’s current social and economic condition provide part of the answer as well as Chávez’s political actions, and each must be carefully assessed in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the Chávez administration and its “Bolivarian Revolution.” In doing so, a more informative decision can be made as to whether or not, taken as a whole, the Venezuelan firebrand deserves reelection in the coming year.

Social Indicators

Beginning in 2003, the Chávez administration commenced a series of “Bolivarian Missions” intended to address the social problems facing Chavista Venezuela. These missions set out to improve a number of serious social problems festering in key sectors such as healthcare, education, housing, food and nutrition, and agriculture. Through a few of the most influential missions, Chávez has been able to improve such mainstays as healthcare and education, but Venezuela still struggles with a biting housing shortage and a crippling crime rate.

Missions Barrio Adentro, Robinson, and Ribas were great successes. Mission Barrio Adentro sought to provide free and high quality health care by increasing the number of primary care physicians twelvefold while constructing several thousand additional health centers across the country. As a result, over 300,000 lives have been saved and infant mortality has been reduced by twenty percent. Mission Robinson was a literacy campaign that used the help of community and military volunteers to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic to the underprivileged adult population. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

2010 Spike in Greenland Ice Loss Lifted Bedrock, GPS Reveals

December 11th 2011

Environment Topics - Siberian Glacier

An unusually hot melting season in 2010 accelerated ice loss in southern Greenland by 100 billion tons – and large portions of the island’s bedrock rose an additional quarter of an inch in response.

That’s the finding from a network of nearly 50 GPS stations planted along the Greenland coast to measure the bedrock’s natural response to the ever-diminishing weight of ice above it.

Every year as the Greenland Ice Sheet melts, the rocky coast rises, explained Michael Bevis, Ohio Eminent Scholar in Geodynamics and professor in the School of Earth Sciences at Ohio State University. Some GPS stations around Greenland routinely detect uplift of 15 mm (0.59 inches) or more, year after year. But a temperature spike in 2010 lifted the bedrock a detectably higher amount over a short five-month period – as high as 20 mm (0.79 inches) in some locations. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Strategic (Mis)communication on Iran

December 11th 2011

Iran - Iranian Qiam missile launch

Given the alarms that have increasingly been sounded in recent months about Iran's nuclear progress and furor over its alleged plotting to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington and the storming of the British embassy in Tehran, one might think that Iran's leaders would be worried about the prospect of a Western attack on their country.

However, their remarks suggest just the opposite. In recent days, Iranian Leader Ali Khamenei has boasted of "shatter(ing) the resolve" of the West, and the commander of Iran's paramilitary Basij forces -- who were responsible for the embassy rampage -- predicted that the U.S. would be too weak even to respond to an Iranian attack.
Perhaps this is just bluster; however, U.S. officials have done little to dampen the regime's overweening self-confidence and the proclivity for escalation which is fueled by it. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Al-Assad in Complete Denial

December 11th 2011

Syrian Issues - Basher Assad

President Bashar al-Assad's interview with ABC's Barbara Walters portrays a Syrian leader in complete denial of the situation in his country. For months, the Assad regime has argued that it was the only thing that stood between Syria, the region and chaos.
But with the gap between the regime's perception of reality and that of the Syrian people and opposition (backed up by literally thousands of online videos and journalist reports), Assad's negotiated exit seems unlikely. The longer Assad holds on, the bloodier and more sectarian the conflict will become. The question for policymakers in Washington, Brussels, Ankara and the Arab World is how to develop a concerted plan to oust Assad in the fastest way possible.

In many ways, Assad's portrayal of the conflict is nothing new. For months, the Assad regime has used a "basis of reality" argument that worked, at least at first, in most Western capitals and beyond. When Walters challenged Assad on the video clips, Assad quickly questioned if she had "verified" their content. Confirming information, like the use of shelling or cannon fire, is hard in Syria for journalists and embassies alike. Read more ..

Colombia on Edge

Colombia's Wasteland of Lawyers, Murder, Democracy and Justice

December 11th 2011

Colombia Topics - Armed Police

On May 25, 2011, Avocats Sans Frontieres Canada and the Colombian Caravana UK Lawyers Group launched a report detailing the findings of a visit to Colombia by an international caravana of lawyers. The visit by a large and impressive group of international legal talent was undertaken to carry out an inventory of the status of the Colombian legal system and the working conditions faced by Colombian lawyers. Their report painted a damning picture of the Colombian legal system, establishing that “there continues to be a large number of assassinations of and threats against Colombian lawyers, human rights defenders and trade unionists, indications of the continued violent activity of former members of paramilitary groups and challenges to accessing justice by victims.”

This represents a depressing indictment of the lack of progress made in upholding the autonomy and safeguarding the effectiveness and security of the Colombian legal system since 2008, when the first Caravana of Lawyers visited Colombia and reported that, on average, twenty-five lawyers and human rights advocates had been killed on a yearly basis since 1991. Read more ..

America on Edge

An Epidemic of Expulsions

December 11th 2011

Education Topics - Education - Child at Blackboard

As he waited for his first disciplinary appeal hearing to begin this fall, the sixth-grade student began sobbing.

He was barely 11 years old. He had been expelled again—for the rest of the school year—from his Bakersfield elementary school district, this time for alleged sexual battery and obscenity.

The offense: “Slapping a girl on the buttock and running away laughing,” according to school documents.

The boy’s pro bono attorney, a retired FBI agent, was appalled.

“This, on his record, puts him right up there next to the kid who raped somebody behind the backstop,” said Tim McKinley, who spent 26 years in the bureau, much of it locking up murderous members of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang.

For the boy’s local school board in Kern County, the punishment fits the crime. It upheld a panel’s initial approval of expulsion.

For McKinley, the discipline is dramatic overkill sure to prove counter-productive for both the child and the community at large.

These days such disagreements are hardly unusual. In California’s southern Central Valley, Kern County is at the leading edge of a contentious debate over where to draw the line in exacting school discipline. Teachers want a safe environment in which to teach. Parents want to know their children are secure and not getting bullied. And no-nonsense school districts in this conservative oil and agribusiness region are suspending and expelling students for a broad range of indiscretions. Read more ..

American History

The Road to War between the U.S. and Japan was Paved by Irreconcilable Worldviews

December 11th 2011

America Themes - Pearl Harbor Bombing

Anniversaries are not easy for the historian. Defining moments in history are typically commemorated in solemnity or regaled in celebration, both of which rely principally on emotional investment. For the historian, however, anniversaries are moments to reflect more critically on complex questions such as causation, consequence, and context. The seventy-year anniversary of the Japanese surprise attack on the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor—a watershed event that precipitated a slow-moving slaughter across the Pacific, culminating in the hell-fires of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—reminds us of these humbling challenges.

A central question surrounding Pearl Harbor is whether the U.S.-Japan collision was preventable. In particular, did the eleventh-hour diplomatic negotiations that occurred in 1941 offer a viable chance to reconcile differences? In the years since the end of the war, a number of historians have maintained that a window of opportunity did in fact exist as late as the summer and fall of 1941 and that war therefore was avoidable. In this narrative, war ultimately came because the Roosevelt administration was too uncompromising and wrongly assumed that Japan posed a threat to American national security. Read more ..

The Edge of Justice

SEC May Sue LightSquared Investor

December 11th 2011

Business People - Sanjiv Ahuja
Sanjiv Ahuja, Chairman and CEO of LightSquared

Federal regulators notified Harbinger Capital, the primary investor in wireless firm LightSquared, that they are considering suing the hedge fund over potential violations of securities laws.

Philip Falcone, the head of Harbinger Capital, and other employees received "Wells Notices" from the Securities and Exchange Commission informing them of the possible action, the firm acknowledged on Friday.

Harbinger says any enforcement action is unwarranted. The company has invested billions of dollars in LightSquared, which plans to launch a nationwide cellphone network, but tests earlier this year revealed its signals interfere with Global Positioning System (GPS) devices. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

Top Nuke Regulators tell White House of ‘Grave Concerns’ with NRC Chairman

December 11th 2011

Energy Topics - Nuclear Regulatory Chairman
Gregory Jaczko

Members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have told the White House that NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko is causing “serious damage” to the agency that could harm the body’s ability to protect health and safety.

An Oct. 13 letter from Jaczko’s four NRC colleagues to White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley is a powerful, unified rebuke of the agency’s leader by his fellow commissioners, who cite “grave concerns” about his conduct and allege it’s increasingly “erratic.”

“We believe that his actions and behavior are causing serious damage to this institution and are creating a chilled work environment at the NRC,” states the letter to Daley from NRC commissioners Kristine L. Svinicki, George Apostolakis, William D. Magwood, IV, and William C. Ostendorff.

“We are concerned that this will adversely affect the NRC’s central mission to protect the health, safety and security of the American people,” the letter adds. Svinicki and Ostendorff are Republicans, the other three NRC commissioners, including Jaczko, are Democrats. The four NRC members laid out their concerns to Jaczko directly in an Oct. 13 memo that mirrors the complaints in their letter to Daley. The memo tells Jaczko of the letter to Daley and acknowledges it is an “extraordinary step,” while adding that Jaczko has left them without “viable alternatives.” Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Google's War Against Small Businesses

December 11th 2011

Computer Topics - Google HQ

The secret behind Google’s profit growth has been revealed in a ZDNet report. The internet giant has launched an attack on smaller businesses who gain revenue from affiliate programs. 

By favoring larger brands in its search engine results, Google has increased revenue by billions but, according to ZDNet, such combative tactics are costing jobs as smaller firms that profit from affiliate marketing are displaced. While analysts and media are preoccupied by the publicity of Google’s non-revenue schemes, including G+ and driverless cars, the plan to position itself as the largest affiliate has, until now, gone undetected. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russians Out In Force Against 'Election Fraud,' More Rallies Threatened

December 11th 2011

Russian Topics - putin
credit: www.kremlin.ru

The Russian opposition has called on the authorities to annul election results marred by alleged violations and threatened more anti-Kremlin rallies as tens of thousands demonstrated across the country. 

Officially, police estimates put the crowd on Moscow's Bolotnaya Square on December 10 at 20,000, although organizers cited much higher figures of up to 100,000. The event went off without significant incident and police say no one was detained. Many media outlets said it marked the largest protest since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In a resolution laid before demonstrators in Moscow, the opposition also demanded the release of opposition leaders Aleksei Navalny and Ilya Yashin and others who were jailed in protests this week. "The first [demand] is the release of political prisoners who were jailed after the so-called elections and the second is new elections," Yevgenia Chirikova, an environmentalist and key opposition leader, told RFE/RL after the Moscow demonstration. "Of course, having new elections is one of our definite demands, but there are rather a lot of conditions." Read more ..

The Digital Edge

AT&T Attempt to Take T-Mobile Faces Restart

December 10th 2011

Technology - Mobile phone foto app

The Justice Department told a federal judge on Friday that AT&T needs to re-apply with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) before it can move forward with its bid to buy T-Mobile.

Justice Department lawyer Joseph Wayland said the government will file a motion next week to put its lawsuit against the merger on hold until AT&T refiles with the FCC.

AT&T withdrew its application last week after the agency took a step toward blocking the $39 billion deal. AT&T said it wanted to focus on the Justice Department's lawsuit, which challenges the deal on antitrust grounds.

But the Justice Department argued on Friday that without an application at the FCC, there is no longer an active deal to challenge. On Tuesday, the Justice Department will file a motion to either delay the case or withdraw it entirely until AT&T re-applies with the FCC. AT&T will respond to the motion by Wednesday, and the court has scheduled a hearing for Thursday at which Judge Ellen Huvelle is expected to issue a ruling. Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

Government Fails to Keep Eye on Night-Vision Goggles in Mideast

December 10th 2011

Military - night vision goggles

When U.S. special operations forces killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani hideout in May, they relied on night-vision goggles, devices that the Pentagon describes as valuable and sensitive national resources.

Such goggles give U.S. forces a built-in advantage that other nations - including those in the Middle East - lack the ability to replicate. As a result, when the U.S. sells such equipment to friendly allies in the region, it generally requires strict precautions against theft or diversion, including a requirement that they be stored in protected depots with their serial numbers recorded and frequently checked.

But these precautions ordered in Washington are frequently ignored or poorly enforced by Defense and State Department officials in the field, and as a result, some of the night-vision goggles sent to the region have gone missing, according to a report by the General Accountability Office last month. Read more ..

The Race for Alt Bioenergy

Switchgrass as Bioenergy Feedstock Reduces Greenhouse Gases

December 10th 2011

Energy Topics - switchgrass

Scientists examined current knowledge about the potential contributions of bioenergy production from switchgrass to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Their findings conclude that the use of switchgrass bioenergy can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions but encourage further research to address the significant sources of uncertainty, such as what type of land is converted to switchgrass.

According to the leading author, Dr. Andrea Monti, Research Scientist at the University of Bologna, Italy, "We reviewed over 100 articles on switchgrass, which found that this crop has a considerable ability to accumulate carbon in the soil compared to several other grasses, and especially row crops. Although switchgrass has recently received a lot attention as an environmentally beneficial energy crop, it is important to consider that switchgrass had not been planted as a monoculture crop until the mid 20th century. Information needed to make long term predictions on carbon sequestration, such as land use change, carbon turnover rate, and the economic life cycle length are lacking." Read more ..

Defense on Edge

Undaunted, Senator Still Trying to Close Decrepit Schools on Military Bases

December 10th 2011

America Themes - Tom-Coburn

The Senate has decided not to take up a proposal that would close rather than repair decrepit Defense Department-run schools on military bases, creating a flood of thousands of students to nearby public school systems.

But the plan’s chief architect, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), is vowing to try again. He estimates potential savings to the Pentagon from closing “unnecessary” schools at more than $1 billion over four years.

Coburn spokeswoman Becky Bernhardt said the senator was “disappointed and frustrated that the Senate, yet again, chose to ignore the chance to achieve real savings in refusing to vote on a common-sense amendment.” Read more ..

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