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Archive for January 2014

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The Economic Edge

As Sanctions Are Relaxed, Western Businesses Look To Iran

January 20th 2014

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

The easing of sanctions on Tehran that has just taken effect is sending Western companies rushing to seek new business opportunities in Iran.

A group of senior French executives, including from the energy and automotive sectors, is heading to Tehran early next month. They follow a delegation of British lawmakers who visited this month.

At the same time, Iran's Trade Promotion Organization says business delegations from Italy, Austria, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, and many other countries have already visited since late last year, when an interim nuclear deal between six world powers and Iran was announced.

Under the sanctions that were relaxed under the deal, Iran will be allowed to spend some $4.2 billion in previously frozen funds over the next six months. However, the largest part of the international sanctions regime remains in place pending a permanent future solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis. Read more ..

The Edge of Healthcare

Tobacco Report From 50 Years Ago Has Changed the World

January 20th 2014

cigarette in ashtray

If there is one person whose work created a ripple effect that is changing the world, it was the ninth surgeon general of the United States. Fifty years ago this month, he issued a report that linked cigarette smoking to lung cancer and heart disease. 

On a cold, rainy day at Arlington National Cemetery, people gathered to remember and honor a man who devoted his life to improving the health of others.

Surgeon General Luther Terry, now buried at the cemetery for military heroes, released a report in 1964 that linked smoking with cancer. "President Kennedy ultimately selects him to be the ninth surgeon general," said Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak.

Acting Surgeon General, Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak, spoke of Dr. Terry's accomplishments. "What took place 50 years ago changed the world. Fifty years ago, [it was a] completely different world when it comes to tobacco use and smoking," he said. Read more ..

The Education Edge

Researchers Evaluate Peer-Led Team Learning in Cyberspace

January 19th 2014

video chat

Peer-Led Team Learning in undergraduate education is growing in popularity in universities across the country in courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – known collectively as the STEM disciplines. New research by faculty and students from the School of Science and the Center for Teaching and Learning at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis evaluates peer-led team learning for STEM focusing on its newest iteration – cyber peer-led team learning.

Peer-Led Team Learning, known as PLTL, is an innovative model of undergraduate instruction that augments the traditional lecture with a weekly two-hour workshop in which six to eight students work together to solve challenging problems under the guidance of a peer leader. The peer leader is a fellow undergraduate who has mastered the material and is a good communicator. In addition to course content instruction, he or she receives training in teaching methods such as how to work with students who attempt to dominate sessions and how to provide a boost to students who have difficulty participating. In addition to face-to-face PLTL, IUPUI has developed an online version know as cPLTL. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Energy Storage in Miniaturized Capacitors May Boost Green Energy Technology

January 19th 2014

computer board

The capacitors of electronic circuits function something like batteries – storing electrical charge that can be quickly dumped to power devices like camera flashes. So-called "supercapacitors" take the energy-storing abilities of capacitors a step further, storing a far greater charge in a much smaller package.

In a paper published in the journal AIP Advances researchers describe the possibility of fabricating a new class of high heat-tolerant electronics that would employ supercapacitors made from a material called calcium-copper-titanate, or CCTO, which the researchers have identified for the first time as a practical energy-storage material.

Devices using CCTO supercapacitors could compete with similar devices currently in use and could operate at much higher temperatures than standard silicon circuits, "more like the temperature in an engine," says William Stapleton. CCTO had been identified as a promising supercapacitor material before, but its development for practical applications faced unexpected hurdles. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Boko Haram Attacks Near Border Spark Fear in Cameroon

January 19th 2014

Boko Haram

Border villages in Cameroon's north have been deserted following heavy fighting between the Nigerian army and the Islamist militant group Boko Haram in Banki, Borno state. About 30 Cameroonians and Nigerians are said to have been wounded in the attacks, and five are feared dead.

The heavy firing between the Nigerian army and Boko Haram created panic in Cameroonian border villages, especially Amchide.

Residents there said the Nigerian troops fired heavily and indiscriminately at fleeing militants. Businessman Halidou Alirou told VOA the shooting created panic. Many people fled the area and Alirou said he got separated from his wife. He recalled that the firing was so heavy, many in the vicinity were forced to escape to the nearby wilderness. Many may not soon return, and an atmosphere of panic persists. The Nigerian army used both its infantry and air force in the attack. Resident Ayang Kaina said some Nigerians who were escaping from the crackdown are among the wounded. Read more ..

Inside Politics

Lawmakers: Fear Silicon Valley and Data Brokers, Not NSA

January 19th 2014

Amazon Kindle

Voters should be much more concerned about what private companies are collecting on them than about the National Security Agency, say several congressional defenders of the agency’s surveillance programs.

Silicon Valley firms, retailers, and behind-the-scenes “data brokers” all collect information on individual Americans in ways that could raise privacy concerns, yet these groups have largely escaped the raging debate focused on what the government collects.

“It’s just the irony of this whole debate,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a prominent defender of the NSA.

“I mean it’s unbelievable what private companies collect from individuals and how they track them and track what their shopping habits are and where they may or may not be and how they shop,” he said. “All of that is collected. The NSA doesn’t do anything like that at all.” Rogers’s counterpart in the Senate made the same point. Read more ..

Paraguay on Edge

The Case of Paraguay: A Challenging Ally

January 19th 2014


The land-locked country of Paraguay, neatly tucked between Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia is seldom given much notice. However, there are elements of the country that are worth taking a look at.  Last April Paraguay elected a new president, Horacio Cartes.

Cartes is a member of the Colorado party, a party that held Paraguay’s presidency for 60 years. Thirty five of those years were ones   of dictatorship. Cartes, however, joined the Colorado Party only four years ago.

Cartes’s election took place ten months after former President Fernando Lugo (2008-2012) was impeached and deposed by the Paraguayan congress.  That move by the Paraguayan legislature was seen by many countries in the region as a coup and as a result of that Paraguay was suspended from the South American Free Trade zone (Mercosur) as well as from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and faced regional isolation. Read more ..

State of Surveillance

Obama Embraces Dubya's Basic Surveillance Structure

January 19th 2014

NSA facility

Former National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden said Sunday that President Obama’s speech on the agency’s controversial intelligence-gathering programs revealed that he had “embraced” the basic surveillance structure favored by former President George W. Bush.

“The president has embraced it. He has got a political problem — and I don't mean to trivialize it, because in a democracy, political problems are very serious. He needs consent of the governed,” Hayden said during an interview with Chris Wallace of “Fox News Sunday.”
“He is willing to shave points off of flexibility, add administrative burdens, add oversight, but the objective, Chris, is to keep on doing what he's doing."

In a speech from the Justice Department on Friday, Obama said he would now require intelligence agencies to obtain judicial approval before reviewing databases of information about telephone calls. Read more ..

Film Review

Anchorman 2: The Legend is Not Funny

January 19th 2014

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. Director: Adam McKay Starring: Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Christina Applegate, Steve Carrell. Length: 120 mins.

During the two very long hours of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, I think I chuckled three times. Meanwhile, all around me were cracking up. They, obviously, were more in tune with the general audience responsible for (at the time of writing) the $100 million in box office receipts earned by this sequel to the equally dreadful Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004). Not that I’m not used to being in the minority in my view of popular movies, but I can’t help asking myself why so many people think this one, which is by the same creative team of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay that produced the original, is funny when I do not.

I don’t think it can be because I lack a sense of humor, or that it has atrophied with age, since I do laugh at quite a lot of things. Scott Foundas, the critic for Variety likens the new Anchorman to "Network as directed by Mel Brooks, and starring Gene Wilder," thus comparing it to some movies that I do find funny. Does he, then, think they are funny in the same way as Anchorman 2?

I doubt this. The Brooks-Wilder team appealed to a common culture in a way that movies can’t anymore. Mr Foundas also calls the Anchorman franchise "a cherished cultural totem" — to which the only possible answer is "not in my culture." But then that’s the point. It’s the common culture that we’ve lost. In the days of The Producers or Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein the contemporary audience still imagined it was laughing at a plausible version of reality — even if it was only, as in the case of the second and third of these, a movie reality.

The old-fashioned Western (Blazing Saddles) or horror flick (Young Frankenstein) may have been an easy target for 1970s sophisticates who were not at all like their contemporary, Ron Burgundy, but they were enjoying Mr Brooks’s making fun of things, not originally intended to be funny, whose latent absurdity more or less everybody by then was able to recognize. Read more ..

Israelis and Palestinians

Palestinian Leader Abbas Refers Four Times to Murderers as 'Heroes'

January 19th 2014

Abbas UN

In December 2013, Israel released 26 Palestinian terrorist murderers from prison. In his speech at the PA event celebrating their release, Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the terrorists and called them "heroes" four times during his speech:

"[The release of our prisoners] is a day of joy for our nation, for our people, for our heroic prisoners... There will be more groups of heroes who will come to us... They [the Israelis] postponed these heroes' release by 24 hours... we congratulate you and ourselves for the [release] of these heroes." [Official PA TV, Dec. 31, 2013]

Israel released these terrorists because the PA demanded Israel release 104 prisoners from jail, all of them murderers, in order for the PA to resume peace negotiations with Israel.

Three released terrorist "heroes" celebrated with Abbas on stage:

Jamal Abu Muhsin - stabbed a 76 year-old Israeli civilian to death in a park in 1991.

Ahmad Kmeil - a commander of a terrorist cell that murdered an Israeli soldier and 15 Palestinians who they suspected of helping Israel.

Na'im Al-Shawamreh - placed a bomb in 1993 that killed the police sapper who was trying to defuse it. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Rebuking the 'New' New Deal

January 18th 2014


It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

At the end of 2013, the Washington Post’s electoral number-crunchers calculated that the Democrats had a 1 percent chance to win back the House of Representatives. Barely into 2014, that already seems pretty optimistic. In the last week, several Democratic representatives saw the writing on the wall and voted with their feet — or with their seat — and announced they will be retiring.

Even a popular president can usually expect disappointing midterm results for his party. What makes things particularly dire for Democrats is that a president’s approval rating has a significant impact on his party’s prospects. Obama’s approval rating is in the low 40s, and, while things can change, few would bet it will improve all that much between now and November. Read more ..

Book Review

The First Conservative

January 18th 2014

Edmund Burke

Edmond Burke. Jesse Norman. Basic Books. 2013. 336 pp.

 In both Great Britain and the United States, it is something of a tradition for politicians aspiring to high office to polish their intellectual credentials by writing a book. Although often this results in little more than a series of wonky policy statements, occasionally things are different. Most famously, Profiles in Courage, written (sort of) by John F. Kennedy, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1957. On the other end of the quality spectrum, Sarah Palin’s Good Tidings and Great Joy recently fired an angry fusillade in the ersatz war over Christmas and included recipes for Rice Krispies treats.

Jesse Norman’s Edmund Burke: The First Conservative stands very much alone in what is undeniably a motley collection. Norman, described as a “Tory rising star” in the Huffington Post, is a Member of Parliament and a practicing Conservative politician. Holding a B.A. from Oxford and a doctorate from University College London, he has taught philosophy and written a number of political works, including one titled (bravely or foolishly, given the bad vibes that accompany the phrase in the post-George W. Bush era), Compassionate Conservatism.

His subject, Edmund Burke, was born in Dublin in either 1729 or 1730 (Norman says 1730; some sources give the earlier year), just as Jonathan Swift was responding to the latest human catastrophes in Ireland by publishing his (in)famous satire, “A Modest Proposal,” suggesting that the solution to famine was to eat the babies. Thirty years later, Burke was well on his way to fame as a spokesman for more temperate, careful, even (yes) modest solutions to social and political problems -- solutions aimed at reforming, not rending, the fabric of society.

Although Burke served only briefly in Parliament, he was continuously involved, as pamphleteer and propagandist, in partisan battles. Best known for his “Reflections on the Revolution in France” (1790) -- Norman calls it his “masterwork” -- which warned of excesses that would inevitably result from France’s utopian fervor, he had already fought for better treatment of Catholics in Ireland (he was himself a Protestant), for limitations on monarchical power (he was an ardent defender of the settlement resulting from the Glorious Revolution of 1688), against the abuses perpetrated by the East India Company (which turned private enterprise into imperialism), and against the slave trade. In the United States, he still appears in U.S. history textbooks as an advocate for the American Revolution, which he viewed as a defense of traditional English rights: “This fierce spirit of liberty is stronger in the English colonies, probably, than in any other people of the earth,” he said. Read more ..

The Edge of Speed

Smooth Sailing: Rough Surfaces That Can Reduce Drag

January 18th 2014

Cargo Ship

From the sleek hulls of racing yachts to Michael Phelps' shaved legs, most objects that move through the water quickly are also smooth. But researchers from UCLA have found that bumpiness can sometimes be better.

"A properly designed rough surface, contrary to our intuition, can reduce skin-friction drag," said John Kim, a professor in the mechanical and aerospace engineering department at UCLA. Kim and his colleagues modeled the fluid flow between two surfaces covered with tiny ridges. They found that even in turbulent conditions the rough surface reduced the drag created by the friction of flowing water. The researchers report their findings in the journal Physics of Fluids.

The idea of using a rough surface for reduced drag had been explored before, but resulted in limited success. More recently scientists have begun experimenting with rough surfaces that are also extremely difficult to wet, a property called superhydrophobicity. In theory this means that the surfaces can trap air bubbles, creating a hydrodynamic cushion, but in practice they often lose their air cushions in chaotic flows. Read more ..

The Coal Problem

Company Behind West Virginia Chemical Spill Files Bankruptcy

January 18th 2014

coal mine

he company blamed for a chemical spill that left 300,000 West Virginia residents without clean water filed for federal bankruptcy protection on Friday.

Freedom Industries, which owns the tank that ruptured Jan. 9 and sent 7,500 gallons of chemicals into the Elk River, has been hit by a slew of lawsuits and a federal investigation in the week since the incident, according to news reports.

Residents of nine counties were told by state officials not to use water for any purpose except flushing toilets as they cleaned up the mess, which forced businesses to close. Water restrictions have since been lifted for all residents, but officials suggest that pregnant women avoid drinking the water. The company, whose parent firm is Chemstream Holdings Inc. of Pennsylvania, filed for Chapter 11 protection, which will temporarily halt any lawsuits against Freedom. Read more ..

The North Korea Edge

North Korea's Rare Earths Could be Game Changer

January 18th 2014

Rare Earth Minerals

A recent geological study indicates North Korea could hold some 216 million tons of rare earths, minerals used in electronics such as smartphones and high definition televisions.

If verified, the discovery would more than double global known sources and be six times the reserves in China, the market leader.

British Islands-based private equity firm SRE Minerals Limited announced the study results in December, along with a 25-year deal to develop the deposits in Jongju, northwest of the capital, Pyongyang.

The joint venture, called Pacific Century Rare Earth Mineral Limited, is with state-owned Korea Natural Resources Trading Corporation. The potential bonanza could offer the isolated and impoverished North a game-changing stake in the rare earths industry. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

More Severe Heat Waves to Come as Australia Sizzles

January 18th 2014


Heat waves in Australia are becoming more common and severe, according to a report released on Thursday by the nation's Climate Council. The independent non-profit organization insists that extreme weather patterns can be attributed to climate change. The report comes as southern Australia braces for more punishing heat and emergency crews battle dozens of bushfires.

Temperatures in the southern city of Adelaide have been near 46 degrees Celsius, while Melbourne is on track to record its second-longest heat wave since the 1830s. Strong winds are likely to increase the bushfire danger later this week in South Australia and Victoria, where more than 1,000 fires have been reported. Some 40 are currently burning out of control.

The Climate Council said that periods of intense heat in Australia are becoming more frequent, hotter and are lasting longer. The council predicts that such heat waves will become increasingly severe in the future. Researchers blame climate change, and believe that the burning of fossil fuels is trapping more heat in the lower atmosphere. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Taliban's Kabul Attack Kills 21, Heightens Security Concerns

January 18th 2014

Bomb explosion

The death toll from a Taliban attack on a restaurant in Afghanistan's capital has risen to 21. A suicide bomber who blew himself up and Taliban gunmen who rushed in behind him to shoot the survivors killed 13 foreigners, including U.N. employees, Americans and other Westerners.

The attack is seen as a critical blow to Afghan peace and reconciliation efforts, and it has raised serious concerns ahead of the political security transition that is due to begin in Afghanistan in April.

Authorities in Kabul say that investigations are under way to determine circumstances that led to what is being condemned as the deadliest assault on foreign civilians in Afghanistan since the start of U.S.-led military campaign (in 2001).

In Washington, the U.S. State Department condemned the attack, calling it senseless violence. A written statement said terrorists continue to demonstrate blatant disregard for life and a prosperous future Afghans are working hard to achieve. The message said the U.S. remains committed to peace and reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan. Read more ..

Islam on Edge

Tajik Imams Get a Makeover

January 18th 2014

Koran and prayer beads

It has been said that in diversity there is beauty and strength. But the Tajik authorities, it seems, are more attracted to uniformity.

After introducing uniforms and dress codes for teachers, students, and religious pilgrims in recent years, the powers that be in Dushanbe have set their sights on giving the country's imams a wardrobe makeover.

The State Committee for Religious Affairs announced this week that the design for a new, standard issue, uniform for imams has been agreed upon.

"The uniforms are being tailored now, and the imams will soon have identical outfits," committee head Abdurahim Kholiqov told reporters in Dushanbe on January 14.

The uniform consists of a grey satin shirt, trousers, a turban, and a long powder-blue robe highlighted by traditional white embroidery on the cuffs, lapels, and front trim. The style, created by local female fashion designer Mukarrama Qayumova, has been approved by the state committee as well as the Council of Ulema, the country's highest religious authority. Read more ..

Egypt After Morsi

Miracle on the Nile

January 18th 2014

2012 Egyptian Elections

A miracle on the Nile has been accomplished this week. Tens of millions of Egyptian citizens from all walks of life, Muslims and Christians, conservatives and liberals, seculars and religious, young and old, and in some instances, healthy and sick, have come out to cast a vote in the referendum of the century: either to say yes to new moderate constitution, relatively democratic, or to say no and revert to an Islamist constitution adopted by the previous Muslim Brotherhood regime.

Most likely, an overwhelming majority of voters will chose to move away from the 2012 Islamist regime of Mohammed Morsi and select a more liberating draft, one that reinforces fundamental rights to women and minorities. The referendum will seal a popular uprising that exploded almost a year ago, and culminated in two gigantic peaceful demonstrations last summer against the political oppression of the Ikhwan regime. Read more ..

Israel and Palestinians

Kerry’s Oblivious “Peace” Efforts

January 18th 2014

Kerry SOS

In Kuwait, after 10 failed trips to negotiate peace between Israel and the Palestinian authority, Secretary of State John Kerry proudly declared “Everywhere I go, even here today, everybody I talk to expresses gratitude to the efforts the United States is making … to try to make peace between Palestinians and Israelis.” However, as his predecessors, Kerry fails to recognize that the major obstacle facing his “efforts” is the Palestinian Authority’s absolute refusal to recognize the Jewish State of Israel, instead, demanding the fictitious “right of return” (to Israel) for all Palestinian refugees and millions of their descendants all over the world.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas, the purported moderate pragmatist, has stated clearly and repeatedly that the Palestinians will never give up what they consider their “right-of-return” for the descendants of Arabs displaced in the Israeli War of Independence. Read more ..

The Way We Are

What Comforts Targets of Prejudice the Most

January 17th 2014

Gay Pride

Rare in history are moments like the 1960s civil rights movement, in which members of a majority group vocally support minority groups in their fight against prejudice. New research not only confirms the power of speaking up for those facing prejudice but also underlines the importance of exactly what is communicated. Looking at YouTube video messages, researchers found that homosexual youth found the most comfort in messages that both supported them and advocated social change.

The new work takes a closer look at the "It Gets Better" YouTube campaign. "Like many people, I was fascinated and inspired when I saw the grassroots online movement that started in late 2010 of people posting video messages to teenagers who faced prejudice and harassment based on their actual or presumed sexual orientation," says Aneeta Rattan of London Business School. "I was not just moved as an individual, but as a researcher because this behavior – publicly addressing prejudice toward another group and communicating support for members of that group – is so rare that there is not a clear body of psychological science on it."  Read more ..

Broken Government

Don't Turn Away from Reforming Military Retirement

January 17th 2014

Bunch of American flags

The U.S. military is at a crossroads. We can either properly train and equip our future warriors or maintain overly generous benefits for young military retirees who have many years in the workforce ahead. We cannot do both. How the nation chooses will, to a great degree, determine how secure Americans will be in decades to come.

The president’s signature on the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 (BBA) is barely dry, yet several members of Congress have already pledged to undo a provision that would modestly limit annual increases to pension payments for working-age (38 to 62) military retirees, while directing budgetary savings to preserve military readiness.

We are increasingly concerned that fast-growing personnel costs – including health and retirement benefits that begin at a very early age – will crowd out other defense priorities. As DOD spending on the all-in personnel costs of the volunteer force approaches 70 percent of the defense budget annually, with the prospect of additional unchecked acceleration in the years ahead, it is clear that we are heading for a readiness and procurement catastrophe if causal factors are not addressed. Read more ..

The Coal Problem

Coal Industry Blamed for West Virginia Chemical Spill

January 17th 2014

Coal ash

There are new calls for increased oversight of the powerful chemical and coal industries in West Virginia following a major chemical spill that cut off water to more than 300,000 people.  The state's governor has promised to investigate the accident, but environmentalists say the state has been reluctant to regulate and enforce pollution controls on these industries, which are so crucial to the region's economy.

As residents line up for bottled water, many like Chase Tavaraz want to know why there was no state oversight of the chemical company that contaminated the local drinking water.

“As far as what I understand, if it would have been inspected - I guess 23, 26 years it hasn’t been inspected.  So if it had been certified every year like they are supposed to do, they would have avoided this whole situation,” he said. Nearly a week after a storage tank at a Freedom Industries site leaked chemicals into the Elk river, clean tap water is slowly being restored to affected areas. Read more ..

Inside Politics

Tea Party Big Loser in Budget Battle

January 17th 2014

Tea Party demonstator at Supreme Court

There was a bit of a sea change in Washington this week.  The Republican-controlled House of Representatives easily passed a $1.1 trillion budget bill that will keep the government funded through September.  Yes, the very same Republican House that led last October’s 16 day government shutdown that was hugely unpopular with voters.

Republicans got the lion’s share of the blame for the shutdown and it looks as though Republican congressional leaders got the message.  House Speaker John Boehner started blasting some independent conservative groups last month that had supported the shutdown, and it was clear that a national shift in public opinion about the Tea Party was having an impact. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama Proposes Limits on NSA Data Collection

January 17th 2014

Barack Obama Israel speech

President Barack Obama unveiled reforms Friday in the vast surveillance being conducted by the country's clandestine National Security Agency.

Aiming to calm uproar over NSA telecommunications surveillance, Obama outlined plans to end government control of an enormous cache of bulk phone records about calls made by Americans and foreigners, and also announced steps to reassure foreign leaders about U.S. surveillance tactics.

In the highly anticipated Justice Department speech, which follows months of review by a special panel in the wake of damaging disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the president also said government access and search of any data held by telecommunications companies will require advance approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA). Read more ..

The US and Afghanistan

U.S. Eases Pressure To Keep Afghan Security Pact Hopes Alive

January 17th 2014

Taliban soldiers

After warning of imminent deadlines for Afghanistan to back a security deal or face a future without Western military help, Washington has recently taken a lower-key approach more likely to bridge remaining differences in the coming months, U.S. officials and outside experts say.

"The efforts to be as quiet as possible are calculated because I think to the extent we talk publically it just makes it harder to get to a deal privately," a U.S. diplomat involved in the issue says privately. "There is not a completely unified view, other than doing this completely in public doesn't help, only makes it much harder to get to an agreement."

Washington pushed hard to get Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) by the end of 2013. Yet the Afghan leader has insisted he would sign the agreement only if the United States met his conditions, including an end to raids on Afghan homes and help with peace reconciliation. Read more ..

Ukraine on Edge

Does 'Black Thursday' Mark End Of Ukraine's Democratic Decade?

January 17th 2014


With a disorderly show of hands, the Ukrainian parliament appears to have not only shut down the country's pro-European protests, but rolled back an entire decade of reforms that once made Ukraine the leader of the post-Soviet neighborhood's democratic hopes.

Pro-presidential lawmakers in the Verkhovna Rada on January 16 passed a package of radical legislation that cracks down on street protests, strips opposition politicians of immunity, and imposes a raft of free-speech restrictions that have critics crying censorship.

Most immediately, the legislation appears aimed at shutting down the boisterous pro-European protests that have convulsed the capital, Kyiv, since Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych rejected an EU Association Agreement in November in favor of closer ties with Russia.

Longer term, the proposals could have damning consequences for Ukrainian civil society and independent journalism, which continued to flourish even as Yanukovych, in office since 2010, began to roll back reforms.

"The law fully restricts all types of expression, across all platforms. It makes it possible to shut down websites, block access to the Internet. It makes it possible to control all SIM cards so they can track any person who says something bad about the government at a forum, on blogs, or even from a mobile phone," says Taras Shevchenko, the director of the Kyiv-based Media Law Institute. "This 'bad' thing can be labeled as extremism, defamation, slander, insulting law enforcement or judges -- whatever is needed." Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Free Your Supply Chain from Conflict-Materials: or Report it by May 2014

January 17th 2014

Nigeria soldiers

With just four short months left before publicly traded electronics component manufacturers doing business in the United States must report to the U.S. federal government any use of so-called conflict minerals sourced from Africa, many global companies are still without a concrete plan for compliance, according to new information gathered by research firm IHS Inc.

In a December IHS webinar on the subject, fully 42 percent of participating companies in a survey professed uncertainty on what to do, or appear unprepared for the May 2014 deadline on conflict minerals.
Of the 42 percent of the respondents, at least 22 percent said they were “unsure” on how to go about meeting the new regulations on conflict minerals. Meanwhile, 20 percent admitted they were just in the process of putting a plan together or “determining that approach now.”  Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

The Iranian Kabuki Dance

January 17th 2014

Iran Missiles

Starting next Monday, Iran will formally implement an interim agreement with the West. President Rohani has described the accord as the world "bowing to Iran's might, power and resistance." The Islamic Republic has agreed to limit certain aspects of its nuclear activities for six months in return for what has been called "modest" relief from the crippling international sanctions imposed for most of the last decade. But the West, by rolling back the sanctions regime, has given Tehran an opportunity to reinvigorate its economic and diplomatic ties with the rest of the world, and Western countries have eagerly exploited the opening to do business with Iran. Re-legitimizing business as usual before Iran makes any significant concessions on its nuclear program not only sends the wrong message, but impairs the West's ability to negotiate effectively.

Iran has made a full court press to rehabilitate its economy following the relaxing of sanctions. In the last six weeks, Tehran has been working its charm offensive, principally with Europe, but also with Japan, Turkey and Azerbaijan. In addition, it has begun rebuilding the critical infrastructure necessary to transact global business, including in the banking and energy sectors. Read more ..

The Edge of terrorism

Congressional Recognition for Terrorism Expert Walid Phares Released

January 17th 2014

Walid and Myrick

After waiting for more than a year, a Congressional letter of recognition for terrorism analyst Walid Phares was finally released. The letter reads:

It is my great privilege to recognize the patriotism and valor of Professor Walid Phares, who has been an advisor to my office and the Congressional Anti-Terrorism Caucus since 2006. During that time, he has also ably served as my academic advisor on the Middle East, Terrorism, jihadi ideologies, Middle East minorities, Muslim reformers and democratic movements.

I found his enlightening book, Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies Against America, to be highly educational. The wisdom and insight I found on every page when I read it in 2005, led me to conclude that the book was a must-read for every American; it would help them to understand the ideological basis of the jihadi threat at home and abroad and enable them to figure out the best strategies against it.  Future Jihad was included on the summer reading list of House Republicans in 2007 and was read by many of them. Dr. Phares’ book, The War of Ideas: Jihadism against Democracy, deepened my understanding of jihadists’ use of propaganda to promote their political ideology, penetrate the West, and recruit members. His third book authored after 9/11, The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad (published in 2008) also enabled me and other global strategists to forge the appropriate alliances and isolate the extremists. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

UNESCO Pulls Jewish Exhibit After Last Minute Protest From Arab League

January 17th 2014

jerusalem from mt of olives

UNESCO (the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) has pulled a Jewish exhibit two years in the making, titled “People, Book, Land -- The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People and the Land of Israel,” after a zero hour protest from the Arab League.

The exhibit, which was created by Los Angeles-based Jewish human rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) together with UNESCO, was scheduled to open on January 20th, 2014 at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters. The invitations had already gone out, and the fully prepared exhibition material was already in place. The display was co-sponsored by Israel, Canada, and Montenegro.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, Dean of the SWC, called the move an “absolute outrage.” “The Arabs,” he said, “don’t want the world to know that the Jews have a 3,500-year relationship to the Land of Israel.” Read more ..

The Race for Biofuels

Renewable Chemical Ready for Biofuels Scale-Up

January 16th 2014


Using a plant-derived chemical, University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have developed a process for creating a concentrated stream of sugars that's ripe with possibility for biofuels.

"With the sugar platform, you have possibilities," says Jeremy Luterbacher, a UW-Madison postdoctoral researcher and the paper's lead author. "You've taken fewer forks down the conversion road, which leaves you with more end destinations, such as cellulosic ethanol and drop-in biofuels."

The research team has published its findings explaining how they use gamma valerolactone, or GVL, to deconstruct plants and produce sugars that can be chemically or biologically upgraded into biofuels. With support from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), the team will begin scaling up the process later this year. Read more ..

Broken Education

Can We Fix Undermatching in Higher Ed? Would it Matter if We Did?

January 16th 2014

university students and laptops

College access for low-income students is back in the news this week with a White House summit (postponed from last month) on higher education.  Tomorrow’s summit follows a November announcement that First Lady Michelle Obama is going to be a key advocate for the President’s higher education agenda, with a focus on encouraging and supporting low-income students to enroll and succeed in college.

News reports indicate that the White House effort will focus on preventing undermatching, i.e. students attending less challenging colleges than their academic credentials would allow them to.  This behavior is troubling not because it happens at all but because it disproportionately occurs among disadvantaged students.  In our 2009 book, Bill Bowen, Mike McPherson, and I examine data on a cohort of North Carolina high school seniors who have test scores and grades that give them a 90 percent or better chance of being admitted to a selective university.  Among students from high-income families, only about a quarter (27 percent) undermatch by attending a less selective college.  But among lower-income students, a clear majority (54-59 percent) undermatch.  Our work and other studies show that students who undermatch are less likely to graduate from college. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Network Neutrality Debate May Be Headed Back to FCC

January 16th 2014

computer keyboard woman hands

Despite reports to the contrary, the debate over network neutrality is far from over. An appeals court recently overturned rules that bar broadband providers from blocking or slowing Internet traffic. But the court also suggested that the Federal Communications Commission can take another shot at the issue by reconsidering how it regulates the Internet.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the FCC doesn’t have the authority to require broadband providers to treat online content equally -- leaving them free to manipulate online traffic or charge companies such as Netflix Inc. a premium for faster delivery.

If the FCC decides to take up the issue again, it will face some of the most formidable lobbyists in town. Three Internet service providers were among the top 20 lobbying spenders in the first nine months of 2013. Combined they hired more than 350 lobbyists, 14 of whom were former members of Congress. Read more ..

Broken Government

Rate Hike Will Harm Postal Service

January 16th 2014

Post Office closed

Let’s face it, the U.S. Postal Service is facing a large financial problem, and everyone agrees that it must be fixed. However, the exigency rate increase on the price of postage, recently approved by the Postal Regulatory Commission, amounts to little more than a short-term stopgap measure. Even worse, it will ultimately cause further damage to the long-term viability of the Postal Service.

Sure, the agency might see some short-term increases in revenue. But in an industry already fraught with competitive pressures, it makes no sense to add another negative feature that will lead to lower mail volume levels, while failing to bring about comprehensive postal reform.

Under the law, the Postal Service is not allowed to raise prices above the rate of inflation unless there are serious exigent circumstances. These increases are meant to create better business in times of need, but unfortunately, this increase is not the silver bullet the Postal Service’s budget requires. It won’t solve the financial crisis, nor will it create a stronger product — just the opposite. Read more ..

Broken Government

Senate Approves $1T Omnibus

January 16th 2014

Capitol Senate

The Senate approved the $1 trillion omnibus spending bill Thursday, sending it to the White House for President Obama's signature and sparing the government from another government shutdown.

Senators voted 72-26 in favor of the bill, and all "no" votes came from Senate Republicans, including GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Whip John Cornyn (Texas). That followed a 72-26 vote to end debate, which needed 60 votes.

With the Senate's passage, Obama has until the end of Saturday to sign it into law — Saturday is when federal funding runs out.

A day earlier, the House passed the omnibus bill 359-67, with 64 "no" votes coming from Republicans who argued that it spent too much and complaining that Congress had just a few days to assess the 1,500-page bill. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Some African Countries Pushing for Tougher Anti-Gay Laws

January 16th 2014

Brazilian gay pride on parade

Nigeria's president has signed into law a bill that bans gay marriage, gay rights advocacy and public displays of affection between same-sex couples.  Homosexual acts were already illegal in Nigeria.  Human rights activists say the new law reflects a larger trend to ramp up anti-gay legislation and penalties.

Nigeria's new Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act has been condemned abroad but applauded at home. And it has given President Goodluck Jonathan a much-needed popularity boost.

"I thought the Western world will so much pressurize us to bow to it, but hearing that the president signed against it, in fact it's a kudos.  I'm very glad that he could stand [on] his feet and sign against such a taboo, because, I mean, it's un-African," said one citizen. "We don't want such a thing in our country." Many African countries inherited their anti-sodomy laws from colonial rulers.  Some have since added stiffer penalties and sought to broaden the list of offenses. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama Surveillance Speech Faces High Expectations

January 16th 2014

Barack Obama in Thought

President Barack Obama Friday will announce decisions about intelligence surveillance methods used by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).

In the speech at the Department of Justice, the president will address 46 recommendations of a special review panel, including those aimed at imposing more accountability and transparency.  

Obama announced the comprehensive review in August, in the wake of revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The president stressed his responsibility as commander-in-chief to safeguard the security of Americans, but recognized escalating public concerns about how the government goes about using signals intelligence. Obama also said he was mindful of how the issue is viewed overseas. Read more ..

Iraq on Edge

Fallujah Residents Suffer As Tribesmen, Al-Qaeda Fight On

January 16th 2014

Syrian refugees

Amid the fog of war, it is becoming clear that everyday citizens are bearing the brunt of the recent violence in Iraq's Anbar Province.

For weeks, local Sunni tribesmen and Iraqi security forces have been battling Al-Qaeda-linked militants in the western province. In the city of Fallujah, fierce fighting with Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS) has resulted in a tense standoff as army troops encircling the city await word to move in.

In the meantime, Fallujah's 300,000 residents are suffering. Basic services have been cut off and many locals remain without water, electricity, and food. Umm Akram says that militants forced her and her family out of their home a week ago. Akram's family of 14 wandered the streets before taking shelter at a local school that now serves as a temporary shelter for dozens of families. Read more ..

Egypt After Morsi

Egypt is Not a Democracy

January 16th 2014

Anti-Morsi Protests June 2013

Warning: The following isn't nice.

The liberal moaning and wailing has begun.  The circumstances of the referendum on Egypt's new constitution, the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, and what appears to be the impending crackdown on Hamas have produced calls for "inclusion" and "democratic norms," and the denunciation of the military-backed government.  TIME Magazine intones, "Egyptians are Voting Away their Freedom."  The Washington Post called for a suspension of U.S. military aid to Egypt over its "bogus democracy."

That's a rather high hand.  What if Egypt doesn't have a "bogus democracy," but an insurgency that needs redress?  What if, to Egyptians, the Muslim Brotherhood resembles the Taliban more than it does the Democratic Party of the United States?  Remember, the Taliban wasn't entirely unwelcome in Afghanistan in the chaos of the Russian withdrawal.  What if Egyptians are driven by the specter of Libyan militias, Iraqi dissolution, Syrian civil war, and the wreckage produced by a single year of Muslim Brotherhood rule?  What if Egyptians value perceived security over what they understand about democracy? Read more ..

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