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Archive for January 2014

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Film Review

Her: Disembodied Spirits in the Cyber Age

January 16th 2014

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Her. Director: Spike Jonze, Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Scarlett Johansson. Length: 90 mins.

Bodies are optional - and therefore dispensible. That has been the subtext of the utopian dream of rationalists from Descartes to the present day. The trouble is that we know it isn't true. We need our bodies. Without them, we are nothing, at least so far as we can know.

The rationalists nowadays, however, have become so confident about the advance of technology, and especially the technology of artificial intelligence, that they tend to take for granted that it is only a matter of time until "science" - perhaps, as disembodied as its future creations - is able to synthesize humanity itself.

To be up front about it, I don't think so. Humanity is embodied and, the advance of technology notwithstanding, it always will be. That is part of what humanity means - along with all that bodies imply about the inevitability of pain and loss and failing faculties and death, which are among the bugs that the rationalists seek to eliminate from our human software.

Yet we may imagine a world, as Spike Jonze has done in Her, in which computers have grown so skilled at playing what Alan Turing called "the Imitation Game" that the question of their humanity seems almost moot. If they are somehow less than human, they are so much like the real thing that whatever they lack of actual humanity, including bodies, is not missed by those who choose to treat them as human.

The latter, some might say, have themselves compromised their humanity by treating as human that which is not human, but then why would we suppose that they care any more about their own artificiality than they do about that of the creatures with whom they engage in human-type relationships? Read more ..

Film Review

American Hustle: Sexier and Funnier than the Real Thing

January 16th 2014

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American Hustle. Director: David O. Russell. Starring: Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper. Length: 90 mins.

The best line in American Hustle comes in an exchange between Bradley Cooper's FBI agent, Richie DiMaso, and Irving Rosenfeld, the small time crook played by Christian Bale who is bargaining with him to get a reduced sentence by helping to entrap several U.S. congressmen in what was to become known as the Abscam bribery sting. In the spirit of post-Watergate self-righteousness that must have affected the FBI almost as much as it did the media and the political Carterism that played to it, Richie tells Irving that he is the kind of person who is ruining America. Irving replies in high dudgeon: "No, you're the one who is ruining America. People just got over Watergate and Vietnam and you're going to s*** all over politicians again!"

Irving, of course, recognizes some sense of fellow-feeling with the politicians. "As far as I can tell," he says at one point, "people are conning each other all the time to get what they want" - the law and the FBI very much included. But he also has a point about how civic virtue and public service do not cease to be important when they become masks for baser motives.

The same point is made in a different way by Jeremy Renner's pompadoured Mayor Carmine Polito of Camden, the most sympathetic of those caught up in the scandal, who says: "Everything I do is for the good of the people of New Jersey. Tell me I'm lying." Even Irving develops a conscience about Carmine's entanglement with the law which he has helped to bring about. It is tempting to ask what possible civic purpose can be served by the prosecution of such a man for attempting to smooth the way for Arab investment in Atlantic City casinos? Read more ..

The Safety Edge

Carbon Nanotubes Promise Improved Flame-Resistant Coating

January 15th 2014

Fire Engine

Using an approach akin to assembling a club sandwich at the nanoscale, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) researchers have succeeded in crafting a uniform, multi-walled carbon-nanotube-based coating that greatly reduces the flammability of foam commonly used in upholstered furniture and other soft furnishings.

The flammability of the nanotube-coated polyurethane foam was reduced 35 percent compared with untreated foam. As important, the coating prevented melting and pooling of the foam, which generates additional flames that are a major contributor to the spread of fires.

Nationwide, fires in which upholstered furniture is the first item ignited account for about 6,700 home fires annually and result in 480 civilian deaths, or almost 20 percent of home fire deaths between 2006 and 2010, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Masculinity is More Than a Mask

January 15th 2014

Student Backpack

Are school shooters and mass murderers born out of an aggressive emphasis on masculinity in our society? The trailer  for filmmaker and feminist activist Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s new documentary, “The Mask You Live In,” would have us think so.

The recently released trailer has attracted 1 million views on YouTube. It argues that American boys are captive to a rigid and harmful social code of masculinity. From the earliest age, they are told to “Be a Man!” “Don’t Cry!” “Stop with the emotion!” and “Man up!” This “guy code” suppresses their humanity, excites their drive for dominance, and renders many of them dangerous. The trailer features adolescent men describing their isolation, despair, and thoughts of suicide, artfully interspersed with terrifying images of school shooters and mass murderers.

I admire Newsom for using her considerable talent to advocate for boys. But I worry that she is less concerned with helping boys than with re-engineering their masculinity according to specifications from some out-of-date gender studies textbook. The trailer is suffused with “males-are-toxic” ideology but shows little appreciation for how boys’ nature can be distinctively good. “The Mask You Live In” is scheduled to be released later this year. Let’s hope there is still time for edits. Read more ..

Broken Economy

The Emerging Conservative Effort to Help the Poor

January 15th 2014

Homeless in Cheap Motels

President Obama has signaled that he plans to use income inequality as a political wedge issue in the 2014 midterm election. The idea is to shine a spotlight on the large disparity between the economic gains for those at the top of the income ladder and those on the bottom rungs, and then to blame Republicans for blocking efforts which are supposedly aimed at narrowing the gap. Think of Bill de Blasio-style populism on a national scale.

The battle lines in this emerging debate are becoming visible over the extension of long-term unemployment benefits and raising the federal minimum wage requirement. Much like the 2012 presidential contest, the president and his allies want to advance proposals that poll very well and which many Republicans oppose for principled reasons in an attempt to paint GOP candidates as insensitive to the plight of those struggling in today’s still sluggish economy. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

GOP Senator Blasts Rail Cars Regs Delays

January 15th 2014

train on fire

A Republican senator expressed disappointment Wednesday in the Department of Transportation's decision to delay stronger regulations for rail cars that are carrying oil.

Sen. John Hoeven (D-N.D.) said he is considering legislation that would speed up the regulations for rail cars. He also plans to meet with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Burwell and industry leaders to determine a more appropriate timeline for new rail car regulations.

“The federal agencies working on this issue need to devote the necessary resources to get it done in a timely way,” he said in a statement. This comes after a train carrying oil derailed last month in North Dakota and spilled more than 400,000 gallons of crude oil in the senator's home state, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Bring Wireless 911 Up to Date

January 15th 2014

Smart phone running voice recogniton

This past summer, Mary Thomas suffered a stroke in New York City. Ms. Thomas knew something was wrong and mustered up the strength to call 911. But the stroke had taken its toll. Her speech was slurred. She was unable to clearly tell the dispatcher — an emergency medical technician named Joann Hilman-Payne — where she was.

So the first responders turned to technology. The tower information for Ms. Thomas’s phone gave an address for the call. But the address was wrong. It turns out that on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, it can be easy to get lost. Lots of buildings, lots of floors, lots of apartments stacked high in the sky. In fact, first responders in New York followed several false leads trying to track the call. All in all, they searched for eight hours before they found Ms. Thomas.

This is an incredible story. Because thanks to the superhuman efforts of the EMT who stayed on the line — for a full straight eight hours — Ms. Thomas never lost consciousness and was taken to a hospital to recover. Like Ms. Thomas, there is one telephone number every one of us knows by heart but none of us ever hopes to use. That number is 911. Read more ..


Benghazi Attack Could Have Been Prevented, Senate Probe Finds

January 15th 2014

Libyan riot at US consulate Sep 2012 #3

A new report from the Senate Intelligence Committee says the September 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, could have been prevented.

The bipartisan report released Wednesday concludes that the State Department failed to increase security in Benghazi, despite intelligence reports on the deteriorating security situation and warnings that U.S. facilities were at risk ahead of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack, where U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

“The committee found the attacks were preventable, based on extensive intelligence reporting on the terrorist activity in Libya — to include prior threats and attacks against Western targets — and given the known security shortfalls at the U.S. Mission,” the panel said in a statement on the report. Read more ..

CAR on Edge

CAR's Sectarian Divide: What's Behind It?

January 15th 2014

Victims of LRA

People in the Central African Republic say they had never seen anything like the violence between Muslims and Christians that has shaken the country in the past year.  Analysts are looking into how this religious divide emerged and what can be done to overcome it.

"Kilometre Cinq" is one of the neighborhoods in Bangui where Muslims have congregated since violence between Muslims, Christians and animists exploded in early December and at least 750 people in the capital were killed. Last week the violence flared again and a mob demolished the mosque in this district.

Local resident Eloge Alokaya says he saw them doing it. He says they were from this neighborhood, they were angry and they started by looting the imam’s house and finished by destroying the mosque. Read more ..

The Edge of Sports

Athletes Hope to Bring Sibling Advantage to Sochi

January 15th 2014

Olympic torch

A sibling teammate is one advantage a handful of athletes have at the Olympic games.

This year, U.S. figure skating just nominated the sister-and-brother ice dancing team of Maia and Alex Shibutani to the Sochi squad.

At Vancouver 2010, Austrian brothers Andreas and Wolfgang Linger took gold in the doubles luge ahead of Latvian siblings Andris and Juris Sics.

A brother-sister cross country ski duo from Washington State is hoping to join the Olympic sibling tradition. One has a ticket to the Winter Games, while the other still hopes to clinch a spot.

Competitive streak
Erik and Sadie Bjornsen grew up in a close knit family near the remote hamlet of Mazama, Washington. An enviable 200 km Nordic trail system starts practically at their doorstep. Their mother, Mary Bjornsen, says all three of her children had an athletic upbringing with constant friendly competition.

"I can remember people wondering when Erik was going to start beating Sadie," Mary said. "It took a while actually. Sadie was fast." "Everything was a competition from running to the car, the first one there," Sadie said. "Or balancing at the [their father's] job site on a beam as long as you could." Read more ..

The Edge of Music

Songs Against Slavery Used as Tool for Abolition

January 15th 2014

sharecroppers Depression

December 18, 2013, was the 149th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the United States.  The fight to end slavery did not begin with the American Civil War.  For more than 80 years before then, people used the tools at their disposal to fight for and against the enslavement of African-Americans.  One of those tools was music.

When the United States became a nation, African slaves weren’t just picking cotton in Alabama.  They were also cleaning houses in Pennsylvania and tending bar in New York City.  But by the early 1800s, Northern states largely outlawed the practice and were pressing the South to do the same.

“Get Off The Track”  was a song written and made famous by the most popular United States singing troupe of the 1840s and 1850s, the Hutchinson Family Singers.  Scott Gac wrote a book about the Hutchinson Family called “Singing for Freedom.” Read more ..

Ukraine on Edge

Ukraine Appears Poised to Revert to Soviet-Style Repression of Catholics

January 15th 2014

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Ukraine’s government is threatening to proscribe one of the country’s historic Christian churches in what appears to be a reversal for democracy in the Eastern European nation. President Viktor Yanukovych has threatened to drop from the government registry the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church – which is in communion with Pope Francis and thus a part of the worldwide Catholic Church. This would open up both priests and bishops to civil prosecution for providing spiritual care to the thousands of fellow Ukrainians who are protesting their support for Ukraine’s admission to the European Union which is now opposed by President Yanukovych and his ally, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

A letter from Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture that cited “systematic disregard for the law by some priests” at mass protests held at Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti or Freedom Square, was made public on January 6. Read more ..

Venezuela after Chavez

Don't Cry for Me Venezuela: The Life of Hugo Chavez Gets Star Treatment

January 15th 2014

Music lovers in Belarus will soon be treated to a show honoring the life of late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

The Belarusian Music Theater has announced it is working on a Spanish-language musical in collaboration with Venezuelan artists.

"In Memory of Hugo Chavez" is scheduled to premiere this summer in Minsk and later in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas.

The Minsk-Novosti news agency reported that the music would be composed by Gerardo Estrada, the first secretary of the Venezuelan Embassy in Belarus and a seasoned musician.

Olga Gudazhnikava, a spokeswoman for the theater, told RFE/RL that the musical's director was currently unavailable for comment.

The news from Minsk will come as no surprise to those who have witnessed Chavez's own musical antics and knew of his friendship with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Obama Administration Dismisses Iran's Victory Lap

January 15th 2014

The White House has dismissed a claim by Iranian President Hassan Rohani that the interim nuclear deal Iran reached in Geneva in November marked the 'surrender' of major powers.

President Hassan Rohani has described a nuclear deal reached in Geneva in November as a victory for Iran. Rohani made the claim in Iran's southwestern province of Khuzestan on January 14, saying the interim deal was a "surrender" by major powers to Iranian demands. "The Geneva agreement means acceptance of the Iranian nation's nuclear right and defeat of cruel sanctions [against Iran]," he said.

But in Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, "it is not surprising to us...that the Iranians are describing the agreement in a certain way towards their domestic audience." Read more ..

Displaced Persons on the Edge

Four Years After the Haiti Earthquake, the Search for Solutions to Displacement Continues

January 14th 2014

Haiti in ruins

Four years ago today, residents of Port-au-Prince, Haiti awoke to a city destroyed. The earthquake of January 12, 2010 killed as many as 220,000 people. 105,000 homes were destroyed and over 188,000 badly damaged, sparking a displacement crisis the country was particularly ill-equipped to handle. Even before the disaster, Haiti ranked 145 out of 169 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index, the lowest in the western hemisphere, and was facing a major housing shortage. At the height of the crisis, more than 1.5 million Haitians were living in some 1,500 camps in Port-au-Prince and surrounding towns. Thousands more of the displaced were never really counted, as they sought shelter with friends and family members. To put all this in context, the population of the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area at the time was 2.8 million. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Murkowski Pushes Obama on Keystone XL, Crude-Export Ban

January 14th 2014

Oil Pipes2

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) wants President Obama to get on board with her push for lifting the U.S. ban on crude exports and approving the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

In a letter sent to Obama on Tuesday, Murkowski called on the president to take executive action.

"While I believe you retain the executive authority necessary to lift the ban on crude exports, if you need legislative support from the Congress in order to do so, you will always have a willing partner from Alaska," Murkowski wrote in the letter on Tuesday.

Last week, she released a white paper on the benefits associated with expanding the country's energy trade, with a specific look at crude exports. Along with crude exports, Murkowski mentions the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline as a means of expanding the nation's energy infrastructure — reminding Obama that he has broadly promised to champion such issues. Read more ..


Christie Takes Responsibility for Bridge Closures: 'Mistakes' Made

January 14th 2014

Chris Christie

During his State of the State address on Tuesday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) again accepted full responsibility for last year's George Washington Bridge lane closures, which have grown into a full-blown scandal for the potential presidential candidate.

“The last week has certainly tested this administration. Mistakes were clearly made. And as a result, we let down the people we are entrusted to serve. I know our citizens deserve better. Much better,” the Republican governor said.

“I am the governor and I am ultimately responsible for all that happens on my watch — both good and bad,” he added.
Christie promised to cooperate with ongoing investigations into the scandal, but insisted that "what occurred does not define our state."

Christie’s aides privately admit his only chance to move past the controversy lies in refocusing on governing New Jersey. His Tuesday address was the first step down that path.

The governor spent the rest of the speech touting the accomplishments of his first term and outlining proposals for school and tax reform and crime reduction that he plans to pursue during his second term.

But the bipartisan accomplishments of his first term might not be so easy to come by in the next — Democrats in the state could be wary to work with someone tainted by scandal, something Christie advisers privately admit the governor is aware of.

And the renewed focus on New Jersey might not be enough to move past the scandal. New details are emerging about the extent of his administration’s involvement in the bridge closures as payback against a Democratic mayor who refused to endorse his reelection, and another New Jersey elected official has come forward to accuse the Christie administration of further political retribution. Read more ..

Broken Government

Fight Poverty the Conservative Way

January 14th 2014

Sen Marco Rubio (R-FL)

On the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida proposed a conservative version of it.

His speech follows a much-publicized tour of poverty-stricken areas by Representative Paul Ryan and a proposal by Senator Rand Paul to revitalize depressed parts of the country. Suddenly, fighting poverty has become a theme of Republican rhetoric.

Republicans may be overestimating how much political benefit they can get from this new focus (the party’s real vulnerability is that people think it’s disconnected from the struggles of the middle class). But a reputation for indifference to poverty is unattractive, too -- and a concern for the poor has a moral importance beyond any political value it may have.

In creating an anti-poverty agenda, Republicans have a positive legacy on which to build. The most successful such initiatives of recent decades -- welfare reform and the earned income tax credit -- reflected conservative thinking and had conservative support. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

The President's Recess-Appointment Overreach

January 14th 2014

US Supreme Court

Today, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Noel Canning v. NLRB in which the D.C. Circuit struck down President Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board. The question is whether the president’s power under Article II of the Constitution “to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate” allows appointments for (a) vacancies that came open while the Senate was in session and while (b) the Senate is in pro forma session (i.e., it is open but not transacting any legislative business).

In Noel Canning, President Obama appointed officers to the NLRB to positions that came open while the Senate was in session. He also appointed them while the Senate was in a pro forma session. Critics have rightly attacked President Obama for aggrandizing presidential power. The original understanding of the Clause appears to support the D.C. Circuit’s position, but by practice presidents had made recess appointments while the Senate was out of session for more than three days (or any time in between sessions), without Senate pushback. Read more ..

Nigeria on Edge

Nigerian Activists Decry Impact of New Anti-Gay Measure

January 14th 2014

Gay Pride

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has signed a law that makes gay marriage in Nigeria punishable by up to 14 years in prison. Activists say the law will have disastrous consequences for the gay community and beyond. Political analysts say the popular law will be a gain for the president, whose ruling party is going through severe internal struggles ahead of the 2015 elections.  

On Monday morning, it was illegal to be gay in Nigeria. By Monday night, gay marriage had become illegal, along with being a member of a gay organization - a crime that could mean up to 10 years in prison. 
Ifeanyi Kelly Orazulike is a rights activist and one of the few people in Nigeria who has spoken out against the law. He said the law may be intended to target gays, but it may harm others as well. For example, he said, gay men in Nigeria have a high HIV infection rate - 17 percent - and the law will keep some some men from getting treatment out of fear. For others, no treatment will be available. Read more ..

Broken Economy

Detroit Showcases Dramatic Turnaround at Auto Show

January 14th 2014

Tesla Car

U.S. automakers have much to celebrate at this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Fueled by growing sales and increased production, the industry has made a dramatic turnaround since hovering on the brink of collapse less than five years ago.

Taking a chance
Facing bankruptcy in 2009, Chrysler was grappling with the fate of its assets, including the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant where Charles Archard worked.

“Me and my wife both worked in the plant," Archard said. "She took the buyout. I stayed there. But there was a 50/50 chance that it could have went bankrupt. I took that chance.”

It paid off. Chrysler not only reversed its decision to close Sterling Heights, but also added another shift. At this year’s North American International Auto Show, the company announced that workers like Archard will soon be building a new mid-size sedan at the plant, which will offer job security for the foreseeable future. “And then we found out a billion dollars is going to be put into the plant for new vehicles and everything, so it was great,” Archard said. Read more ..

CAR on Edge

UN Reports Grave Human Rights Violations in CAR

January 14th 2014

African Rebels and Guns

A new United Nations report presents an appalling picture of human rights violations in the Central African Republic, including killings, kidnappings, torture, and rape.  The report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights describes events since the explosion of violence in the capital, Bangui and the northern town of Bossangoa on December 5 and 6.

U.N. fact-finders who visited the CAR last month have confirmed there were large-scale killings of Christian and Muslim civilians carried out on December 5 and 6 in Bangui and Bossangoa. The U.N. estimates 1,000 people in Bangui alone were killed during the two days of violence.

The violence began when Christian militias, known as the anti-balaka, mounted coordinated attacks in Bangui against Muslim forces that were formerly part of the Seleka rebel alliance.  The attacks prompted a series of reprisals by both sides, which spiraled into sectarian violence between Muslim and Christian civilians in the capital and elsewhere in the country. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

$571B Defense Bill Reverses Pension Cuts for Disabled Veterans

January 14th 2014

Pentagon aerial shot

The $571 billion Defense appropriations bill released late Monday would reverse cuts to retirement pay for medically retired veterans and survivor benefits that passed in last month’s budget deal.

The Defense bill included in the $1.012 trillion omnibus spending measure resolves a $600 million “technical error” that would have reduced the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for medically retired veterans. The omnibus does not, however, repeal the larger $6 billion in cuts to military pensions for working-age retirees that some lawmakers have vocally opposed.

The Defense appropriations bill funds $486.9 billion in base spending, with additional funds from other appropriations bills reaching the $520 billion Defense spending cap set by the budget deal. That’s roughly in line with the 2013 Defense spending levels, as the Pentagon avoided a $22 billion hit under sequestration thanks to last month’s budget agreement. Read more ..

Islam and Europe

2013 was a Year of Islamization in Belgium and the Netherlands

January 13th 2014

In January, the gangland shootings of two young Moroccan men in downtown Amsterdam drew renewed attention to the growing problem of violent crime among Muslim immigrants. The two men were gunned down with AK-47 assault rifles in a shooting the mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan, described as reminiscent of "the Wild West."

In March, the Dutch public broadcasting system NOS television reported that the Netherlands has become one of the major European suppliers of Islamic jihadists. According to NOS, about 100 Dutch Muslims are active as jihadists in Syria; most have joined the notorious Jabhat al-Nusra rebel group.

Belgium and the Netherlands have some of the largest Muslim communities in the European Union, in percentage terms. Read more ..

Broken Government

Gov. Christie's 'Bridgegate': Political Rhetoric is No Substitute for Personal Morality

January 13th 2014

It’s too early to predict where N.J. Governor Chris Christie’s “bridgegate” scandal will lead.

What did Christie know and when did he know it about actions of operatives in his administration who engineered the closing of key traffic lanes, leading onto the George Washington bridge outside Fort Lee, New Jersey, as political punishment for a Democratic mayor who did not endorse Christie’s reelection.

The lane closings caused horrendous traffic jams that might have caused the death of one elderly woman.

But whichever players in this horrible game of political vindictiveness are implicated, there is an important lesson.

Despite our obsession with political systems and processes, the quality of our lives ultimately flows from the behavior of individual human beings and not from any meticulously designed political system.

The best any political system can do is to assure political freedom. But it cannot assure what individuals choose to do with their freedom and the values that will define their lives.

The more we believe that politics alone can make our lives better, and that moral standards are just private matters with no import on the quality of our national life, the deeper we will dig the hole in which we are burying ourselves.

We just marked the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s declaration of “an unconditional war on poverty.”

But Johnson’s lofty political language about eradication of social injustice and poverty and who the man actually was and how he lived is a study in contrasts. Read more ..

Broken Government

Student Loan System Needs an Overhal

January 13th 2014

College expenses

The student loan system is broken, and we need new ideas for fixing it.

Student debt now totals more than $1 trillion, and students are borrowing some $113 billion a year. With this year’s college graduates owing $32,500 on average, these debts threaten to be dead weights on their financial futures.

The nation is moving toward a mobile information and transaction paradigm, with purchases and payments online. Students bank electronically, shop electronically and study electronically. They should be able to repay their loans electronically, especially the large percentage of borrowers who are non-banked or under-banked.

The Obama administration is starting to make student loans more transparent and repayment more affordable. The new online “scorecard” measures colleges based on tuition, graduation rates, debt levels and graduates’ earnings. The Department of Education is reaching out to struggling borrowers, informing them of their options. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is scrutinizing the largest loan servicers. And Congress is holding hearings on the student debt crisis. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Al Qaeda’s Next Comeback Could Be Afghanistan And Pakistan

January 13th 2014

al Qaeda Fighters

Al-Qaeda has staged a remarkable comeback in Iraq in the last year. Former National Security Advisor Jim Jones has called it “al-Qaeda’s renaissance.” This year, most if not all American forces and those of our allies in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will finally come home from Afghanistan. Will al-Qaeda have another renaissance in South Asia?

There was no al-Qaeda in Iraq before 9/11—the terror organization moved into Iraq only when Osama bin Laden saw George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were getting ready to invade Iraq in 2003. He set a trap. By 2006 Al-Qaeda in Iraq had plunged the country into civil war, pitting Shia against Sunni. Only the brave efforts of American Marines and GIs prevented the complete collapse of the state. Now al-Qaeda has come back in Iraq, raising its black flag over territory once fought over so hard by Americans. Read more ..

The Race for Gas

Israel's First Natural Gas Customers to be Palestinians

January 13th 2014

Gas Well Israel

Israel’s Leviathan Partners natural gas production consortium has signed its first gas export agreement with a Palestinian power company.

The agreement, signed last Sunday in Jerusalem at the American Colony Hotel, involves the Palestine Power Generation Company (PPGC) which will purchase around 4.75 billion cubic meter of natural gas during a 20 year period.

The gas will  fuel a to be constructed power plant in the West Bank city Jenin that will have a 200-megawatt capacity. Total estimated cost of the deal is said to be $1.2 billion USD, according to the Jerusalem Post. The agreement was signed between Palestinian Energy Minister Dr. Omar Kittaneh and  executives from the gas field’s partners: the Delek Group, Noble Energy and Ratio Oil Exploration. Read more ..

Inside Politics

Owning the Income Inequality Issue

January 13th 2014

American poverty

Democrats are obsessed with income inequality. They are determined to exploit the issue in this midterm-election year. It is a strategy that will no doubt be aided and abetted by the media. Pope Francis was named Time magazine’s “Person for the Year” for his critique of what he called “trickle down” capitalism.

The likely Republican response, to the extent there will be one, should note the lack of hard evidence that income inequality (as opposed to, say, family breakdown) hurts economic growth; argue that income inequality is a crass political attempt to distract from a continued weak job market; and offer a worthy substitute to what President Obama has labeled the nation’s “defining challenge.”

On that last point: The problem is not too much income inequality, the GOP will say, but too little upward mobility that endangers the American Dream. As Senator Marco Rubio said last week in an important anti-poverty speech, “upward mobility and equal opportunity is not a partisan issue, it is our unifying American principle.” Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Scientists Develop Cancer-Killing Protein

January 13th 2014

RUTH breast cancer detection device

Some 90 percent of people who die from cancer do so, say experts, because the disease has metastasized, or spread.  Researchers say they believe they can dramatically reduce the mortality rate with a protein combination that kills cancer cells on contact. 

Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are often effective at treating people with a solid tumor, but once the cancer has spread and formed tiny tumors at distant sites, chances for a successful recovery are dismal.

Now researchers at Cornell University in New York have isolated a protein that goes by the acronym of TRAIL that causes metastasizing cancer cells to implode on contact. The biomedical engineers led by Mike King have attached TRAIL to immune system white blood cells so it circulates throughout the body, ready to destroy. Read more ..

The EU Refugee Crises

Syrian Refugees Flood Bulgaria, Expose Flaws in EU Refugee Policy

January 13th 2014

Syrian Refugees in unhcr

Bulgaria is facing mounting criticism for its failure to adequately provide shelter, food and medical care to thousands of migrants who have entered the country over the past year, the majority of them Syrian asylum seekers. Aid and humanitarian groups are also worried about rising xenophobia, which, they say, has refugees living in a state of chronic fear. But some analysts say these criticisms aren’t fair and that too much is being expected from one of the poorest countries in the European Union.

Under the 1951 Refugee Convention, Bulgaria is required to take in and protect all asylum seekers. Last year, roughly 11,600 migrants crossed into Bulgaria from Turkey, most of them Syrian. What these refugees found when they got there wasn’t much better than what they left. ­­­­­­­

Boris Cheshirkov, spokesman for the UN Refugee Agency, (UNHCR) in Bulgaria, says up until recently, Bulgaria had only three refugee centers that could accommodate no more than 1,200 refugees. But these centers quickly filled up, and migrants were forced to sleep in hallways, tents and in the streets.  So the government seized several dilapidated public buildings to house the overflow, but these lacked heat and hot water and staffing.  Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

US, Russia Split Over Inviting Iran to Syria Peace Talks

January 13th 2014

Syrian Dead

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met Monday in Paris to plan for Syrian peace talks later this month.  The men could not agree on inviting Iran to join those talks.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has no bigger ally than Iran.  So his government says it expects Iran will be invited to planned peace talks in Geneva "just like any other state."

The international mediator to the conflict, Lakhdar Brahimi, agrees. "Iran is a very important country in the region and they have to be present in a conference like this," he said. But while the United Nations is responsible for sending the invitations, Brahimi says he is working in consensus with the main organizing partners: Russia and the United States. Read more ..

After the Holocaust

Polish Conservatives Urge Jail Time For Calling Nazi Camps 'Polish'

January 13th 2014

Holocaust cattle cars

Polish conservatives want to jail anyone describing the concentration camps operated by Nazi Germany in their country during World War II as "Polish."

The Polish parliament is debating a proposal to punish the use of the terms "Polish concentration camp" or "Polish death camp" with up to five years in prison.

Dariusz Piontkowski, one of the bill's authors, has branded such expressions "a blow against Polish national interests" and "a falsification of the historical truth." The initiative builds on an ongoing campaign to stamp out what Poles see as a misleading and deeply offensive expression.

Outside Poland, journalists and public figures continue to routinely use the shorthand "Polish concentration camps" to refer to the camps built and run by Nazi Germany on occupied Polish territory, where the bulk of the Holocaust was carried out. Read more ..

Authors on Tour

Edwin Black Lectures in Florida on 'Financing the Flames' of Mideast Terror, and U.S. Eugenic Pseudo-Science

January 13th 2014

Click to select Image

Edwin Black, veteran human-rights investigative reporter and New York Times bestselling author, launches his 2014 book tours with two special events in Miami.

On January 15 at 2 PM, he will speak on the topic 'American Eugenics – from Long Island to Auschwitz' – at the School of International and Public Relations at Florida International University. His lecture will be based on his blockbuster bestseller, War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race, which recounts corporate funded and government-sponsored sterilization of so-called inferior races and classes of people. American eugenicists gave rise to Nazi eugenics and enabled the quest for Hitler's master race.

Also on January 15, Black will appear at 8 PM at the Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies at the University of Miami to lecture about his latest investigative book, Financing the Flames: How Tax-Exempt and Public Money Fuel a Culture of Confrontation and Terror in Israel. Financing the Flames blows the cover on how U.S. tax-exempt, tax-subsidized, and public monies foment agitation, systematically destabilize the Israel Defense Forces, and finance terrorists in Israel. In a far-ranging international investigation, Black documents that it is actually the highly politicized human rights organizations and NGOs themselves—all American taxpayer supported—which are financing the flames that make peace in Israel difficult if not impossible. For more information about the Miller Center lecture, click here.

Black's lecture at the University of Miami inaugurates a major new initiative and 2014 series by the sponsor, the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP). ISGAP has established a track record of benchmark lectures at Fordham, Stamford University, the Hoover Institution, Harvard, and other academic centers.

Black has presented evidence before U.S. and European lawmakers about the complicity of U.S.-based non-profits with Germany's National Socialist-inspired Holocaust to eliminate those they considered “unfit” for existence. He has appeared at campuses worldwide on the topic, and his book War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race has been course-adopted at schools throughout North America. Read more ..

Broken Bookselling

Barnes and Noble Prepares to Crash and Burn--Nook down 60 Percent and Stores Cratering

January 13th 2014

Barnes-and-Noble store shot

The media is abuzz with the portended demise of Barnes and Noble lead by the collapse of Nook.

Deadline NY wrote: The company’s position appears to be, it could have been worse. Barnes & Noble’s bookstores and online service generated revenues of $1.1B in the nine weeks ending December 28, it says today. That’s down 6.6% vs the period last year. But most of the decline is due to store closures. At stores open at least a year,  revenues just fell 0.2% not including Nook tablets and e-readers. “We are pleased with our holiday sales results, especially our core comparable bookstore sales, which were essentially flat and an improvement as compared to the first half of the year,” newly named CEO Michael Huseby says. It’s harder to sugar-coat the story at Nook. Its revenues – which include digital content, devices and accessories — fell 60.5% to $125M. Devices and accessories fell 66.7% to $88.7M which the company attributes to “lower unit selling volume and lower average selling prices.” Digital content fell 27.3% to $36.5M “due to lower device unit sales and lower average selling prices.” Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama to Get His Day in Court for Abuse of Executive Power

January 12th 2014

Nothing less than the boundaries of executive power are at stake Monday as the Supreme Court considers whether President Obama violated the Constitution during his first term.

Oral arguments slated for Monday will center on a trio of recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that were deemed unconstitutional by lower courts.

If they uphold the decision, experts say the justices could endanger hundreds of NLRB decisions. Even more significant are the ramifications for future presidents, with the court poised either to bolster or blunt the chief executive’s appointment powers.

“Rulings like this have implications that last for centuries,” said Michael Lotito, an employment and labor attorney and co-chairman of Littler Mendelson's Workplace Policy Institute. Read more ..

The Race for LEDs

Why My Parents Have a Closet Full of Lightbulbs

January 12th 2014

LED bulb

My Mom stockpiles lightbulbs. One closet houses neatly stacked cardboard boxes of 60-watt and 100-watt bulbs, arranged by wattage and ready for use the moment an old bulb flickers. She orders them online, with each shipment adding to her supply. My parents don’t fear the apocalypse; they fear a world without incandescent bulbs, the energy-inefficient globes that people think are going lights-out starting January 1 under federal law.

Consumers are correct that conventional incandescent lightbulbs, which fail to meet new energy-efficiency standards, can no longer be legally manufactured or imported into the country. The old style 75- and 100-watt incandescent bulbs were phased out earlier this year. And this week the law hits 60- and 40-watt incandescent bulbs, as well. New incandescents that meet the new standards and generate almost the same brightness, however, have already hit the market. Read more ..

Financing the Flames

Financing the Flames: Worldwide Funding Keeps Palestinian Leaders Rooted in a Philosophy of Violence

January 12th 2014

Financing the Flames

Why is peace so illusive between Israel and the Palestinians? The Palestinian leaders themselves must want peace in order to facilitate a lasting solution.  Edwin Black’s new book Financing the Flames demonstrates that these leaders are the origination point of a philosophy of violence and terrorism against the Israelis.  Black shows that global media and public disinformation against Israel, the flow of money from Saudi Arabian wealth, as well as US and European taxpayer dollars serve to fund and support ongoing conflict originating with the Palestinians.


In 1948, when the United Nations (UN) passed its resolution to create the nation of Israel, the same resolution was made to the Palestinians to create their own nation, side by side with Israel. Had the Palestinians been serious about peace, economic investment and the self-empowerment of its people, their leaders would have accepted. Instead, the Palestinians rejected the offer as their goal was to control all the land rather than co-exist with a Jewish nation.


Violence Originates with Palestinian Leaders


In 1964, Yasser Arafat became the formal leader of the newly created Palestinian Organization (PLO), a known terrorist organization.  Over the decades, he established a formal “refugee” status for his people purposely keeping them in poverty while instigating terrorist attacks against Israel. This strategy also served to keep Arafat in power while putting the Palestinian cause on center stage with the world community until he went into temporary exile in 1982. Read more ..

Significant Lives

Israeli Public, World Leaders Pay Tribute to Sharon

January 12th 2014

Sharon lays in state Jan 2014

On Sunday, January 12, thousands gathered to pay their last respects to Israel’s eleventh prime minister and brilliant military strategist, Ariel Sharon, who passed away on Saturday after spending the last eight years of his life in a coma following a stroke in 2006. Sharon’s casket was placed in the Knesset in an area open to the public from morning until evening. Young children and the elderly; religious and secular; right-wingers and left-wingers, were among those that made up the diverse crowd that came to pay tribute tothe leader known by the Israeli public and media as Arik.

“He was the people’s leader,” said Marcelle Romano, a grandmother originally from Sderot. “I remember seeing Arik in Sderot on many occasions. My neighbor, Kochava Haroush worked on his ranch as a cook and housekeeper for many years,” Marcelle recalled. “In Sderot, we loved him -- he was bigger than life.” Read more ..

Israel’s Leading Edge

A Jordianian Named Yitzhak Rabin

January 12th 2014

IDF Officer training ceremony

In January 1996, a Muslim baby born in northern Jordan was given the name Yitzhak Rabin. The mother and father, who were supporters of peace with Israel, had wanted to honor the slain Israeli leader’s role in the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty with King Hussein of Jordan in 1994. It was an unusual move, to say the least, and at the time, the parents’ decision to give their child a Jewish name, sparked an unprecedented uproar in Jordan.

The father lost his job and was harassed by family members and neighbors following the name choice. Jordan’s state registrar had told the parents that it was illegal to give the boy a Jewish name, but the Jordanian Ministry of Interior later ruled that it was legal. However, the continuing hostilities forced the family to flee. Yitzhak Rabin Namsy has been living in exile with his family for nearly 16 years - in Israel.

The Atlantic recently ran an article following up on Namsy, today 18, who lives in Eilat with his mother, and follows Judaism -- keeping the Sabbath and going to synagogue. Read more ..

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