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Archive for January 2014

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The Way We Are

For Single Mothers, Marriage No Panacea in the War on Poverty

January 12th 2014

Latino boy and mother cooking

Today, the Council for Contemporary Families (CCF) called marriage an "ineffective weapon in the War on Poverty" in a report issued in honor of the upcoming 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty." After admitting that "children raised in single-parent homes fare worse on a wide range of outcomes...than children raised by two biological parents," the report, written by sociologist Kristi Williams, went on to argue that post-1996 welfare reform efforts to push marriage are of no help in the battle against poverty. Read more ..

Education on Edge

How Teachers Can Best Use Tech

January 12th 2014

Science students

Technology is creating a revolution that could profoundly improve our schools, but getting digital learning right is more about the planning than the purchase order.

Education beats across the country have been speckled with nightmarish headlines about education technology failures in schools: big iPad acquisitions gone awry, melted chargers, broken screens, and students accessing social media on their school-granted devices. It seems like we haven’t had a lot to cheer about when it comes to digital learning. But who is really to blame here?

Of course, safety, security, and smooth execution of device roll-outs are important, but implementation glitches are to be expected when a school introduces any new system — both as devices need improving and as students, teachers, and administrators acclimate to using new technology. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama to Announce Reforms to NSA Surveillance

January 12th 2014

Click to select Image

President Obama is under fire from all sides to announce major reforms to the National Security Agency on Friday.

Privacy and civil liberties groups as well as lawmakers on the left have urged for a wholesale termination of much of the government’s snooping. Silicon Valley, home to some of Obama’s biggest supports, is also pressing for change. So are foreign leaders, rankled by the notion that their ally might be spying on them.

The calls for reforms put Obama in a tough spot give his administration’s insistence that the NSA’s efforts are critical for national security.
While Obama is sure to announce some significant policy changes in his Jan. 17 address, it remains unclear just how far he is willing to go. Read more ..

The War on Drugs

Congress Needs to Change Federal Nonviolent Drug Sentencing Policy

January 12th 2014

jail door closeup

The Capitol steps might be literally frozen, but inside Congress, we’re seeing a bit of a thaw.

From federal spending bills to farm and nutrition programs, Congress appears poised to pass long-awaited bipartisan legislation this winter.

But before they head out to the campaign trail later this year, lawmakers should take up another measure that enjoys wide bipartisan support: legislation to reform drug sentencing.

In recent months, bold leaders have come together from both parties to craft legislation to reform the way we address federal nonviolent drug offenses. Buttressed by states that have downsized prison populations while continuing to experience crime reductions, cross-aisle alliances in both the House and Senate have sought to scale back the overly punitive and fiscally irresponsible policies of the past. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Obama Will Approve Keystone

January 12th 2014

Keystone Pipeline

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said he thinks President Obama will approve the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

In the wake of multiple crude-by-rail train accidents in North Dakota -- leaving railcars ablaze and nearby residents at risk --Hoeven said on "Platts Energy Week" that the U.S. needs more pipelines.

The U.S. needs pipelines "not only to improve conditions in terms of rail, but trucks," Hoeven said on Sunday. "With the Keystone pipeline, we'd take 500 trucks a day off our roads in western North Dakota."

"So clearly pipelines are a part of the solution. But also we have to do everything we can in terms of  safety when we talk about running crude by train or by truck," he added. With U.S. crude oil production reaching near 20-year highs, the country's energy infrastructure -- specifically transportation -- has become a looming concern. Read more ..

Iraq on Edge

Car Bombs Strike Baghdad, Killing Army Recruits

January 12th 2014

Kabul Car Bomb

Iraqi police say three bomb explosions killed at least 13 people and wounded several dozen more Sunday in Baghdad.  The most serious blast was at a bus and taxi depot that hit a group of Iraqi Army recruits.

Fire crews doused blazing vehicles after the latest bombings in the Iraqi capital, during a wave of violence aimed mostly at pro-government and Shi'ite targets.  The most powerful blast Sunday hit the Merab Alawi car park where dozens of army recruits were milling around.

It was the second major blast targeting army recruits in four days. Another Sunday explosion, apparently from a car bomb, caused casualties in the Kadhimiyah district of the capital.

The attacks came as Iraqi Army forces continued to shell targets in and around the town of Ramadi, part of which is held by Islamic militants loyal to the pro-al-Qaida group called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.  Pro-government Sunni militiamen are fighting, with army support, to dislodge the militants. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Slew of New Products Unveiled at Consumer Electronics Show

January 12th 2014

3D tv

For a glimpse into the future, look no further than the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.  Self-driving shuttles and solar cars are on display this year.  And while 3D printers are a relatively well-known new technology, this year’s show offers a fresh spin - 3D-printed food.

You can find just about anything at CES. Automobile enthusiasts are in luck this year.  Renault revealed an electric race car.

Audi unveiled a self-driving A7 - the cars park themselves.  Last year, the technology needed for their driver-less sedan took up the entire rear end of the car.  This year, the computer fits on a card about the size of an iPad.

Induct showed off its self-piloted shuttle, called the Navia. The company's Max LeFevre says it's also 100 percent electric. "It's a shuttle, so it's for public transport for eight to 10 passengers. It works with lasers which work kind of like a bat," he said. "It sends out beams that bounce off the walls and other things in the environment. That way the vehicle can create the map of the environment." Read more ..

The Ukraine on Edge

Lenin Statues Under Attack In Ukraine

January 12th 2014


If Vladimir Lenin had a grave, he would be turning in it.

Statues of the Bolshevik leader have fallen victim to a string of assaults in Ukraine that have left them missing limbs, splattered with paint, covered in insults and swastikas, bullet-riddled, and even smeared with excrement. In some cases, the statues were knocked off their pedestals, a feat requiring a considerable amount of physical exertion.

At least four have already been vandalized since the beginning of the year, including one statue toppled in the city of Berdychiv and another daubed with black paint near Odesa.

Communists have pinned the blame squarely on nationalists.
Communist flags fly next to the same statue of Lenin in Kyiv in 2009, three years before the "Euromaidan" unrest swept it off its feet.

Ukrainian lawmaker Igor Miroshnichenko, a member of the ultranationalist Svoboda party who personally felled a Lenin statue in the northeastern city of Okhtyrka last year, says this is, in fact, correct.

"Of course the dismantling of Lenin statues is directly linked to nationalists," Miroshnichenko says. "Any Ukrainian who loves his nation, remembers and respects its history, who remembers his ancestors, who loves and fights for his state, freedom, and independence, is a nationalist." Last month, a group of masked individuals carrying a flag of the Svoboda party toppled a statue of Lenin in downtown Kyiv. Read more ..

USA and Mexico on Edge

Revisiting the Environmental Costs of U.S./Mexico Free Trade Agreement

January 12th 2014

Deer at US/Mexico border wall

As possible, new trade agreements stir debate on the world stage, a North American citizen advisory panel is urging that a new emphasis be placed on the ecological costs of increased trade and money flows.

In a statement issued shortly before Christmas, the Joint Public Advisory Committee (JPAC), a trinational group consisting of representatives from the three member nations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), called on the leaders of Canada, the United States and Mexico to demonstrate a “revival of political will” and undertake a “new mission” with enhanced public involvement in trade and environmental matters.

The 15-member JPAC is affiliated with the Montreal-based Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), which serves as the environmental watchdog agency established under NAFTA’s environmental side agreement. Read more ..

Film Review

Inside Llewyn Davis--a Complex Excision from Politics

January 12th 2014

Click to select Image

Inside Llewyn Davis. Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen. Starring: F. Murray Abraham, Oscar Isaac, John Goodman, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake. Length: 90 mins.

You know how, sometimes, when somebody says something really funny or clever and you want to tell somebody else about it but you can’t quite remember the exact words or what it was in the context that made it so funny or clever? Anyway, when you say it, it doesn’t sound so clever or funny as when the funny or clever person said it, and you add, rather lamely, "You sort of had to be there"?

Well, some such form of words as that ought to have been appended by the Coen brothers to their new movie, Inside Llewyn Davis. They seem to have been counting instead on an audience that was there, or at least that thinks it was there or wishes it had been there, and so is willing to come more than halfway to meet them in their half-hearted attempt to recreate the alleged magic of Greenwich Village in 1961. But for those who aren’t folkie or media-culture wannabes, it’s a local-interest story for America’s media capital, and it doesn’t, as they say in the business, travel very well.

To me, the most interesting thing about the movie is the complete excision from it of any political element. The story, as the Coens admit, is loosely based on that of musician Dave Van Ronk, who was politically a sort of leftover from the 1930s Popular Front days, being both socialist and anarchist — it somehow must have made sense at the time — and an actual life member of the IWW or "Wobblies." Who knew they were still around? Like most of his crowd, he wore his politics on his sleeve, but the Coens’ hero, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), apparently has no politics. That would normally be a good thing, but in his case the omission becomes the dog that didn’t bark: a presence on account of its absence. Llewyn is just a hang-dog merchant mariner who fancies himself as a folk-singer and who, in the movie, is not quite making a living at it. Read more ..

Transportation on Edge

US Energy Infrastructure in Focus

January 11th 2014

Graniteville Train Wreck

THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT CAN'T: As the number of derailments by trains carrying crude oil escalates, lawmakers are pressing the Obama administration to act.

For one, each time one of the trains transporting crude oil has derailed or collided with another train, it sets off an explosion, leaving railcars ablaze. And those explosions are forcing nearby residents to evacuate their homes.

The accidents are feeding growing concerns over whether crude oil from sites like the Bakken formation should be transported by rail at all. But a group of senators are pushing the Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and other federal departments to act, and act fast.

In a meeting with lawmakers Thursday, Foxx said he would investigate the incidents. Regulators will test the crude oil coming from the Bakken formation and a Texas site to determine whether the oil being produced is more flammable than other, more conventional crude. Read more ..

The Race for Biofuels

EPA: Right on Ethanol, But Wrong on Other

January 11th 2014

E85 Pump

Serving as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee for four years was one of the most rewarding experiences I had in Congress. In my role as chairman, I had a front-row seat to the most serious threats that faced this nation and what the intelligence and military branches of government were doing to confront those challenges.

While much of what I learned remains classified, I am not revealing any state secrets by saying that our addiction to foreign sources of oil is a serious concern for our national security.

Even with that in mind, the recent proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce the amount of ethanol in our fuel supply is the right decision.

Ethanol is a mature industry that has grown so quickly there are concerns about damage to engines when it is used in higher blends. Also, because U.S. ethanol continues to rely almost entirely on corn for production, it has limited environmental benefits and creates impacts on livestock producers that are of grave concern in Texas. Read more ..

The Edge of Healthcare

Stem Cells Injected into Nerve Guide Tubes Repair Injured Periferal Nerve

January 11th 2014

Docs and Tech

Using skin-derived stem cells (SDSCs) and a previously developed collagen tube designed to successfully bridge gaps in injured nerves in rat models, the research team in Milan, Italy that established and tested the procedure has successfully rescued peripheral nerves in the upper arms of a patient suffering peripheral nerve damage who would have otherwise had to undergo amputations.

"Peripheral nerve repair with satisfactory functional recovery remains a great surgical challenge, especially for severe nerve injuries resulting in extended nerve defects," said study corresponding author Dr. Yvan Torrente, of the Department of Pathophysiology and Transplantation at the University of Milan. "However, we hypothesized that the combination of autologous (self-donated) SDSCs placed in collagen tubes to bridge gaps in the damaged nerves would restore the continuity of injured nerves and save from amputation the upper arms of a patient with poly-injury to motor and sensory nerves." Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Gates at War

January 11th 2014

Robert Gates better headshot

The memoir of former defense secretary Robert M. Gates has landed with a bang. Gates has harsh words for President Barack Obama’s wartime decision-making and quotes Hillary Clinton saying that her opposition to the surge in 2007 was political. There is more than enough to outrage partisans—and even non-partisans—on both sides of the political spectrum. But outrage about the book will only further the very problem Gates was trying to highlight. Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War is a lengthy lament that far too few leaders in Washington, civilian or military, Democratic or Republican, understand that the United States was—and is—at war. Even fewer understand what that means. This critique is right and important, and it highlights a great peril to the nation in a dangerous time.

America is still at war. Tens of thousands of American soldiers are fighting and occasionally dying in Afghanistan. If President Obama heeds the advice of his military and considers the long-term interests of the United States, there will still be thousands of American troops in Afghanistan after 2014. Changing the name of their mission and declaring “combat operations” to be over will not change the reality. When soldiers go into the field against enemies trying to kill them, they are at war. When they are at war, we as a nation are at war, or should be. That is the central point Gates was trying to get across. Read more ..

Education on Edge

A Promising Solution for Struggling Schools

January 11th 2014

school kids

Just before Christmas, the National Center for Education Statistics released testing data from 21 of the nation's largest school districts, known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress Trial Urban District Assessment. The scores paint a bleak picture. In the average large urban district, just one in four students typically reaches proficiency in reading or math.

Given this harsh reality, what do we do about our country's failing inner-city schools? This question has vexed district, city and state leaders for decades.

In 1984, Judge Russell Clark proposed a novel solution for one such struggling district, Kansas City. His solution? Write the district a blank check. Its budget ballooned from $125 million in 1985 to $432 million in 1992. The district completely overhauled its facilities. It had the lowest student to instructional staff ratio in the nation. Adjusted for cost of living, it spent more per pupil than any other district. Read more ..

The Holocaust Revisited

Israeli Organization Searches for Art Looted by Nazis

January 11th 2014

Hitler Sepia

International efforts are intensifying to recover and identify items stolen by the Nazis during World War II, including paintings, ceramics, books and religious treasures.  In Israel, a committee is pressing local museums to search their collections for artwork looted by the Nazis.

Israeli authorities believe more than 1,000 pieces of artwork stolen by the Nazis were sent to Israel for safekeeping after World War II. An Israeli state-run committee has been assigned to track down unclaimed assets in Israel of Jews killed during the Holocaust. 

On Thursday, the committee convened officials from Israel's major museums for a talk on the search effort. Israel Peleg is leading the committee.

"We know that after the war at least 400 pieces of art paintings reached the shores of Israel and the museum in Israel.  The Israel museum has already publicized it, and we believe that the research, the provenance research, should be done now by all the museums in Israel, which they are cooperating very carefully with us," said Peleg.

Peleg voiced hope the unclaimed artwork would find its way to descendants of its owners. "The idea of starting now this effort is a breakthrough in the effort to return to the rightful heirs of the Holocaust victims the pieces of art which belong to their families," he said. Read more ..

South Sudan on Edge

South Sudan Army Says it Has Recaptured Bentiu

January 11th 2014

South Sudan soldier

South Sudanese government troops have recaptured the town of Bentiu in oil-producing Unity state, army spokesman Philip Aguer said Friday.

Government troops retook the town at 2:30 p.m. after a two-hour battle with rebel forces loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar, Aguer said. There was no immediate independent confirmation of the claim.

Aguer said the army's next target will be to recapture the capital of Jonglei state, Bor. South Sudan army spokesman Philip Aguer at a press conference in 2013, says government forces recaptured Bentiu on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014. Bentiu and Bor fell to forces loyal to Machar days after South Sudan was plunged into conflict on Dec. 15 when renegade soldiers attacked an army headquarters building in Juba. Read more ..

The Edge of Music

Mariachi Music Gains Popularity Across Ethnic Lines

January 11th 2014


Among Mexican-Americans in the United States, mariachi music has maintained its popularity for more than a century, especially in states that border Mexico, like Texas.  But there are now mariachi groups in all parts of the United States and in some European and Asian nations as well.

Mariachi music has long been popular with San Antonio's large Mexican-American population.

But among the young people performing at this event was 12-year-old Anani Rhames, an African-American girl who fell in love with the songs she heard in Mexican restaurants and on local radio stations.

"I like 'Las Margaritas,' which is about daisies and I like 'El Pastor,' which is about a shepherd," she said. Anani can relate to rural themes because she lives on a ranch and sometimes sings to her horses. "You can actually connect with them. You can build a bond with them," she said. "When they hear you their ears kind of perk up and they are like [it is as if they were saying] 'hmmm, interesting." Read more ..

The Edge of Art

Students Fuse Art from Shattered Glass

January 11th 2014

Glass blowing

When Lynda Slayen first discovered fused glass about 10 years ago, she immediately fell in love with the technique.

“I’ve always loved glass. I collect glass. I have a lot of antique glass…and then I went and I saw some fused glass and that was it," Slayen said. "I took a class and that was it.”

She became a fused glass artist, which involves fusing multiple pieces of glass together to form a single object. Her vibrant, one-of-a-kind art is both practical and aesthetic.

Five years ago Slayen decided to share her passion by teaching others the technique. She holds fused glass art classes at local schools as well as in her home studio both for children as well as adults. Brothers Luka and Hugo Bryne, ages 12 and 9, showed up at one of her workshops on a cold winter afternoon recently, eager to make some fused glass art for their family. Both had taken the workshop before. Read more ..

Significant Lives

Ariel Sharon Passes

January 11th 2014

Ariel Sharon Headshot

After eight years of a comatose state and after deterioration in his health this past month, Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon finally passed away on Shabbat, January 11th, 2014, at the age of 85. Hi adopted son, Roni Schayak made the announcement.

Ariel Sharon, also known as Arik, was born as Ariel Scheinermann, (February 26th 1928). He was an Israeli statesman and retired general, who served as Israel's 11th Prime Minister.

He was born in Kfar Malal, then in the British Mandate of Palestine, to a family of Belarusian Jews. His parents fled the pogroms associated with the Russian Civil War. In 1942, at the young age of 14, Sharon joined the Gadna, a paramilitary youth battalion, and later the Haganah, the military precursor to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Sharon was a commander in the Israeli Army from its inception in 1948. As a paratrooper and then an officer, he participated prominently in the 1948 War of Independence, becoming a platoon commander in the Alexandroni Brigade and participating in many battles. He was an instrumental figure in the creation of Unit 101 - a Special Forces unit, the Retribution Operations, the 1956 Suez War, the Six-Day War of 1967, the War of Attrition and the Yom-Kippur War of 1973. As Minister of Defense, he directed the 1982 Lebanon War.

During his military career, he was considered the greatest field commander in Israel's history, and one of the country's greatest ever military strategists. His career was characterized by insubordination, aggression and disobedience, but also brilliance as a commander. After his assault of the Sinai in the Six-Day War and his encirclement of the Egyptian Third Army in the Yom Kippur War, the Israeli public nicknamed him "The King of Israel" and "The Lion of G-d".


Significant Lives

Former Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon Dies After Long Coma

January 11th 2014

Click to select Image

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has died from complications associated with a massive stroke that he suffered eight years ago. He was 85.

Israeli news reports say Sharon died Saturday at a hospital near Tel Aviv. A week ago, medical officials said his kidneys and other vital organs had begun to fail.

As a soldier, he was known for his daring heroics on the battlefield in the decades following the creation of the State of Israel, most notably during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. In a brilliant tactical display, he led Israeli troops across the Suez Canal, cutting off Egypt's third army. Read more ..

The Middle East on Edge

The Unmaking of the Middle East

January 10th 2014

al Qaeda Fighters

The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish .  .  . the kind of war on which they are embarking, neither mistaking it for, nor -trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature. — Carl von Clausewitz

Far beyond the question of al Qaeda participation in the September 11, 2012, attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and others, David Kirkpatrick’s notorious New York Times article—claiming no international terror group had a role in the assault—is evidence that, 12 years after 9/11, we still don’t understand the enemy. More fatally, even after seven decades of direct engagement and involvement in the greater Middle East, we do not understand the nature of the war. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Barack Obama Left Iraq to Fester

January 10th 2014

Obama with baseball bat

Iraq is not yet lost, but the victory that the United States, our allies and our Iraqi friends achieved at such high cost is now at risk. Who is responsible? The blame lies squarely at the feet of President Obama. He inherited a stable Iraq in 2009 and promptly signaled his intention to scuttle, much as he is now doing in Afghanistan. Partisans of the president will claim that the United States had no choice, that we were forced to withdraw because the Iraqis didn’t want us, were making too many demands in the notional Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), etc. Military leaders, Iraqis and American officials outside the White House agree that’s claptrap. The president had no intention of leaving troops in Iraq, made that clear to his military commanders and Pentagon honchos and seized on the difficult negotiations over the SOFA to legitimize his cut and run. Read more ..

Libya on Edge

Libya Chaos Worsens

January 10th 2014

Libyan opposition fighters

Libya is plunging deeper into political turmoil with the country’s beleaguered government warning foreign shippers against loading crude oil from terminals in the East of the country controlled by federalist militias, and a majority of Libya’s fractious parliamentarians seemingly wanting to dismiss Prime Minister Ali Zeidan but unable to agree on a replacement.

Gripped by months of political turmoil analysts fear the country is edging closer to a possible break-up.  A defiant Zeidan in a bid to head off a vote of no confidence by the country’s parliament, the General National Congress (GNC), told a news conference on Wednesday a vote of no confidence won’t solve the country’s problems.

“I would be happy for a vote of no confidence, but we would not be happy for the government to be left to a caretaker government. I have asked the GNC to choose a Prime Minister. I will not leave the country in an executive vacuum,” Zeidan said. Read more ..

Healthcare on Edge

Sex Matters for Sleeping Sickness Microbes

January 10th 2014

Research and Development Chemistry

Scientists are keeping a close eye on the mating habits of microscopic organisms, including those that cause African sleeping sickness. They say what happens between two parasites can have major consequences for humans.

Researcher Wendy Gibson said when it comes to single-cell parasites known as trypanosomes, sex matters. They had once been thought to reproduce by splitting in half. But scientists say they have a sex life.

“This is important because if they can mate, it means that they can swap genes around. For example, if you’ve got a strain of parasite that’s resistant to a drug and it mates with one that isn’t, then it can swap that gene into the one that’s sensitive to the drug. And then, of course, you’ve got a new parasite, effectively, that is also resistant to the drug. That’s dangerous,” she said. Gibson is professor of protozoology at the University of Bristol. Read more ..

Iraq on Edge

Iraq is Turning to Russia for Aid

January 10th 2014

Bye bye Iraq

One week has passed since al-Qaida militants raised their flag over government buildings in Fallujah and declared an independent Islamic state.  The White House has called on Congress to help provide aid to Iraq as soon as possible.  This week, the Iraqi ambassador to the United States told VOA in an interview with the Persian News Network his country is going to Russia for help. 

The recent terrorist takeover in Fallujah and other parts of Anbar province has created a new urgency within the Iraqi government.  And while Iraq appreciates current U.S. counterterrorism support, the Iraqi ambassador to the U.S., Lukman Faily, says the government is turning to Russia for military equipment while the U.S. Congress deliberates President Barack Obama's latest request. "We are under no obligation to work with only one partner, whether it's Iranians, or Americans or Russians or French, no," said Faily. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Tamar Natural Gas Field Worth $52 Billion to Israeli Economy

January 10th 2014


The natural gas in Israel’s Tamar field is worth some $52 billion to the Israeli economy, accountants Ernst & Young Israel said in a new report. The CPA firm will present their report at a gas and energy conference in Tel Aviv next week, according to Israel’s Globes business daily.

The initial findings of the study found that Tamar, which began production less than a year ago, boosted Israel’s GDP by almost 0.5 percentage points, and is projected to boost GDP by 1.5 percentage points for 2014.

Ernst & Young  found that $42 billion of the total was the result of savings to the economy over the 28-year lifespan of the gas field. The new domestic gas costs Israel Electric Corporation about $6 per million BTU, or a third of the price of diesel, industrial oil, and liquefied natural gas, all of which have to be imported. The direct savings impacts one of the major costs for manufacturers to do business, meaning lower prices, improved competitiveness, and stronger corporate profits. Read more ..

Race and Racism

Unknown Factors in the Infant Mortality Gap Among U.S. Blacks and Whites

January 10th 2014

Click to select Image

The unobservable factors that underpin the infant mortality gap between blacks and whites have persisted for more than 20 years and now appear to play a larger role than the observable factors, according to a new study by Michigan State University researchers. Published in the American Journal of Public Health, the study is the first to investigate long-term changes in both sets of factors, providing vital context of the scope of the problem as medical experts around the world try to solve the mystery behind the gap.

“What’s surprising about our findings is that when we take out all the factors we can observe – including mother’s age, education level, marital status and state of residence – the difference in the rate in which black and white infants die remained absolutely stable for two decades,” said Steven Haider, professor of economics. “We made no progress in shrinking that part of the gap.” Read more ..

Broken Government

Once More into the Breach: House to Vote on a 3-Day Stopgap Spending Bill

January 10th 2014

The House will vote next week on a three-day stopgap spending bill to prevent a new government shutdown and buy time to finish a $1 trillion omnibus.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the House would vote early next week on the continuing resolution under a suspension of House rules, which would require it to be approved by a two-thirds vote.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he would urge his members to back it.

“I will support it on suspension, I urge my colleagues to support it on suspension,” Hoyer said.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said negotiators are aiming to introduce a giant $1 trillion omnibus spending bill on Sunday or Monday.

But Congress will have to approve the stopgap measure first to avoid a shutdown, since Congress won’t have time to consider and pass the omnibus to meet a Jan. 15 deadline.

The stopgap measure would simply extend current spending, which is based on a $987 billion annual budget for discretionary spending. It would run through Saturday, Jan. 18.

Appropriators are working to write an omnibus with a top-line spending level of $1.012 trillion, based on the two-year budget deal Congress approved last month.

Rogers is slated to talk to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) to try to finalize the bill later on Friday but plans to work through the weekend in Washington. Read more ..

Bangladesh on Edge

Combating Islamism and Supporting Democracy in Bangladesh

January 10th 2014

Parliament Building Dhaka Bangladesh

Bangladesh has experienced significant political tumult in the past year, including during and after the January 2014 parliamentary election. While the threat from terrorism had diminished to some extent under the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the recent execution of an Islamist politician and the sentencing to death of other opposition leaders accused of war crimes during Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971 have unleashed furor among Islamists. The war crimes verdicts led to violent protests earlier this year that left over 150 dead. Following the December 12 execution of Islamist leader Abdul Qader Mollah, rioting broke out, killing at least five Bangladeshis in a 24-hour period. The international community urged the Bangladeshi Prime Minister to stay Mollah’s execution, to no avail.

The opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) and several smaller parties have said they will boycott the election if the government does not agree to install a neutral, non-party caretaker regime to conduct elections. If the Hasina government and the BNP are unable to come to agreement on how the polls should be conducted, there is a likelihood of political destabilization, similar to what unfolded in 2006 and 2007 when the military took the reins of power. Read more ..

Hollywood on Edge

Actress Meryl Streep Blasts Walt Disney as Anti-Semitic; ZOA Condemns Actress Emma Thompson

January 10th 2014

Meryl Streep

Hollywood actress Meryl Streep blasted Walt Disney as an anti-Semitic misogynist in an unusually long and scathing speech at a film awards dinner on Tuesday night, Variety reported on Thursday.

Ironically, Streep’s nine-minute speech was to honor the actress who portrayed ‘Mary Poppins’ creator P.L. Travers in The Walt Disney Company’s ‘Saving Mr. Banks,’  Emma Thompson, who the Zionist Organization of America denounced on Thursday for her letter in the Guardian advocating for a boycott of Israel’s Habima Theater troupe, which is to perform later this year at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, in London.

Variety aptly described the scene at the awards dinner on Tuesday night: “The National Board of Review dinner is like the big pre-game to the Golden Globes, where wine bottles are uncorked in New York and don’t stop flowing until the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s gala on Sunday. But this year’s ceremony will forever be remembered for its nine-minute tour-de-force speech from Meryl Streep.”

“There was plenty of effusive Thompson praising in the speech — with phrases like ‘she’s practically a saint’ and ‘she’s a beautiful artist’ — and it ended with a poem that Streep had written for her friend titled ‘An Ode to Emma, Or What Emma is Owed.’ But Streep also made a point of blasting Walt Disney for his sexist and anti-Semitic stances.”

According to Variety, “Streep talked about how Disney ‘supported an anti-Semitic industry lobbying group’ and called him a ‘gender bigot.’ She read a letter that his company wrote in 1938 to an aspiring female animator. It included the line, ‘Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that task is performed entirely by young men.’” Read more ..

Egypt on Edge

In Egypt, Religion Must be Used as a Positive Force

January 9th 2014

Egypt Flag @ 6.2013 Anti-Morsi Protests

In a single week, Arabs of the Christian and the Islamic faiths commemorate the births of their most significant religious figures. The past year has seen their faiths deployed on many an occasion for various gains – sometimes laudable ones, but often otherwise. Will 2014 see a change in how religion is used in Egypt and Syria? Will it be used to bring people together, instead of forcing them apart? Or will it merely continue to be a tool for partisanship, bigotry and violence?

Christian Arabs who follow the different Orthodox calendars rejoiced in the birth of Christ earlier this week. In Egypt, they did so under close guard, amid fears that violent opponents of the government might target Christians. Radical Islamists have promoted sectarianism in Egypt for a long time, including in this current phase where many of them believe that the Coptic Church is disproportionally responsible for the ousting of Mohammed Morsi. Certainly, religion in this context is not being used to bring people together.

In a few days time, Muslim Arabs celebrate the birth of the final Prophet of Islam during Mawlid al-Nabi (the Birthday of the Prophet). They will do so the day before the much-anticipated referendum on amendments to the country’s constitution. In the run-up to that referendum, Egyptians have seen religious functionaries deploy religious language to support a “yes” vote. Former grand muftis of the republic have issued clear statements where they encouraged a “yes” vote on the basis that this was religiously commendable. Religion in this context is also not being used to bring people together – but rather to build support for a partisan position on a legal document that is a genuine point of contention between Egyptians. Read more ..

Broken Government

'Embarassed and Humiliated' NJ Gov. Christie Fires Staffers over Bridge Scandal

January 9th 2014

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) has fired a top staffer involved in a growing controversy over a bridge closing last year, apologizing Thursday morning for the conduct of his staff.

In a lengthy press conference, the possible 2016 presidential candidate continued to assert that he knew nothing about the closures, pledging to fully comply with ongoing investigations into the scandal.

“I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team,” Christie said Thursday morning. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the conduct that they exhibited is completely unacceptable and showed an inappropriate respect for the role of government.”

Christie said he had fired his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Ann Kelly, for her role in instigating closures on the George Washington Bridge as an act of political retribution for the Democratic mayor Fort Lee, N.J., refusing to endorse Christie’s reelection bid.

He said that, to his knowledge, he had never met or pursued the endorsement of Fort Lee Mayor Mike Sokolich, but planned to meet personally with him and travel to Fort Lee and to personally apologize to the residents of Fort Lee for the situation. However, NBC News reported that Sokolich doesn't want Christie to visit on Wednesday. "If the mayor doesn't want me to meet with him, that's certainly his choice," said Christie. "I'll still go up to Fort Lee today, because I think it's important for me to be on the ground there."

The governor also said he was taking action against his former campaign manager and top political advisor, Bill Stepien, for his involvement in an email chain unearthed in the investigation. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Muslim Religious Authority's Temple Mount Excavation Violates the Law, and Archaeological Good Practice

January 9th 2014

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We reported on January 9 that the Waqf, the Muslim religious authority that holds administrative jurisdiction in Jerusalem over the Temple Mount due to Israeli sensitivity to the presence there of both the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque – and in spite of the Mount being the holiest site in Judaism – has been excavating the Mount in violation not just of Israeli law but of good archaeological practice.

This is nothing new. The Waqf has controlled the Mount for 20 years and has, for most of that time, been digging using heavy equipment. The position of the Waqf, of course, is that no Jewish Temple ever existed on the site, Jewish and Christian Scriptures and mounds of physical and documentary evidence proving the existence of the Temple notwithstanding. Read more ..

South Korea on Edge

South Koreans Show Outrage Over Rodman's Pyongyang Trip

January 9th 2014

Kim Jong Un North Korea basketball

American basketball star Dennis Rodman’s trip to North Korea is not winning him many friends in South Korea.

South Korean social media sites are filled with sneering comments about the former National Basketball Association All-Star - accusing him of going to North Korea for money and calling him names like “psychopath.”

One Twitter user wrote, “Dear North Korea: Rodman is a gift.  Happy (belated) holidays” @MangJang_chb(01.06).

Comments became especially angry after a video showed him singing “Happy Birthday” to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Rodman, who is on his fourth trip to North Korea, calls Kim his friend.  This time, he brought along a group of former NBA players and others to play basketball with North Korean players, an effort in what Rodman calls sports diplomacy. Read more ..

France and Islam

French Court Dismisses Veil Ban Challenge

January 9th 2014

Muslim Woman

A court in France has rejected a challenge to the country's controversial veil ban law and sentenced a woman for flouting it and insulting police. But the story isn't over: Europe's highest court will hear another challenge to the legislation.

The court in Versailles on Wednesday fined Muslim convert Cassandra Belin 150 euros - or just over $200 - and gave her a one-month suspended sentence for wearing the face-covering niqab in public and for insulting police who ticketed her.  The scuffle between Belin, her husband and police made headlines in France last year, and sparked riots in the Paris suburb of Trappes.

The court also dismissed a petition by Belin's lawyer Philippe Bataille challenging the constitutionality of France's 2011 law that bars the wearing of most face covers in public. The legislation is broad, but some believe it takes aim at France's 5 million-strong Muslim community - even though only a small minority of women wear the niqab. Read more ..

The Diplomatic Edge

If You Need To Talk To Europe, Call Ashton

January 9th 2014

euro flags

A few weeks after Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi was deposed in a military coup in July, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was taken, without bodyguards or aides, first in a helicopter and then in a car with its windows blacked out, to the unknown location where he was being held.

To date, she is the only Western official who has spoken to Morsi since his ouster. "Can you imagine this happening to anyone else, say [U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry or the foreign minister of France or Britain," an EU official who asked not to be named said. "In a sense, this shows her status both in a positive and a negative way."

Appointed as the European Union's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy in 2009, Ashton has often found herself in the spotlight in 2013, signaling the bloc's emergence from the economic and consequent political crises of 2008 as an essential foreign-policy player. Read more ..

Boycott Emma Thompson and Saving Mr. Banks for Boycotting Israel

January 9th 2014

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has condemned actress Emma Thompson and three dozen other British actors, for seeking the boycotting of Israel’s celebrated Habima Theater troupe, which is to perform later this year in a six-week theatrical festival taking place at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. Thompson and her colleagues cite spurious human rights concerns but hypocritically fail to call for a boycott of the National Theater of China, which is participating in the same festival. The ZOA has condemned Thompson and urged people to boycott her recently-released movie, Saving Mr. Banks.


In a letter to the British Guardian newspaper, Thompson and her colleagues accused Habima of having  “a shameful record of involvement with illegal Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory [sic] ... By inviting Habima, Shakespeare’s Globe is undermining the conscientious Israeli actors and playwrights who have refused to break international law ... by inviting Habima, the Globe is associating itself with policies of exclusion practised by the Israeli state and endorsed by its national theatre company ... We ask the Globe to withdraw the invitation so that the festival is not complicit with human rights violations and the illegal colonisation of occupied land” (Nathan Burstein, ‘Oscar winner Emma Thompson calls for Israeli theater’s ban,’ Times of Israel, April 1, 2014).


ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, “We condemn  Emma Thompson and her colleagues for their advocacy of boycotting Israel’s famed Habima Theater. Their call is in no way justified, or in any way less serious or worthy of condemnation, because Habima has refused to boycott a cultural center that opened in Ariel. 


“Jews have a perfect right in law and morality to live and build homes and communities in Judea and Samaria, part of the territory earmarked for Jewish settlement at the 1920 San Remo Conference. Contrary to Thompson’s ignorant/malicious claim of illegality, the right of Jews to live and settle in these territories has never been extinguished by any subsequent, legally binding international agreement. Moreover, under the Oslo II agreement, it was specifically stated in Chapter 3, Article 17 that the Jewish communities of Judea, Samaria and Gaza would remain under Israeli jurisdiction, pending a final peace agreement. In other words, the PA itself has signed a legally binding agreement that explicitly accepts the existence of Jewish communities under Israeli control.


“Jewish growth in Judea and Samaria and eastern Jerusalem has a fundamental legitimacy and poses no obstacle to a true peace if Palestinians are ready for one, so the repeated, periodic international calls for a Jewish construction freeze, or the removal of Jewish communities, or the boycott and ostracism of anyone who fails to oppose their existence, would remain inappropriate even if the prospect of genuine peace negotiations with a truly peaceful Palestinian partner were possible.


“Why may not 300,000 Jews live among 2 million Arabs in Judea and Samaria while 1.2 million Arabs live among 6 million Jews in Israel? Emma Thompson and her colleagues are displaying ignorance and prejudice in working towards a world in which Jews are banned from and expelled from their religious, historical and legal homeland.


“These people claim to be concerned about justice and peace. But one never hears them criticize the Palestinian rejection of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, or their rejection of the 2000 Clinton peace plan, or their resort to a wave of terror. They never issue statements demanding that the PA end terror and incitement to hatred and murder against Israel – the demonization of Jews does not disturb these haters of the Jewish state and expose their own vicious bias, dressed up as concern for human rights. 


“We also note the rank hypocrisy of Thompson and her ilk condemning Habima and seeking its boycott –– but having no problem with the National Theater of China participating in the same festival, even though China’s observance of human rights is, to put it mildly, abysmal. “Emma Thompson and these other actors are clearly people who, because they are celebrities, enjoy unmerited influence and ability to publicize their political views. This places an even greater responsibility on them to think carefully before speaking on political matters, which they have clearly failed. They deserve to be condemned and shunned by the Jewish, pro-Israeli community and all other people of goodwill. We urge everyone to boycott Emma Thompson’s current movie, Saving Mr. Banks.”

The Edge of Sports

Uzbekistan Plunges Into Gene Pool To Spot Future Olympians

January 9th 2014


The idea of using genetic testing to spot future world-class athletes has been bandied about for years. Now, Uzbekistan hopes to get a jump on the competition by testing children as young as 10 to determine their athletic potential.

Rustam Muhamedov, director of the genetics laboratory at Uzbekistan's Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry, announced the program for "sports selection at the molecular genetic level" on January 5 in the government-owned "Pravda vostoka" newspaper.

He says that the program, overseen by Uzbekistan's Academy of Sciences, would be "implemented in practice" in early 2015 in cooperation with the National Olympic Committee and several of the country's national sports federations -- including soccer, swimming, and rowing.

Muhamedov's team began studying the genes of champion Uzbek athletes two years ago. He says that after another year of work in Tashkent, his team will be ready to publish a panel presentation on a specific set of 50 genes that he claims will identify future champions.

"Developed countries throughout the world like the United States, China, and European countries are researching the human genome and have discovered genes that define a propensity for specific sports," Muhamedov says. "We want to use these methods in order to help select our future champions." In practice, Muhamedov says that after the 50 genes of a child are tested from a blood sample, "their parents will be told what sports they are best suited for" -- such as distance running or weight lifting. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The Sochi Challenge

January 9th 2014

Russian M17 Helos

The Russian city of Sochi will host the 2014 Winter Olympics from Feb. 7 to Feb. 23 and the Paralympics from March 7 to March 16. Russia is no stranger to hosting high-profile global events; it hosted the 1980 Summer Olympics and is preparing for the 2018 World Cup final.

Though the 2014 games seemingly offer Moscow a perfect platform for showcasing the strength of its security apparatus, Russia will have to work overtime to protect athletes and spectators. This in turn could leave surrounding regions such as the Northern Caucasus and major cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg exposed to militancy, terrorism and organized crime. Militants from the Caucasus striking elsewhere in Russia during the games to avoid the intense security that will be present in Sochi and to capitalize on news coverage of the highly publicized event pose the greatest threat to the games.


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