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Archive for January 2014

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The Edge of Health

Wearable ECG Recorder Measures Heart Data Together With Patient’s Physical Activity

January 9th 2014

Baby Boomer

It doesn't matter if the doctor suspects cardiac arrhythmia, myocarditis or a heart attack, whenever the heart's health is at stake the reading, recording and analysis of the electrocardiogram (ECG) is the most important examination method to obtain indications of coronary diseases. Patients typically consult their doctor or remain in hospital under observation for a longer period of time after an operation. To alleviate such procedures, researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems IPMS in Dresden have developed a comfortable ECG recorder that reads and analyses long-term ECGs at home in everyday conditions and then transmits the results to the doctor in real-time by radio.

During an ECG the doctor only sees the temporal course of the electrical stimulation of the heart. In order to be able to draw conclusions about the function of the organ and thus find indications of possible coronary diseases he has to interpret the resulting pattern of the changes in tension of the heart. Read more ..


The Toxic Edge

IBM in Toxic Debacle

January 9th 2014

The findings from a federal study which examined over 34,000 workers who worked at IBM's Endicott plant from 1969 to 2001 have just been released. The study found the total number of deaths from all causes and all cancers combined were lower among the workers than what would be expected.

However, deaths from some types of cancer were more frequent than what would be expected. Several types of cancers were relatively more common in workers who had more potential exposure to specific chemicals or worked longer in certain production buildings.

This, according to a doctor who conducted another study of IBM Endicott workers which pre-dated the federal one, is consistent with his findings.

"It replicated one major finding which was lymphoma. We found that in an earlier look and sure enough the NIOSH study showed it as well. Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma was elevated in the workers in this plant in Endicott," said Dr. Richard Clapp, Professor Emeritus at the Boston University School of Public Health. Read more ..


The Middle East on Edge

The Way They See It

January 8th 2014

Syran refugee girl in Jordan

Israel receives a lot of unwelcome attention from the U.S., the UN, and the EU. As others in the region see it, however, that makes Israel the most important country in the world, and Palestinians the world's luckiest "refugees." While withdrawing security and political assistance from most of the Middle East and Africa, the Obama Administration has increased its visibility in the "peace process" and announced a $4 billion investment plan for Palestine. To other countries, this attention shows who is important in America's eyes.

Through Syrian eyes:

The Syrian civil war has killed more than 200,000 people, including more than 1,500 by poison gas. More than 11,000 children have died; both children and adults have died by starvation. The Assad regime refused to let relief agencies into villages unless they surrendered and flew the government flag. Starving a population into surrender is a war crime. The government is using "barrel bombs" -- barrels filled with nails and metal shrapnel and thrown from airplanes. Twenty-one people died last week from a barrel bombing of the Aleppo market. There are more than 2 million refugees, both internally displaced, and in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. Read more ..


Islam on Edge

Sunni-Shiite Divide Widens as Iran Offers to Fight al-Qaeda in Iraq

January 8th 2014

Iranian Revolutionary Guard

Quoting Iran's official news agency, Agence France-Presse reported on 6 January that General Muhammad Hejazi, Iran's Deputy Chief of Staff, had just announced that, if asked, the Islamic Republic of Iran was "prepared to provide military equipment and advice to Iraq to help it battle al-Qaida." Only arms and advice was contemplated as it was said that the Iraqis "have no need of manpower."

Hejazi claimed there had been no request from Iraq to "carry out joint operations against the 'takfiri' terrorists," a term used to describe al Qaida and its various fraternal allies. In this case it would be to assist in the attack on the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which leads the Sunni Muslim conflict in both Syria and Iraq. The ISIL has just taken control of Fallujah, a major Iraqi pivot in the Middle East conflict. Read more ..


Book Review

Whose Promise? Whose Land?

January 8th 2014

My Promised Land - Shavit

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel. Ari Shavit. Spiegel & Grau, 2013. 464 pp.

Ari Shavit's recently published My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel attempts to cover a number of important issues related to Israel, past and present. Shavit talks of the formation of the Israeli state, society, and economy and how they have changed throughout the years. He talks about Israel and its transformation. Going from a collectivist-socialist society, where the state had primacy over social life, to a modern capitalistic society, where the state in essence, washes its hands of everything concerning society. He discusses the transition between past Israeli societies where individual and civil rights were secondary to the present society where the individual is above collective goals. He also talks about a transition between past, unified Israeli societies with a common purpose to an anarchical, radical, pluralistic society where there is no collective purpose at all.

Shavit praises Israel's spirit of entrepreneurship, industrialization and resilience. He also talks about Israel's repression of past identities including those of Holocaust survivors and those immigrants from Arab lands, which the Zionist establishment was not properly prepared to absorb and treated them as inferiors.

Shavit discusses Israel's nuclear project in Dimona, supporting the idea of such a project for a country that lives under constant threat from its neighbors. Furthermore, Shavit supports the so called "Begin Doctrine" that asserts that Israel should have a monopoly on nuclear power in the region. As such, contrary to the views of many on the left, Shavit believes that stopping a nuclear Iran is crucial.

Shavit is a Zionist preoccupied not only with the future of Israel, but also with the future of the diaspora Jewish communities. He believes that with the increasing secularization of Jews throughout the world it is only Israel that can provide Jewish continuity to non-orthodox Jews. He sees Judaism in the diaspora as being threatened by assimilation and indifference and believes that Zionism is not only a national liberation movement for the Jewish people but also the only hope of halting the process of Jewish decline. Read more ..


Chile’s Leading Edge

Chile: The Unrecognized Role Model of Latin America

January 8th 2014

Education-Protest

In a run-off election on December 15th, presidential candidate Michelle Bachelet, who was Chile’s president from 2006 to 2010, was again voted into office. The victory was overwhelming as Bachelet took more than 60 percent of the vote against her opponent Evelyn Mathei of the conservative Independent Democratic Union party, who is also a childhood friend of Bachelet.

Bachelet ran on a platform that responded directly to the student protests and other strikes that the country experienced in the last several years. Indeed, popular protests that brought tens of thousands of protestors to the streets demanded lowers costs for higher education along with improvement in the quality of education. These demonstrations caught fire as they expanded to other social sectors. In a remote area of Chilean Patagonia, protestors blocked roads demanding cheaper petrol. Likewise, there were demonstrations in opposition to a new fishing law. Previously there were strikes by copper miners demanding a fairer share of the production profits. Port workers also participated in strikes, demanding better working conditions. There were also hunger strikes by imprisoned indigenous activists. Environmentalists protested a hydroelectric project. There were also protests over high levels of inequality despite the considerable reduction of poverty Chile experienced in the last quarter of a century. Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Bio-Inspired Glue Keeps Hearts Securely Sealed

January 8th 2014

echocardiogram on child

When a child is born with a heart defect such as a hole in the heart, the highly invasive therapies are challenging due to an inability to quickly and safely secure devices inside the heart. Sutures take too much time to stitch and can cause stress on fragile heart tissue, and currently available clinical adhesives are either too toxic or tend to lose their sticking power in the presence of blood or under dynamic conditions, such as in a beating heart.

"About 40,000 babies are born with congenital heart defects in the United States annually, and those that require treatment are plagued with multiple surgeries to deliver or replace non-degradable implants that do not grow with young patients," says Jeffrey Karp, co-senior study author of a new study that may improve how surgeons treat congenital heart defects.

In the preclinical study, researchers from Boston Children's Hospital, BWH and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed a bio-inspired adhesive that could rapidly attach biodegradable patches inside a beating heart—in the exact place where congenital holes in the heart occur, such as with ventricular heart defects. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Aides Strike Back at Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates

January 8th 2014

Former White House officials rushed to defend President Obama against scathing criticism from former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. In his new memoir, Gates wrote the president did not believe in his own strategy in Afghanistan, and that for him, it was “all about getting out.”

Former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley said Gates shouldn’t have released his memoir while the war in Afghanistan is still being fought. “It’s one thing as historians look back on an administration, but in the middle of it, when you’re pursuing a war at the same time, and one that is controversial with the American people and has been very difficult on our military, I think it’s just a disservice to be very frank with you,” Daley said on January 7 on CBS’s “This Morning.”

“I understand while everyone wants to get out there and write a book and get on the circuit, but I think it’s unfortunate,” Daley said, while emphasizing he had respect for the former Defense chief.

In the coming book “Duty: Memories of a Secretary at War,” Gates said that some White House staff took “micromanagement and operational meddling to a new level.” Read more ..


Broken Government

Extended Unemployment Benefits: Not What the Labor Market Needs

January 8th 2014

Employee applications

For more than five years, the federal government has provided extended unemployment benefits to workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own and remained out of work beyond the standard 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. This program expired on December 28, 2013, ending extended unemployment benefits for 1.3 million Americans. The White House claims that the expiration of this program is "unprecedented in the context of previous extensions to earlier unemployment insurance programs." In his weekly radio address, President Obama declared, "Instead of punishing families who can least afford it, Republicans should make it their New Year's resolution to do the right thing, and restore this vital economic security for their constituents right now." If only the economic reality of the extended unemployment benefits program was as potent as the political rhetoric. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Reporter's Notebook: Enduring the Midwest's 'Polar Vortex'

January 8th 2014

Blizzard

It’s garbage day today.  Time to put out the trash for collection. 

It’s a Monday ritual in the Farabaugh home, getting up a little earlier in the morning to make sure all the bins are emptied and the recycling is gathered, so all of it can sit neatly at the end of our driveway waiting for our trash collector, who usually arrives early in the morning.

But today the ritual is a little different, because before I can accomplish any of that, I need to put on extra thick layers of clothing and snow gear to protect myself from the “polar vortex” that I’ve heard so much about on the radio and television over the last several days.

When I ventured outside only the day before to shovel and blow about 12 inches (30 centimeters) of snow off my driveway (not once but twice) there was no bitter cold to mention, no “polar vortex” threatening an otherwise enjoyable, mildly cold snowfall.  My sons and I made the most out of it by attempting to build a snowman, which ultimately turned into a snow fort. Read more ..


Destination Mars

Ten Years of Roving Around Mars

January 8th 2014

Mars rover family portrait

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its Mars Exploration Rover Mission (MER), which began with the arrival of its robotic vehicles Spirit and Opportunity on the red planet in 2004. The anniversary event, held at the National Air and Space Museum, in Washington, featured a panel of NASA scientists discussing the achievements of the vehicles that have landed on Mars so far, and the future plans for exploring the planet.

A golf-cart sized vehicle named Spirit landed on Mars on January 4, 2004, while its twin, Opportunity, touched down three weeks later on the opposite side of the planet.

Although designed to operate for only 90 Martian days (Martian days are about 40 minutes longer than days on Earth), both rovers functioned much longer, and provided mission scientists huge amounts of information about Mars. Geologist John Grant, who was involved with the mission, said the rovers greatly enhanced scientists’ understanding of the planet’s geologic history. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Former Obama Aides Push Back On Gates

January 8th 2014

Robert Gates better headshot

Former White House officials on Wednesday rushed to defend President Obama against scathing criticism from former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

In his new memoir, Gates wrote the president did not believe in his own strategy in Afghanistan, and that for him, it was “all about getting out.”

Former White House chief of staff Bill Daley said Gates shouldn’t have released his memoir while the war in Afghanistan is still being fought.

“It’s one thing as historians look back on an administration, but in the middle of it, when you’re pursuing a war at the same time, and one that is controversial with the American people and has been very difficult on our military, I think it’s just a disservice to be very frank with you,” Daley said Wednesday on CBS’s “This Morning.”

“I understand while everyone wants to get out there and write a book and get on the circuit, but I think it’s unfortunate,” Daley said, while emphasizing he had respect for the former Defense chief. In the coming book Duty: Memories of a Secretary at War, Gates said that some White House staff took “micromanagement and operational meddling to a new level.” Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Is Iran's Conservative Camp Muscling In On Nuclear Talks?

January 8th 2014

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

Is Iran's conservative camp muscling in on Tehran's nuclear negotiations with six world powers?

Yes, if you listen to some hard-line lawmakers and media who are reporting that two conservatives have been added to a mysterious panel said to monitor the work of Tehran's negotiating team.

Not really, if you go by the word of those participating in the negotiations and media close to the government. In fact, they question the existence of any such panel at all.

One thing appears clear amid the murk: there are stark internal differences in Iran when it comes to the country's approach in talks with the P5+1 (the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia, plus Germany).

Officially, the country's president and former nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rohani, has been granted the authority to shape Iran's negotiating position. And with the backing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the president's team led by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has worked out an interim deal in which some international sanctions would be relaxed in exchange for more Iranian transparency and concessions when it comes to its controversial nuclear program. Read more ..


Ancient Americans

University of Michigan Grants Half of its Native American Collection from Burial Sites to Modern Tribes

January 8th 2014

With the beginning of the new year, the University of Michigan has completed the transfer of nearly half of its collections of Native American human remains and cultural objects from burial sites in Michigan to tribes that lived in the areas where they were found.

“This is a significant milestone as we work to fulfill the letter and the spirit of the law mandating the repatriation of these collections,” said Stephen Forrest, former vice president for research, who initiated the process that has led to the transfers.

Forrest stepped down as vice president December 31, 2013, to focus full time on his responsibilities as a faculty member.

To date, collections from 120 sites have been transferred — 111 of them in 2013 alone. The university worked with 14 Michigan tribes in arranging these transfers. The collections are being transferred under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), a law passed in 1990 requiring museums to follow a mandatory process for transferring human remains and associated funerary objects to tribes that have requested them and have the legal right to them. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Hezbollah Intensifies Fighting in Syria

January 8th 2014

Syrian Rebel w/SAW

In late 2013, Hezbollah had intensified its military involvement in the civil war in Syria, suffering heavy losses. The main three sites of Hezbollah fighting were the eastern rural area of Damascus (Al-Ghouta al-Sharqiyya), the Al-Qalamoun mountain range, north of Damascus, which runs along the Syrian-Lebanese border (the Homs - Damascus route), and the grave of Al-Set Zaynab, south of Damascus.

In these three sites, Hezbollah operates as an auxiliary force, aiding the Syrian army and the Syrian security forces, and not as a military unit with independent missions (as was the case in the Al-Qusayr campaign).This fighting was closely coordinated with the Syrian army:according to Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai (December 12, 2013), the Syrian army and Hezbollah maintain a joint operations room for managing the campaign. We estimate the number of Hezbollah operatives in the fighting at several thousand, an estimate similar to the scope of the Hezbollah force in the Al-Qusayr campaign (May 19 - June 5, 2013). Read more ..


Brazil on Edge

Brazil Beefs Up Security in Advance of Soccer's World Cup Tournament

January 7th 2014

Click to select Image

The Brazilian government has established a special unit to complement police to subdue demonstrations that are expected to be held during the World Cup, which begins in June. Ten thousand members will be selected from state police forces nationwide and stationed in the dozen cities that will host World Cup games, Col. Alexandre Augusto Aragon, who heads the elite National Security Force, told reporters. “We have been concerned with this [security during the World Cup] since before the protests that took place last year, because we don’t wait around for things to happen,” he told the website G1. “The violence of recent protests is what scared us.”

The Brazilian government is taking steps to preclude any incidents should protests occur during the World Cup. During last year’s Confederations Cup, more than a million people demonstrated on the streets nationwide in a single day. The demonstrators were protesting the billions that have been spent on the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro, at a time when funding for social services is lacking. Read more ..


Iraq on Edge

General: 'Wait and See' Before Sending Troops to Iraq

January 7th 2014

US troops in Iraq

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno said Tuesday the United States should "wait and see" before sending U.S. troops to Iraq, where Al Qaeda militants recently seized parts of two cities.

"This is certainly not the time to put American troops on the ground," Gen. Odierno said at the National Press Club in Washington. "We just have to wait and see if it becomes part of our national security interest to put people on the ground."

There are currently about 200 U.S. troops in Iraq who provide embassy security and advise Iraqi defense officials. An additional 1,600 defense department contractors provide training and maintenance for U.S. foreign military equipment sales to Iraq. Gen. Odierno said it was important for the U.S. to continue working with the Iraqi army on counterinsurgency, but that it was also important to stay politically involved. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

The HHS Mandate Goes Live

January 7th 2014

Bible

In the final weeks of 2013, most of the Obamacare focus was on the disastrous launch of the federal and state exchanges, followed by the frenzied effort to get the websites up to a minimum level of functionality before December 1. Almost forgotten in the tumult was the unpleasant reality that the highly controversial “HHS mandate” was about to go live on January 1, along with the rest of Obamacare. The mandate is the requirement that all employer-sponsored insurance plans, including those offered by employers with strong religious objections to the mandate, must provide “free”contraceptives, abortifacient drugs, and sterilization procedures to their workers and their workers’ families.

Employers who object to the mandate hadn’t forgotten about it, of course. They had been looking ahead to January 1, 2014, with dread for nearly three years, knowing that this might be the moment when they would have to choose between violating their consciences and accepting large financial penalties for sticking to their principles. The scores of lawsuits filed in federal court since the mandate was finalized last year are an indication of how seriously these employers are taking the issue. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Reports Of Holy Vision Sparks Mass Pilgrimage In Georgia

January 7th 2014

Orthodox Church Azerbaijan

Residents of Mtskheta heaved a sigh of relief on January 7 as visitors finally trickled out of their city. Rumors of a holy apparition had drawn hordes of pilgrims from across the country to the ancient Georgian town.

The pilgrimage to Mtskheta, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, began last week. A nun was reported to have had a vision that Father Gabriel, an Orthodox monk buried at a local monastery and canonized in 2012, would grant two wishes to all those who visited his grave before Orthodox Christmas on January 7.

Thousands of faithful quickly streamed to the town some 20 kilometers north of Tbilisi, creating chaos on the roads and a giant queue in front of the grave.

Local police were deployed to ease road traffic and prevent stampedes, ordering pilgrims to move on after briefly touching the tombstone.

According to the nun, Mother Paraskeva, Father Gabriel appeared to her as she prayed at his grave days before Orthodox Christmas.

"When I prayed at the grave of Father Gabriel, I had a vision that he would fulfill the wishes of all those who come here to ask for his benediction," she said. "This miracle happened, and this is why so many people have come here." But she played down reports that she had advised visiting the grave before Christmas, saying that Orthodox followers were welcome any time in Mtskheta and that the saint would grant wishes for everyone in Georgia. Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

Turkey's Democratic Institutions Besieged

January 7th 2014

Erdogan

The struggle has already consumed three ministers’ posts and led to a major reshuffling of the cabinet. The Minister of Economy Zafer Cağlayan, the Minister of Interior Muamer Güler and the Minister for the Environment and Urban Planning Erdoğan Bayraktar, whose sons were reported to have been implicated in the probe, have resigned. Bayraktar did not go down without a fight, directly implicating the prime minister in the probe. Known as a close confidant of the prime minister, Bayraktar, at a press conference, in no unclear terms noted that whatever he did, he did with the complete knowledge and authorization of the prime minister. Bayraktar called on Erdoğan to resign as well. Many commentators have compared these resignations and especially Bayraktar's remarks to a live hand grenade. What do these resignations mean for Turkish politics and the future of Turkish democracy? Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Saudi Prince Warns Countrymen About the Threat of American Oil and Natural Gas

January 7th 2014

Click to select Image

Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal expressed fears that the production of shale oil and natural gas in the United States and other countries, especially through the process known as “fracking” is a competitive threat to “any oil-producing country in the world.” For Saudi Arabia, said Alwaleed, this is a “matter of survival.”

Alwaleed, speaking in an interview with The Globe and Mail newspaper, added “It is a pivot moment for any oil-producing country that has not diversified. Ninety-two percent of Saudi Arabia’s annual budget comes from oil. Definitely it is a worry and a concern.”

Alaweed is the nephew of King Abdullah of the oil kingdom. Noting that Saudi leadership may not understand the economic threat posed by American shale oil and natural gas production, he vowed to influence leaders in his country. Speaking in November 2013, he said “I will make them get it, there is no doubt about that."

“I’ll make them get it. It is a matter of survival. There is no choice but to get it. I will keep pushing until they do.” Read more ..


The Battle for Iraq

Iraq city Fallujah Now Fully Under al-Qaida Control

January 7th 2014

Rebel fighters

The city center of Iraq's Fallujah has fallen completely into the hands of fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State in Iraq and Levant, police said Saturday, yet another victory for the hardline group that has made waves across the region in recent days. ISIL is also one of the strongest rebel units in Syria, where it has imposed a strict version of Islamic law in territories it holds and kidnapped and killed anyone it deems critical of its rule. Also on Saturday, it claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing in a Shiite-dominated neighborhood in Lebanon.

Hadi Razeij, head of the Anbar province police force, said police had left the city center entirely and had positioned themselves on the edge of town. "The walls of the city are in the hands of the police force, but the people of Fallujah are the prisoners of ISIL," he said, speaking on Arabic language satellite broadcaster al-Arabiya. Read more ..


The Edge of Trade

NAFTA Twenty Years On

January 7th 2014

Traffic Jam

The 20th anniversary of NAFTA's implementation on Jan. 1 has revived some of the perennial arguments that have surrounded the bloc since its inception. The general consensus has been that the trade deal was a mixed bag, a generally positive yet disappointing economic experiment.

That consensus may not be wrong. The history of the North American Free Trade Agreement as an institution has been one of piecemeal, often reluctant, integration of three countries with a long tradition of protectionism and fierce defense of economic national sovereignty. While NAFTA was a boon for certain sectors of the economy, particularly the U.S. agriculture industry, the net effect of the world's second-largest trade bloc remains somewhat unknown.

The debate over NAFTA can, however, obscure some fundamental realities about the future of North America and its three major countries. While the formation of the trading bloc represented a remarkable political achievement, NAFTA has remained a facilitating institution whose success has mirrored the ebb and flow in the slow but inevitable economic integration of the United States, Mexico and Canada. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Inside the Saudi 9/11 coverup

January 7th 2014

Twin Towers 9/11

After the 9/11 attacks, the public was told al Qaeda acted alone, with no state sponsors. But the White House never let it see an entire section of Congress’ investigative report on 9/11 dealing with “specific sources of foreign support” for the 19 hijackers, 15 of whom were Saudi nationals.

It was kept secret and remains so today.

President Bush inexplicably censored 28 full pages of the 800-page report. Text isn’t just blacked-out here and there in this critical-yet-missing middle section. The pages are completely blank, except for dotted lines where an estimated 7,200 words once stood (this story by comparison is about 1,000 words).

A pair of lawmakers who recently read the redacted portion say they are “absolutely shocked” at the level of foreign state involvement in the attacks.

Reps. Walter Jones (R-NC) and Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) can’t reveal the nation identified by it without violating federal law. So they’ve proposed Congress pass a resolution asking President Obama to declassify the entire 2002 report, “Joint Inquiry Into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001.”

Read more ..

Geopolitical Edge

The North American Free Trade Agreement: The Future for the USA, Canada and Mexico

January 7th 2014

Click to select Image

The 20th anniversary of NAFTA's implementation on Jan. 1 has revived some of the perennial arguments that have surrounded the bloc since its inception. The general consensus has been that the trade deal was a mixed bag, a generally positive yet disappointing economic experiment.

That consensus may not be wrong. The history of the North American Free Trade Agreement as an institution has been one of piecemeal, often reluctant, integration of three countries with a long tradition of protectionism and fierce defense of economic national sovereignty. While NAFTA was a boon for certain sectors of the economy, particularly the U.S. agriculture industry, the net effect of the world's second-largest trade bloc remains somewhat unknown.

The debate over NAFTA can, however, obscure some fundamental realities about the future of North America and its three major countries. While the formation of the trading bloc represented a remarkable political achievement, NAFTA has remained a facilitating institution whose success has mirrored the ebb and flow in the slow but inevitable economic integration of the United States, Mexico and Canada. Read more ..


The Cellular Edge

The Microscopic 'Spooky Action' of Water in Cellular Structures

January 7th 2014

In a sort of biological "spooky action at a distance," water in a cell slows down in the tightest confines between proteins and develops the ability to affect other proteins much farther away, University of Michigan researchers have discovered.

On a fundamental level, the findings show some of the complex and unexpected ways that water behaves inside cells. In a practical sense, they could provide insights into how and why proteins clump together in diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Understanding how proteins aggregate could help researchers figure out how to prevent them from doing so. Read more ..


The Healthy Edge

One-Third of American Teens Get Their Weed from Medical Marijuana Users

January 7th 2014

According to a release from the University of Michigan, the use of synthetic marijuana by American teenagers dropped substantially in 2013, while a sharply increasing proportion of them see great risk in using so-called “bath salts.” Both of these drugs are synthetics sold over the counter in many outlets such as gas stations and convenience stores, as well as on the Internet. They have been the subject of great concern because of their serious and unpredictable consequences for the user’s health.

These and other findings come from Monitoring the Future study conducted by the Ann Arbor-based institution, which is funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse. National samples of 40,000 to 50,000 students in three grades (eight, 10 and 12) have been surveyed every year since 1991. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Israeli Arabs Don't Want to Live in a Palestinian State

January 6th 2014

Click to select Image

It is much easier for Palestinians to accuse Israel of racism than to admit they do not want to be part of a Palestinian state.

"This is an imaginary proposal that relates to the Arabs as if they were chess pieces that could be moved around according to the wish of the players." — Ahmed Tibi, Member of Knesset.

If the Arab Knesset members are so worried about becoming citizens of a Palestinian state, they should be working toward integration into, and not separation from, Israel, and listening more to their constituents rather than the voices of Fatah and Hamas.

Renewed talk of land swaps between Israel and a future Palestinian state has left many Israeli Arabs worried about losing their status as citizens of Israel.

According to the Israeli daily Ma'ariv, Israel has proposed to the Americans transferring Israeli Arab communities to the Palestinian Authority as part of a land swap that would place Jewish settlements in the West Bank under Israeli sovereignty. Read more ..


France on Edge

The Islamization of France in 2013

January 6th 2014

Click to select Image

Who has the right to say that France in thirty or forty years will not be a Muslim country? Who has the right in this country to deprive us of it?" — Marwan Muhammed, spokesman, Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), Paris.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls said he was "shocked" by an RTL Radio report which estimated that more than 40,000 cars are burned in France every year.

The Muslim population of France reached an estimated 6.5 million in 2013. Although France is prohibited by law from collecting official statistics about the race or religion of its citizens, this estimate is based on the average of several recent studies that attempt to calculate the number of people in France whose origins are from Muslim majority countries.

This estimate would imply that the Muslim population of France is now approximately 10% of the country's total population of around 66 million. In real terms, France has the largest Muslim population in the European Union. Read more ..


America on Edge

'What's a Slum?': And Therein Lies a Tale

January 6th 2014

When I was about thirteen-years-old I chanced upon an article in Henry Luce’s Life magazine that described East Harlem ( a Manhattan working class neighborhood) as “a slum inhabited by beggar‑poor Italians, Negroes, and Puerto Ricans,” words that stung me and wedged in my memory.

“We live in a slum,” I mournfully reported to my father.

"What’s a slum?” he asked. He was not familiar with the term.

“It’s a neighborhood where everybody is poor and the streets are all run-down and dumpy and dirty and filled with beggars.”

“Shut up and show respect for your home,” he replied. Note his choice of words. Poppa was not expressing pride in East Harlem as such. But situated within the neighborhood was our home, and you didn’t want anything reflecting poorly upon family and home. Read more ..


Iraq on Edge

GOP Rep.: US Should Aid Iraq with Air Power

January 6th 2014

F15 in Afghanistan

The United States should assist the Iraqi government with limited air power and intelligence operations in its fight against al Qaeda, a Republican lawmaker and Iraq War veteran said Monday.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan in the Air Force, said in a statement Monday that the resurgence of violence in Iraq was a “direct result of the Obama administration’s short-sighted policy decisions and hurried withdrawal from the region.”

In a follow-up response to The Hill, Kinzinger said he does not support sending any U.S. ground troops back to Iraq but does think the U.S. can play a role with air power and intelligence. “While we cannot reintroduce ground soldiers in Iraq after leaving, I do support robust intelligence operations and, in some cases, limited air power in assisting the Iraqi government,” he said.

Kinzinger is the latest Republican to criticize the Obama administration’s handling of Iraq in the wake of al Qaeda-affiliated forces retaking Fallujah, the western Iraqi city where U.S. Marines took heavy casualties. Read more ..


The Race for Wind

Stop Wasting $60B on Wind Energy Tax Break

January 6th 2014

Smoky hill wind farm

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said Congress should not renew the $60 billion wind energy tax credit. Instead he said the money would be better spent reducing the federal debt.

“The massive taxpayer subsidy to windmill developers expired Jan. 1,” Alexander said. “A good way to celebrate the New Year would be to not renew it and to reduce the federal debt by $60 billion, an amount about equal to the spending in the recent budget agreement.”

Alexander argued that the tax break is outdated since the wind industry is now fully developed. He also said wind turbines are a “scar on the landscape.”

“At least in our part of the country, windmills are a huge scar on the landscape — you can see their flashing lights for 20 miles,” Alexander said. “You would have to stretch wind turbines the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, from Maine to Georgia, to equal the power produced by eight nuclear plants on one square mile each.” Tennessee is home to a nuclear power plant and the state also produces coal. Read more ..


Inside Politics

Hispanic Vote Up for Grabs After Obama's Setbacks

January 6th 2014

Immigration Protest

It is widely accepted that Hispanics will become a larger share of the American electorate in the years to come.

This is a matter of simple arithmetic. Less than one-tenth of adults counted in the 2010 Census classified themselves as “Hispanic” (a term invented by the Census Bureau for the 1970 count).

But one-quarter of children were similarly classified, many of them the offspring of illegal aliens who were born in the U.S. and thus entitled to citizenship.

It's true that Hispanics may not be as large a share of voters as is sometimes projected. There has been zero net migration from Mexico to this country since 2007, and, given advances in Mexico, immigration at the 1982-2007 levels may never resume. Read more ..


The Economy on Edge

The Bubble is Back

January 6th 2014

Home Foreclosure

In November, housing starts were up 23 percent, and there was cheering all around. But the crowd would quiet down if it realized that another housing bubble had begun to grow.

Almost everyone understands that the 2007-8 financial crisis was precipitated by the collapse of a huge housing bubble. The Obama administration’s remedy of choice was the Dodd-Frank Act. It is the most restrictive financial regulation since the Great Depression — but it won’t prevent another housing bubble.

Housing bubbles are measured by comparing current prices to a reliable index of housing prices. Fortunately, we have one. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics has been keeping track of the costs of renting a residence since at least 1983; its index shows a steady rise of about 3 percent a year over this 30-year period. This is as it should be; other things being equal, rentals should track the inflation rate. Home prices should do the same. If prices rise much above the rental rate, families theoretically would begin to rent, not buy. Housing bubbles, then, become visible — and can legitimately be called bubbles — when housing prices diverge significantly from rents. Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

Cameroon Cracks Down on Illegal Hospitals

January 6th 2014

nurse w/stethoscope

Cameroon has started a crackdown on medical institutions, including Chinese traditional medical practitioners, who are practicing illegally in the country. The health ministry says thousands of hospitals operating without authorization are responsible for the deaths of untold numbers of patients.

Twenty-seven-year-old Mirabel Ndi watches helplessly as her two-month-old baby cries in pain. She says that for the entire night, she had been at the private clinic in Yaounde with no medical staff on duty. “I came to the hospital and there is nobody to help," she said. "Nobody to help.”

Since the government of Cameroon started a crackdown on what it calls illegal hospitals, staff members have gone into hiding. The secretary-general of Cameroon's National Medical Council, Bijoko Atangana says the Council will continue to pursue order in the sector. Read more ..


The Healthcare Edge

Chinese Plant Ingredient Eases Chronic Pain

January 6th 2014

Boy in pain

Researchers have discovered a natural ingredient in an ancient Chinese plant that relieves chronic pain, including backache.  The compound comes from the roots of the flowering Corydalis herb, which the Chinese have used for centuries to treat pain.

The Corydalis plant is grown primarily in central eastern China. For thousands of years, people in the Asian country have harvested the plant’s roots or tubers, ground them up and boiled them in vinegar.  The concoction, often processed into a tea, was given to treat pain.  Although it is effective in easing all types of pain, including temporary and inflammatory joint pain, it may have its greatest benefit in treating long-term nagging pain, for which experts say there is no good medicine.
 
A researcher with the University of California Davis, Olivier Civelli, says the active compound in Corydalis identified by researchers is dehydrocorybulbine or DHCB. In animal experiments, DHCB appears to work well in easing low-level chronic pain. The plant is a member of the poppy family.

Civelli explains so-called opiod drugs like morphine are often given to treat chronic pain when they should only be prescribed for a short period of time because of their addictive properties. But DHCB, says Civelli, appears to be both effective and non-addictive in the treatment of persistent pain. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Fifty-Year 'War on Poverty' Brings Progress, Not Victory

January 6th 2014

American poverty

In January 1964, President Johnson was aware that almost one in every five Americans lived in poverty.

In his first State of the Union address, just weeks after taking office, he proposed a solution.

"And this administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America," he said, issuing his first salvo in the "war" that would take the form of new programs to improve nutrition, health care, education and job training.

"Our chief weapons in a more pinpointed attack will be better schools, and better health, and better homes, and better training, and better job opportunities," he said. According to James Jones, who later became Johnson's chief of staff, the president wanted to complete the unfinished domestic agenda of previous Democratic Party presidents. Read more ..


Palestine on Edge

Illegal Weapons Found at Palestinian Embassy in Czech Republic Following Mysterious Death of Ambassador

January 6th 2014

Just days after the death of the Palestinian ambassador to the Czech Republic in Prague, some 12 illegal weapons were uncovered at the embassy complex on January 5. While local police declined to give further details, Palestine’s deputy foreign minister hastened to say that the weapons were not illegal.

Deputy Palestinian Foreign Minister Taysir Jaradat confirmed on January 5 that in a meeting with his Czech counterpart he was held to account for the firearms. “We told them that these guns have been in the embassy for a long time -- going back to the former regime of Czechoslovakia -- and these guns were either licensed in the embassy or were given as gifts to the ambassador." Speaking to Voice of Palestine, Jaradat affirmed "They are not in use."

During the years of the Cold War, the terrorist Palestine Liberation Organization was closely aligned with the former Soviet Union and the communist-controlled countries, including Romania, the Democratic Republic of Germany, and the former Czechoslovakia. The PLO had diplomatic representatives throughout the former Soviet bloc. PLO terrorists, as were other leftists, received training in explosives, espionage and disinformation. In addition, numerous Palestinians received academic training at universities in Soviet-controlled countries. For example, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas holds a doctorate from a Soviet university. Read more ..


The War on Terror

American Weapons Manufacturer Refuses Sale to Pakistan

January 6th 2014

A U.S. gun manufacturer has turned down a multi-million dollar opportunity to sell arms to Pakistan, citing concerns the weapons would be used against American soldiers.

Nick Young, founder of Desert Tech, said on his company's Facebook page that it had been approached to "legally supply" sniper systems to Pakistan. The company was formerly known as Desert Tactical Arms.

Young said the Utah-based company's "greatest fear" was that the equipment might be used against U.S. troops. He said he started the company "to protect Americans, not endanger them." He also said that his company employs several military veterans.

The contract was reported to be worth as much as $15 million.

"I don't feel good about this, and it really got the owner Nick Young to think about it," said Desert Tech Sales Manager Mike Davis. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Simple, Cheap Way to Increase Solar Cell Efficiency

January 5th 2014

Solar Array

Researchers from North Carolina State University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have found an easy way to modify the molecular structure of a polymer commonly used in solar cells. Their modification can increase solar cell efficiency by more than 30 percent.

Polymer-based solar cells have two domains, consisting of an electron acceptor and an electron donor material. Excitons are the energy particles created by solar cells when light is absorbed. In order to be harnessed effectively as an energy source, excitons must be able to travel quickly to the interface of the donor and acceptor domains and retain as much of the light’s energy as possible.

One way to increase solar cell efficiency is to adjust the difference between the highest occupied molecular orbit (HOMO) of the acceptor and lowest unoccupied molecular orbit (LUMO) levels of the polymer so that the exciton can be harvested with minimal loss. One of the most common ways to accomplish this is by adding a fluorine atom to the polymer’s molecular backbone, a difficult, multi-step process that can increase the solar cell’s performance, but has considerable material fabrication costs. Read more ..



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