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Archive for January 2014

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Obama's Second Term

Battle Over Jobless Benefits Will Consume Start of 2014

January 5th 2014

People lined up for jobs

Senate Democratic leaders feel cautiously optimistic they have the 60 votes they need to advance unemployment benefits legislation on Monday, but that marks only the start of the congressional battle.

Even if the legislation passes the Senate next week, it faces an uphill road in the House. Advocates for extended benefits say the fight could play out between the chambers for weeks.

There is growing sentiment among Republicans that it’s time to stop extended federal unemployment benefits after nearly six years of recession and slow recovery. At least, House Republicans say the $6.4 billion cost of extending benefits another three months should be paid for with deficit-reduction measures. An estimated 1.3 million unemployed workers saw their benefits lapse when the program expired at the end of last month. Read more ..


The Music Edge

Nigerian-American Turns Story of Harriet Tubman into Opera

January 5th 2014

Howard Theater, Washington, DC

A new opera, written by a second-generation Nigerian-American, tells the story of Harriet Tubman, who, a century-and-a-half ago, escaped from slavery and led others to freedom.

When Nkeiru Okoye was a little girl, she spent a lot of time shuttling between the United States - her mother’s home country - and her father’s homeland, Nigeria.  While she found the culture shock disorienting, there were some things that remained constant.  For one,

“I don’t remember ever not knowing about Harriet Tubman," she said. "My mother used to love to read my sister and me stories, so my mother probably told me about her even before I learned about Harriet in school.” Those early stories turned into a fascination that Okoye has now turned into a work of art. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Warmer World Will Produce Fewer Clouds

January 5th 2014

Sunrise or Sunset

With rising global carbon emissions, the planet will heat up and cloud cover will dissipate, according to a new study.

The concentration of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has climbed 40 percent over the last century. And, the new study reports, in response to the release of CO2 emissions, from the burning of fossil fuels in power plants, cars and buildings, the Earth will continue to warm to dangerous levels.

Steven Sherwood, a climate scientist at Australia's Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science and lead author of the report, says the prediction of a 4-degree celsius warming is based on the role of water vapor in cloud formation.

“What we see in the observations is that when air picks up water vapor from the ocean surface and rises up, it often only rises a few kilometers before it begins its descent back to the surface," Sherwood said. "Otherwise it might go up 10 or 15 kilometers. And those shorter trajectories turn out to be crucial to giving us a higher climate sensitivity because of what they do to pull water vapor away from the surface and cause clouds to dissipate as the climate warms up.” Under this scenario, in which clouds do not form, the Earth would absorb more sunlight.   Read more ..


Egypt After Morsi

Dozens Injured or Dead from Recent Cairo Clashes

January 5th 2014

Wounded Egyptian Protester

The death toll from the latest clashes between hard-line Sunni protesters and security forces in Egypt has risen to 17, a security official said Saturday, less than two weeks ahead of a key referendum on an amended constitution. In what were the deadliest street battles in months, Cairo and other heavily populated residential areas on Friday witnessed hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members and their supporters throw firebombs and rocks at security forces, who responded with water cannons and tear gas.

Health Ministry spokesman Mohammed Fathallah said 62 people were injured in the violence.

The security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said police arrested 258 protesters and confiscated homemade bombs, firearms, knives, fireworks and Molotov cocktails. Among the security forces, 17 were injured in the clashes and three vehicles and a traffic office in Egypt's second largest city of Alexandria were set on fire, he said.

Read more ..

Nature on Edge

Plants Might Lack Traits Needed to Cope With Climate Change

January 5th 2014

Wildfire

A new study suggests that modern flowering plants, trees, and agricultural crops may not have the characteristics, or the time, to respond to rapid human-induced climate change. The report, in Nature, looks at how plants evolved to cope with cold in the past, but finds these same mechanisms may not provide the same defense against human-induced climate change

Flowering plants lived in warm tropical climates 243 million years ago. Since then, they have spread across the planet into much harsher places. George Washington University ecologist Amy Zanne and her colleagues wanted to understand how the plants survived in a colder environment. They identified three traits that help them do that: dropping their leaves before the winter chill, narrowing the cells that transport water from the roots to the leaves, and dying back to the ground and re-sprouting from their roots or seeds in the spring. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Preserving Freedom Online: The U.S. Should Reject the U.N.’s Authoritarian Control of the Internet

January 5th 2014

Starbucks Wireless

The explosion of Internet capabilities, specifically over the past seven years, has engendered seismic shifts in societies around the globe. This dynamic game changer challenges the economic and political status quo by providing a venue for sharing ideas and practicing innovation. According to a 2011 report by the McKinsey Global Institute, the Internet “accounted for 21 percent of the GDP growth in mature economies” from 2007 to 2011, and greatly benefited “consumers and small, upstart entrepreneurs.” Together with other economic, political, and social benefits, the value of an unchained Internet is apparent.

As a result, governments—both autocratic and democratic—around the world recognize the power of information to affect citizens’ economic, political, and social fortunes. Fearing the Internet’s power, cyber censorship and surveillance is common under many of the world’s brutal regimes, such as Cuba, North Korea, China, and Iran. As the Internet is a powerful medium of expression and innovation, the U.S. needs to reject government control of the Internet. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

The Syrian Regime's Military Solution to the War

January 5th 2014

al-Assad and Generals

It has become commonplace to say that "there is no military solution" to the conflict in Syria. That claim, invoked by Western officials including the U.S. secretary of state, is used to justify an emphasis on diplomacy (the Geneva II process) and limitations on assistance to the armed opposition.

The war could indeed have a military outcome, and in light of current trends, that outcome could be a regime victory. The outlines of a regime strategy for winning the war are visible. This strategy hinges on the staying power of the regime and its allies, the generation of adequate forces, operational success, and continued divisions within rebel forces. It is subject to serious constraints, especially limitations on the size and effectiveness of regime and associated forces, and "game changers" could alter its course. But a regime victory is possible -- and that is what the regime is counting on.

Strategic Principles

The regime fights its war under three broad strategic principles. The first entails using whatever level of violence it believes is necessary to defeat the armed opposition and break the will of its civilian supporters. No doubt, this process has involved incremental but continuous escalation to higher levels of violence in the face of increasing armed opposition. Read more ..


Israelis and Palestinians

Gush Etzion Doctor Brings Hope and Care to Ailing Palestinians

January 5th 2014

Doctor-Patient-Syrian

On a day where snow still covers the Judean hills, a Jewish doctor from Efrat drives into the neighboring Palestinian village called Wadi Nis. He is greeted by the local Palestinian villagers with smiles and warm hellos. “There’s the doctor,” says one Palestinian woman to another as Dr. Yitzchak Glick lowers his car window to say hello.

To the villagers of Wadi Nis and six other Palestinian villages in the Gush Etzion region, the kippah-wearing Dr. Glick is a familiar and welcome face. The U.S.-born doctor, who made aliyah with his parents in 1974, makes personal house calls every week, providing medical treatment to ailing Palestinians free of charge.

When Dr. Glick sees Mohammed, a construction worker who he treated for injuries from a fall from a building a couple of years ago, he stops to get out of the car. With his red keffiyeh, Mohammed greets Dr. Glick with a hug and the two converse as old-time buddies. “The people here don’t forget what I and other doctors from Efrat have done – from treating expectant mothers and providing free medicine to saving lives, you become part of their families.” Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

The Syrian Regime's Military Solution to the War

January 5th 2014

al-Assad and Generals

It has become commonplace to say that "there is no military solution" to the conflict in Syria. That claim, invoked by Western officials including the U.S. secretary of state, is used to justify an emphasis on diplomacy (the Geneva II process) and limitations on assistance to the armed opposition.

The war could indeed have a military outcome, and in light of current trends, that outcome could be a regime victory. The outlines of a regime strategy for winning the war are visible. This strategy hinges on the staying power of the regime and its allies, the generation of adequate forces, operational success, and continued divisions within rebel forces. It is subject to serious constraints, especially limitations on the size and effectiveness of regime and associated forces, and "game changers" could alter its course. But a regime victory is possible -- and that is what the regime is counting on. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

A Purported UK 'Peace' Festival Supported by Palestinian Terrorists

January 5th 2014

St. James Church supports the lie that the wall exists not to save Israeli lives but to subjugate Palestinian ones. Its replica of the security barrier has not managed to bring people together; it has only legitimized the extremism of the Holy Land Trust and the terror links of Interpal. In reality, it is Israel's security barrier that is an example of truly non-violent resistance.

Just off London's famous Piccadilly Circus stands St. James Church, a historic building designed by Christopher Wren and consecrated in 1684. Last week, upon this hallowed ground, St. James Church built an enormous 26-foot replica of Israel's security barrier, at a reputed cost of £30,000 ($50,000).

The replica barrier is the main feature of a twelve-day festival organized by a coalition group called "Bethlehem Unwrapped." The festival is apparently "inspired by the cultural movement in Bethlehem known as 'Beautiful Resistance' in which Palestinians express their determination peacefully and creatively to resist injustice." Read more ..


America on Edge

American Freedoms Under Seige by Eavedropping Federal Government

January 4th 2014

As must appear self-evident to both historians and astute observers by now, the United States, in its history, has had a rather facile and at times acrimonious relationship to the idea of domestic democracy (If this is not self-evident, see Noam Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival, along with Failed States. For a specific analysis of this observation applied to the USA Patriot Act, see my A User’s Guide to the USA Patriot Act). What is seldom noticed, however, is the speed with which the U.S. has moved from a liberal democracy to, at best, an authoritarian government.

To demonstrate this rapid movement in U.S. government, we will use as a base Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” address to Congress, on January 6, 1941. By all rights, and regardless of FDR’s real intent (some say it was to garner support for U.S. involvement in WWII), very few would doubt that his elucidated four freedoms form an important base for understanding liberal democracy. Here are FDR’s own words, quoted at length: Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

How Long Have Humans Dominated Earth

January 4th 2014

T-Rex (AMNH)

Want to know when the Anthropocene started exactly? It will only cost an entirely revamped scientific effort in archaeology, ecology and paleontology, among other disciplines, at an unprecedented planetary scale, according to a new paper calling for such a scheme.

The putative start date for what scientists have begun to call the Anthropocene—a newly defined epoch in which humanity is the dominant force on the planet—ranges widely. Some argue that humans began changing the global environment about 50,000 years back, in the Pleistocene epoch, helping along if not outright causing the mass extinctions of megafauna, from mammoths to giant kangaroos, on most continents. Others date it to the emergence of agriculture some 7,000 years ago. The most definitive cases to be made coincide with the start of the industrial revolution and the dawn of the atomic age. The beginnings of burning fossil fuels to power machines in the 19th century initiated a change in the mix of atmospheric gases , and the first nuclear weapon test on July 16, 1945, spread unique isotopes across the globe. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Rocky Road to Nuclear Deal

January 4th 2014

Rowhani

Since the October start of nuclear talks in Geneva, two distinct trends have marked the periphery: (1) a premature push for political and economic outreach to the Iranian government by European countries, particularly Italy; and (2) efforts by the Majlis to regulate the content of a nuclear deal -- through legislation that could upend the final accord if it fails to guarantee specific “rights,” including set levels of uranium enrichment, and safeguard the continued construction and operation of key facilities including those at Fordow, Natanz, and Arak. Most recently, this has been manifested in a January 2 report of the addition of two Majlis deputies (or parliamentarians) to the negotiating team.

Rouhani: Italy “Gateway to Iran's Interaction with Europe”

From December 21 to 23 -- in the company of twenty journalists -- Italian foreign minister Emma Bonino became the first European foreign minister in a decade to pay a state visit to Tehran. The trip followed a flurry of diplomatic exchanges between the two countries, including the visit of an Italian deputy foreign minister to Iran only three days after Hassan Rouhani's inauguration as president; a November stopover in Rome by Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif; and, only a week before Bonino's arrival, a Tehran visit by former Italian prime minister -- and former foreign minister -- Massimo D'Alema. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Officials Warn Bakken Crude May Pose Greater Flammability Risk

January 4th 2014

oil shale

Crude oil coming out of the Bakken formation in North Dakota might be more flammable than previously thought, U.S. officials said.

Rail derailments have become a somewhat frequent event in North Dakota. On Monday, the latest accident set off a series of explosions and left 21 railcars ablaze. Residents of Casselton, N.D. were asked to evacuate early Tuesday morning.

The recent derailment is the fourth in North America over a span of six months, prompting the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to issue a safety alert on Thursday. The alert warned the public, emergency responders and carriers that Bakken crude oil might be more likely to set off an explosion than other types of crude.   Read more ..


Europe on Edge

Four 'Black Sheep' Presidencies To Watch In 2014

January 4th 2014

euro flags

January 1 marked more than the start of a new year. It was also the day that many institutions handed over their rotating presidencies from one country to another. Sometimes it's a good fit. Sometimes...not so much. RFE/RL looks at four odd presidencies to watch in 2014.

GREECE -- EU
The European Union has spent the past three years bailing out Greece, providing, together with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), more than $320 billion in loans and aid to save the struggling Mediterranean economy from complete collapse. So there's a certain irony to the fact that for the next six months, Athens will hold the EU Presidency -- even as the 28-member bloc moves to decide whether to extend yet another aid package to Greece. Read more ..


The Afghan War

Why Are We Still in Afghanistan?

January 4th 2014

US Military In Afghanistan

Fifty years not-so-long ago, under the umbrella of the Cold War, we were embroiled in the quicksand—“quagmire” was the term of choice—of Vietnam. By 1965, with upward of half a million troops “in-country,” skeptics and critics began to seriously question the war.

The U.S. government, however, countered with the “domino theory,” contending that unless stopped in Vietnam, hordes of Chinese-led communists would overrun Southeast Asia, leapfrog to Japan, the Philippines, and eventually Hawaii and the beaches of La Jolla. But no dominoes fell.

The government’s response nevertheless proved effective, and such arguments are used today, foisted on a passive, apathetic public, and serviced by a compliant media. The rationale is as bankrupt as 50 years ago.

Historical analogies are treacherous, yet the past can inform subsequent events. In Vietnam, we had Nguyen Ngo Diem—“the George Washington of Southeast Asia”—and his family as our allies, but more often than not resistant to our will. Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, for peculiar reasons of his own, likes to appear as an ingrate, adept at ignoring our advice, and undoubtedly corrupt. Most of all, both interventions have had little to do with our national interests.

At the end of the Vietnam adventure, we tried briefly to exact some meaning, some lessons in the hope that we would not repeat the same mistakes. First and foremost, we had to understand and accept the limits of American power. In vain. Vietnam has been ignored other than with public displays for recognition of veterans and of those permanently impaired by the war. The Vietnam Wall signifies our human sacrifices, not the loss of national sensibility. A sizable number of veterans not surprisingly recall battles as glorious adventures; indeed, to question the war or suggest that we lost in terms of stated goals is to verge on the unpatriotic. Read more ..


History on Edge

How to Get Funding for Public History

January 4th 2014

Abraham Lincoln

In an age of budget cuts, how can public history programs emerge victorious in the continuous struggle for funding?

By doing what public history does best, says Paul Ortiz, associate professor of history at the University of Florida and director of the Samuel Proctor oral history project: sending students out into local communities, building bridges, emphasizing hard skills, and above all aggressively advocating for resources.

“We've made the argument to administrators,” he said Thursday in a session at the American Historical Association annual meeting, “that public history is actually a STEM field of sorts, because students learn skills about social networking, writing, researching, and audio/visual production.”

Ortiz was a presenter at a panel entitled “Public Universities and the Need to Rethink Public History,” where he discussed, along with his co-panelists, the various public history initiatives at his school and successful strategies to get funding and expand public history programs.

Ortiz's department at the University of Florida released in October Siempre Adelante a feature-length documentary on the lives of Latin American immigrants in Alachua County, Florida, which received funding from both local and national grants and significant support from the community in and around Gainsville. Students were heavily involved in the production.

Jennifer Brier, who teaches at the University of Illinois Chicago, takes a different approach. Her Chicago history project, History Moves, is still on the drawing board, but has received nearly $60,000 in funding. The concept is disarmingly simple: a public history project on wheels, likely housed in a converted cargo container. The project will document the history of segregation in twentieth-century Chicago. Read more ..


Egypt After Morsi

Egypt: A Tinderbox Waiting for a Spark

January 4th 2014

Egypt Protests

Nearly six months after the mass uprising-cum-coup that toppled Mohammed Morsi, the key cleavages of Egypt’s domestic political conflict are not only unresolved, but unresolvable. The generals who removed Morsi are engaged in an existential struggle with the Muslim Brotherhood: They believe they must destroy the Brotherhood -- by, for instance, designating it a terrorist organization -- or else the Brotherhood will return to power and destroy them.

Meanwhile, Sinai-based jihadists have used Morsi’s removal as a pretext for intensifying their violence, and have increasingly hit targets west of the Suez Canal. Even the Brotherhood’s fiercest opponents are fighting among themselves: the coalition of entrenched state institutions and leftist political parties that rebelled against Morsi is fraying, and the youth activists who backed Morsi’s ouster in July are now protesting against the military-backed government, which has responded by arresting their leaders. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Whither Vladimir Putin in 2014?

January 4th 2014

At a press conference back in September 2013, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made a seemingly throwaway remark that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could avoid outside military intervention by giving up all his chemical weapons.

The same day, Russia's President Vladimir Putin seized the diplomatic initiative by calling on his longtime ally to do just that, paving the way for a deal that may have prevented major military action and unpredictable instability in the Middle East.

"Putin Takes Advantage Of Kerry Blunder," the headlines blared. Purely in terms of visuals, Putin came out looking like a global peacemaker against the background of a bellicose United States.

And it wasn't just in the Syria crisis that Putin looked like a foreign-policy maestro. From the ongoing story of whistle-blowing former U.S. National Security Agency consultant Edward Snowden to Armenia and Ukraine's abrupt U-turns on their European-integration ambitions in favor of closer ties with Moscow, 2013 seemed to be a gift bag of victories for the Russian president. Read more ..


Geopolitical Edge

Hope and Change for the EU in 2014

January 4th 2014

Click to select Image

The new year will see a changing of the guard in Brussels, with top posts at NATO and the major European institutions changing hands.

NATO will get a new secretary-general; new presidents will be sought for the EU Commission, the European Council, and the European Parliament; and hopefuls will jostle to succeed Catherine Ashton as the EU's foreign-policy chief.

Three of these posts -- European Commission president, European Council president, and EU foreign-policy chief -- are interlinked. The successful candidates should reflect a geographical, gender, and party-political balance and they should also be ready to give up their national careers back home. The NATO secretary-general is not directly part of this equation but it's unlikely that he or she will come from the same country as any of the three above. Read more ..


The Healthy Edge

Relax, Cheerios Cereal Has No Genetically Modified Ingredients

January 4th 2014

Genetically modified ingredients have been eliminated from one of the best-known breakfast cereals in the United States after a year-long campaign from environmental groups.

Food industry giant General Mills says it took genetically modified organisms (GMOs) out of its Cheerios brand not out of safety concerns, but in response to consumer demands.

Starting a little over a year ago, The “GMO Inside” environmental coalition rallied tens of thousands of consumers to flood the Cheerios Facebook page and call and email the company telling them to take GMOs out of the cereal.

“We just wanted to encourage General Mills to offer non-GMO Cheerios to consumers here in the United States just like they do in Europe,” said Todd Larsen, a coalition member with Green America. “And apparently tens of thousands of people agreed with us.” Read more ..


Iraq on Edge

The Resurgence of Al-Qaeda in Iraq

January 4th 2014

Oil fields near Ramadi

I have paid close attantion to the subject of Al-Qaeda in Iraq throughout the last decade. Like others, I was disheartened to watch the group grow from 2003-2006 and relieved to see it crash and burn in 2006-2009. I was saddened but not surprised to watch it rebound strongly from 2010 onwards. Indeed since the autumn of 2010 I have been warning all who would listen that the group was poised to make a comeback.

Since 2004, I have worked in all the Iraqi provinces and most of the country’s hundred districts, including some of those where Al-Qaeda is strongest. I have worked alongside the Iraqi security forces, the U.S. military and the reconstruction community as they battled Al-Qaeda. It is my firm belief that Al-Qaeda’s resurgence was both predictable and preventable. I believe just as firmly that the counter-terrorism situation in Iraq is still recoverable. We defeated Al-Qaeda in Iraq just five years ago, comprehensively dismantling their networks and propaganda campaigns. In the coming years the United States can help Iraq to do it again. Read more ..


Broken Intelligence

NSA's Code-Breaking Quantum Computer

January 4th 2014

Click to select Image

Quantum computers that can perform vast numbers of calculations simultaneously may be closer to science fiction than reality, but previously unpublished documents indicate the secretive U.S. National Security Agency is working hard to build a real quantum supercomputer, powerful enough to decode virtually every form of encryption now known.

Such a computer, many times faster than today’s fastest machines, could easily solve codes now considered "unbreakable" - the type of ciphers currently used worldwide by scientific and financial institutions and governments to protect their data.

The basic principle of quantum computing is a physical phenomenon that is not yet fully understood: certain subatomic particles can simultaneously exist in two different states. A conventional computer works with binary "bits" of information that are represented as either zero or one; quantum bits could be both zero and one simultaneously. Read more ..


Broken Government

Deadlocked Congress Faces Big Job in 2014

January 4th 2014

Statistics show that last year’s session of Congress was the least productive in history, with the Democratic-led Senate and the Republican-led House of Representatives far apart on most critical issues. Now, lawmakers are heading back to Capitol Hill for a fresh start in 2014, with plenty of unfinished business to take care of, including passing a Farm Bill, raising the debt ceiling and dealing with immigration reform.

Activists for immigration reform, like these hunger strikers, are likely to keep the pressure on the House of Representatives to take up the issue. The Senate passed a wide-reaching immigration reform bill last year. House Speaker John Boehner said he realizes reform is necessary. “The only way to make sure immigration reform works this time is to address these complicated issues one step at a time. I think doing so will give the American people confidence that we’re dealing with these issues in a thoughtful way and a deliberative way,” he said. Read more ..


Book Review

John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War

January 3rd 2014

The Brothers

The Brothers. Stephen Kinzer. Times Books. 2013. 416 pp.

In one of the most compelling pieces of twentieth century political art, Glorious Victory, Diego Rivera depicts Secretary of State John Foster Dulles shaking hands over a pile of dead corpses with Castillo Armas who deposed Guatemala’s left-leaning President Jacobo Arbenz in a 1954 coup. CIA director Allen Dulles stands next to the pair, his satchel full of cash, while Dwight Eisenhower’s face is pictured in a bomb.

Stephen Kinzer’s book, The Brothers, provides a detailed portrait of the Dulles brothers, who dominated foreign policy making in the 1950s and helped transform the CIA from an “intelligence agency that carried out occasional clandestine plots into a global force ceaselessly engaged in paramilitary and regime change campaigns.”Along with Guatemala’s Operation PBSuccess, the brothers orchestrated the overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh after he threatened to nationalize Iran’s oil industry, backed a separatist rebellion against Indonesia’s socialist prime minister and a vicious counterinsurgency against agrarian reformers in Philippines, molded a secret army in Laos after rigging elections, and built up a police state in South Vietnam after boycotting the Geneva conference. The brothers also sanctioned assassination attempts against Fidel Castro and Patrice Lumumba, trained opium-growing soldiers in an attempt to undermine Maoist China and sent Saudi soldiers into the oil-rich Buraimi Oasis in the Persian Gulf which they sought to wrest control of from Great Britain.

To pull all of this off, the brothers bought off congressmen, set up dummy corporations, planted stories in the press, and drummed up fears about the Soviet “threat,” which historians now recognize to have been exaggerated. CIA agent Harry Rositzke wrote that “the image of [the Soviet Union promoted by the Dulles’] was an illusion. The specter of a powerful Russia was remote from the reality of a country weakened by war, with a shattered economy, an overtaxed civilian and military bureaucracy and large areas of civil unrest.” Read more ..


Broken Intelligence

Napolitano: No Clemency for Edward Snowden

January 3rd 2014

Snowden

Former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Friday that she “would not put clemency on the table” for NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

“I think Snowden has exacted quite a bit of damage and did it in a way that violated the law,” Napolitano said in an interview airing on "Meet the Press" this Sunday.

She said damage from Snowden’s actions will be seen for years to come.
Asked if the administration should consider a deal that would allow Snowden to avoid jail time in return for unreleased documents, Napolitano said she couldn't judge without knowing what information the former defense contractor still had.

“But from where I sit today, I would not put clemency on the table at all,” she said. The New York Times and another former Obama administration official are among the voices calling for Snowden to be given a break. Read more ..


Amerrica and Israel

Will Israel and the U.S. Break Up over Iran?

January 3rd 2014

Obama pointing finger at Netanyahu

Israel begins 2014 facing a truly Dickensian moment -- enjoying the best of times while staring at the worst of times.

Since Jewish DNA tends to accentuate the negative, let's first focus on the positive: the amazing resilience Israel has shown in the face of global economic adversity and the remarkable calm with which Israel has faced the regional chaos swirling around it.

First, the economy: If your early memories of Israel, like mine, included exasperating trips to Soviet-style banks to buy just enough shekels to get through the night, fearing the investment would lose half its value by sunrise, it is mind-boggling to think that Israel today has one of the strongest currencies in the world. That is a reflection of Israel's economic miracle. As former ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren was fond of recalling, this miracle extends to such feats of technological and entrepreneurial chutzpah as exporting wine to France and caviar to Russia. Last summer, Israel achieved the highest cultural status in Western civilization when an Israeli brand of hummus was named the official dip of the National Football League. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Obamacare: Yes, There's Plenty in It For You

January 3rd 2014

Child with leukemia

The White House did not receive much holiday cheer about Obamacare last week from public opinion pollsters, even though millions of Americans already are benefiting from the law. The numbers show just how big the disconnect is between the reality of what’s occurred in health care since Congress passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010 and the perception that people have of the law resulting from the relentless campaign of misinformation from the president’s opponents.

According to an Associated Press online survey, more people had unfavorable opinions of the law than favorable ones, with many people who have insurance through their employers blaming the law for the hike in premiums and deductibles they’ve been told to expect for next year.

The one thing that was clear from the survey is that most Americans have not yet heard about how the law already is helping them. Many of the respondents also appear to have short-term memory problems. They seem to have forgotten that  premiums and deductibles have been going up, often by double digits, every year for at least a couple of decades.  The reality is that the rate of premium increases since Obama signed the Affordable Care Act has been lower than in many previous years. Read more ..


The Coal Problem

Court Sides with Law Firm in Black Lung Case, but Finds Actions 'Hardly Admirable'

January 3rd 2014

Coal

A federal appeals court ruled Friday that the withholding of evidence by a prominent coal industry law firm in a black lung benefits case, while “hardly admirable,” did not reach the extraordinary level of “fraud on the court.”

In its decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed with an administrative appeals board that the actions of the law firm Jackson Kelly PLLC didn’t amount to a carefully orchestrated scheme that undermined the integrity of the entire judicial process — a standard, the court said, that wouldn’t be met even by perjury or fabricated evidence.

The court, however, did not address whether the conduct constituted basic fraud — a key question to be resolved in an ongoing civil suit in West Virginia state court.

The case involved the claim of miner Gary Fox for federal black lung benefits, which was featured in the Center for Public Integrity series Breathless and Burdened. Fox lost a claim in 2001 after lawyers at Jackson Kelly withheld two reports from pathologists of their own choosing that found a sample of Fox’s lung tissue consistent with the most severe form of black lung, known as complicated coal workers’ pneumoconiosis. The firm instead allowed its consulting physicians to rely on a report from a hospital pathologist who had made a vague diagnosis after a procedure meant to rule out cancer, apparently unaware that Fox was a miner.

Fox was unable to find a lawyer and had no idea the other reports, written by prominent experts whose opinions commonly aided coal companies, existed. He had little choice but to return to work, his health steadily deteriorating until he had to retire in 2006. Read more ..


The Future Edge

An Asimov-Style Question For 2014: What Will Life Be Like In 2064?

January 3rd 2014

Terminator Robot

In 1964, Isaac Asimov -- the author of such science fiction classics as "I, Robot" and "The End of Eternity" -- attended the World's Fair in New York.

The fair featured a display dedicated to advances in electrical appliances since the start of the 20th century. And it left Asimov asking himself a question: what further advances would the world see 50 years on?

His resulting essay, "Visit To The World's Fair Of 2014," was in many ways prescient. Asimov, among other things, predicted a world of 3D movies, cordless home appliances, driverless cars, and screens that allow you to make video phone calls, read books, or study documents.

Other forecasts, meanwhile, have yet to be realized. Asimov predicted that by 2014, much of humanity would be living underground or underwater to maximize the use of the Earth's surface for agricultural production. He imagined robots that would tend gardens, and cars that would hover over roads rather than driving directly on them. Read more ..


Iraq on Edge

What's Behind The Fighting In Iraq?

January 3rd 2014

Iraqi Forces

Iraqi security forces have been waging a fierce battle with Al-Qaeda-linked militants in the lawless west of the country.

Militants have seized control of large parts of Ramadi and Fallujah, two Sunni cities in Anbar Province that were once strongholds for militants fighting against U.S. forces. Sunni tribesmen in the region have taken up arms and have been fighting on both sides.

Militants have overrun police stations, seized military posts, freed prisoners, and swept through the streets of the two cities. Government forces have pounded militant positions, but have met stiff resistance.

The heavy fighting, which has left dozens dead, comes amid mounting sectarian tensions between minority Sunnis and the Shi'ite-led government. Violence in the country has surged to levels not witnessed since 2007, during the height of sectarian fighting.

Who are the main actors in the fighting?
Several players are involved in the current fighting in Anbar Province. The Iraqi national security forces are clearly on one side, while the local Al-Qaeda branch -- known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant -- and its allies are on the other. Read more ..


California State University Denounces the American Studies Association

January 3rd 2014

The California State University denounces the resolution calling for an academic boycott of the higher education institutions in Israel, which was issued by the American Studies Association and has been supported by other organizations. Academic boycotts violate the basic tenets of higher education including academic freedom and scholarly dialog. Boycotts attempt to limit the unfettered creation, discovery and dissemination of knowledge vital to our tripartite mission of research, teaching and service. These characteristics are essential to preparing students with the analytical and critical thinking skills to lead in business, community, educational and civic organizations.”

Timothy P. White is Chancellor of California State University.


The Battle for Syria

Syria Misses Chemical Weapons Deadline

January 3rd 2014

Syrian Chemical Weapons

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the UN said Saturday that Syria would fail to deliver its first shipment of chemical weapons to the international community. Under a deal agreed to earlier this year, Damascus would to give up the "most critical" chemicals first, most notably about 20 tons of mustard nerve agent. Russian trucks from 12 storage sites around Syria were supposed to have transported these chemical compounds to the northern port of Latakia by December 31st.

A joint OPCW-UN statement blames the missed deadline on a number of factors. First, fighting and insecurity have constrained chemical shipments; the Syrian government set restrictions for moving nerve agents when rebel fighters are nearby. Additionally, inclement weather and obscurely phrased, "logistical challenges," have prevented delivery of chemicals to the port. One such "challenge" might be limited Syrian government control of the main highways linking the chemical sites with the ports. Even with such conditions, the OPCW reaffirms that Damascus retains "the ultimate responsibility" for turning over its chemicals to the international community for destruction. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Israel Releases More Palestinian Prisoners

January 3rd 2014

Prison bars

Israeli officials released 26 Palestinian prisoners into the West Bank and Gaza on Tuesday, where they were met with cheering crowds. The latest amnesty for Palestinian inmates marks one step in a wider U.S. backed peace initiative and comes a day before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry returns to the region.

Tuesday's commuting of sentences is the third of four stages where over 100 inmates will be released from Israeli jails. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu committed to pardoning prisoners last July as part of a confidence boosting measure with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. All of those released were convicted of killing Israelis before the 1993 Oslo peace accord. Palestinians raised national flags and held posters to show their support for prisoners held in Israeli jails on December 28. Read more ..


Backlash Against Israel Boycott Puts American Studies Associastion on Defensive

January 3rd 2014

American Studies Association logo

With its recent vote to boycott Israel's higher-education institutions to protest that nation's treatment of Palestinians, the American Studies Association has itself become the target of widespread criticism and ostracism. It has gone from relative obscurity to prominence as a pariah of the American higher-education establishment, its experience serving as a cautionary tale for other scholarly groups that might consider taking similar stands on the Middle East.

In sharp contrast to the international campaign for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel, which had been slow to gain a foothold in the United States, the campaign to rebuke the American Studies Association has spread rapidly since the group's mid-December boycott vote. The presidents of more than 80 American colleges have condemned the boycott as an assault on the free exchange of ideas. Read more ..


The Race for Nuclear

"Cheap" Nuclear Power a Myth, Suggests Economist

January 3rd 2014

Nuclear Waste

The long-touted economic benefits of using nuclear energy may turn out to have been a pipe dream for customers of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and other nuclear plants nationwide, according to newly released findings from economic analyst Mark Cooper of the Vermont Law School Institute for Energy and the Environment.

Missing from calculations regarding the true cost of nuclear energy, Cooper says, are the dollars spent by consumers dealing with the long-term storage of radioactive waste generated by power plant reactors. According to his research, such overlooked expenses increase the cost of nuclear power by at least $10 and by as much as $20 per megawatt hour — the federal Energy Information Administration says that as of 2012, total nuclear costs were $25.48 to produce the equivalent amount of energy. Read more ..


The Cyber Edge

Cyber Security Concerns Soar in 2014

January 3rd 2014

Cyber Warfare

According to Israel's Institute for National Security Studies, the year ahead is one that should be filled with cyber security awareness. A wrap up from the INNS.

USA: U.S. Federal agencies to hire more cyber defenders in 2014

The Washington Post published on December 23, 2013, while some agencies may see staffing reductions to cut costs, one area of federal growth is cyber security. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in charge of preserving the federal civilian ".gov" domain, are quick to hire illustrated by recent legislation. The latest proposed amendment to the Homeland Security Act of 2002, requires the DHS secretary to regularly asses the readiness and capacity of the agency's cyber workforce to meet its cyber security mission and develop a comprehensive strategy to enhance readiness, capacity, training, recruitment and retention of the cyber workforce, including a five-year recruitment plan and 10-year projection of workforce needs. By contrast, the Pentagon seems to be having more success staffing the U.S. Cyber Command and uniformed services cyber command, primarily because they can commandeer uniformed personnel. Read more ..


Book Review

The Life and Films of Hollywood's Most Celebrated Director

January 2nd 2014

William Wyler

William Wyler. Gabriel Miller. University Press of Kentucky. 2013. 520 pp.

It is surprising that Hollywood filmmaker William Wyler is not better known today. In a career that stretched from the 1920s to 1970, Wyler directed such critically acclaimed and commercially successful films as Jezebel (1939), The Little Foxes (1941), Mrs. Miniver (1942), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Detective Story (1951), Friendly Persuasion (1956), Ben-Hur (1959), and Funny Girl (1968). Wyler won three Academy Awards for Best Director with twelve nominations, while his actors earned thirteen Oscars. Yet, Wyler’s name is not nearly as recognizable today as Alfred Hitchcock, “the master of suspense,” or John Ford, who directed such Westerns as The Searchers (1956). Gabriel Miller, professor of English at Rutgers University and the author of several books on American cinema, argues that Wyler’s lack of recognition is due to the eclectic nature of his film subjects which ranged from Westerns to historical epics to filmed versions of Broadway plays and musicals. Thus, Miller laments that film critics have failed to consider Wyler as an auteur as his body of work failed to revisit or expand upon a set of abiding themes.

In his examination of Wyler’s life and films, Millers begs to differ with these critics and presents a strong case for Wyler as one of Hollywood’s greatest auteurs. While Orson Welles and cinematographer Gregg Toland are often credited with introducing the concept of deep focus, in which both the foreground and background are in clear focus, with Citizen Kane (1941), Miller argues that the cinematic technique was already prominently displayed in the cinema of Wyler, who carefully positioned his actors “to indicate the complexity of their emotional and psychological relationships” (6). In exploring repressed emotions, Wyler often employed narrow, cramped interior spaces and used staircases to demonstrate the power or authoritative position of characters. In addition, the director preferred properties such as popular plays, which guaranteed an audience and a dose of melodrama so that he could introduce his manipulation of space. Realism and story construction allowed Wyler to get excellent performances from his actors. Nevertheless, Miller observes that Wyler’s demands for perfection and multiple takes proved taxing for many stars. Nevertheless, Bette Davis proclaimed that the final product was well worth the stress of working with Wyler. Miller also finds a thematic consistency in the diverse film projects pursued by Wyler. Arguing that Wyler was a liberal with a strong interest in politics and social issues, Miller concludes, “From the early 1930s, Wyler was either planning or directing films that tackled such issues as capitalism, class struggle, war and pacifism, and repressive politics, notably the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)” (13). Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Terrorists will not Triumph, says IOC president

January 2nd 2014

Chechen jihadis

Responding to two recent terrorist bombings in Russia, the International Olympic Committee's new president, Thomas Bach of Germany, has insisted "Sochi 2014 is for athletic achievements and terrorism must never triumph" in his New Year's Day message on Wednesday.

Bach, who had succeeded France's Jacques Rogge to become the ninth IOC chief, blasted the terrorists for their suicide bomb attacks which left more than 34 Russians dead. Security experts say that the attacks were a warning of what can be expected as Russia gears up to host the Winter Olympics in less than six weeks.

Despite the terrorist bombings, Bach claimed in his New Year's message that he firmly believes that the Russian government, police and military will "deliver a safe and secure Olympic Winter Games for all athletes and all participants and we must ensure that nothing interferes with them [the athletes] realizing their full potential in the world's biggest sports event."

Read more ..

The Edge of Healthcare

Patch Outperforms Holter for Prolonged Heart Rhythm Tracking

January 2nd 2014

heart patient hospital doctor health

Research by the Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI) has found that a small adhesive wireless device worn on the chest for up to two weeks does a better job detecting abnormal and potentially dangerous heart rhythms than the Holter monitor, which is typically used for 24 hours and has been the standard of care for more than 50 years.

The findings suggest that the ZIO Service — which includes the ZIO Patch, data analysis and a diagnostic report provided by device maker iRhythm Technologies of
San Francisco — could replace the Holter monitor as the preferred method of tracking electrical heart activity in ambulatory patients.

“This is the first large prospective validation that this new technology superseded the device invented by Norman Holter in 1949,” said study senior author Eric Topol, MD, a cardiologist who directs STSI and serves as the chief academic officer of Scripps Health. “By tracking every heart beat for up to two weeks, the ZIO Service proved to be significantly more sensitive than the standard Holter, which uses multiple wires and typically is only used or tolerated for 24 hours. Read more ..



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