The Euro Crisis
|George Friedman||March 22nd 2012|
|German Chancellor Angela Merkel|
Among the core economies of the eurozone, Germany is the most important member, but it (as well as France and the Netherlands, the other core countries) will face strong political challenges in the coming months.
The signing of the European Union's fiscal compact and a decision on an increase of the bailout funds are of wider European importance and will show how strong Germany's coalition government is. While Berlin demands greater fiscal responsibility from other countries, support for such measures within Germany will be tested in regional elections.
Germany is the eurozone's largest economy and the most important to the stability of the euro. Germany is one of the four remaining AAA-rated countries in the eurozone (the others being the Netherlands, Finland and Luxembourg) and the largest guarantor in the two European bailout funds. In the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), Germany guarantees nearly 30 percent of the total 726 billion euros ($957 billion). Berlin will guarantee 27 percent of the paid-in capital (80 billion euros) and guarantees (620 billion euros) in the new European Stability Mechanism (ESM). By spreading its economic influence across the rest of Europe through the common market and common currency, Germany creates more domestic wealth and weakens less-competitive European economies. Read more ..
Middle East on Edge
|Armstrong Williams||March 22nd 2012|
Cutting Edge Conservative Commentator
This is an incredibly tenuous time in the Middle East: the al-Assad regime is killing its own citizens in Syria; Hezbollah has tens of thousands of rockets aimed at Israel that could be launched on orders from its patron Iran; Iran is racing toward nuclear capability in defiance of the world; the Muslim Brotherhood in power in Egypt; et cetera. The Arab Spring has created great uncertainty rather than pacifying the region. The U.S. has finally brought most of its troops home from Iraq, but Iraq’s democracy is tenuous at best and Iran continues to pull many strings within its long-time rival. All this uncertainty has made Israel are the more a target of regional derision. Without the Mubarak regime to keep Egypt calm, and King Abullah of Jordan facing increased pressure to reform (i.e., become for radically Islamic), Israel is increasingly alone. However, we know that Israel will ultimately do whatever it feels it has to do in order to protect itself.
It is not surprising that Israel told the U.S. that it is not going to update the U.S. as to its actions and intention. This makes sense so that Israel is not in a position of having to ask permission, as well as making it clear that the Obama Administration is not seen as having given a green light if Israel does decide to launch a pre-emptive strike. We call this having your cake and eating it to. Diplomacy demands that we not openly support Israel bombing Iran, yet we continue to hope they will solve the problem for us. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Soner Cagaptay||March 22nd 2012|
Turkey's boldest response to the crisis in Syria came last week, when Prime Minister Erdogan called for the establishment of humanitarian aid corridors to help civilians there. But those hoping that Ankara's aggressive rhetoric will soon be matched by equally assertive action will be sorely disappointed. If Turkey has one priority these days, it's maintaining its soft power and popularity within the Middle East -- and any sort of military intervention involving Turkish boots on the ground in Syria would directly undermine that.
A recent survey by TESEV, an Istanbul-based think tank that measures perceptions of Turkey in the Middle East, encapsulates Ankara's dilemma in Syria. According to the poll, Turkey is the Middle East's favorite country: A whopping 78 percent of the people across the region say they like Turkey more than any other country. Iran, Ankara's only political and military competitor in the region, gets 45 percent, while the United States receives a mere 33 percent.
What explains Ankara's rise in popularity? It stems from Turkey's successful projection of soft power across the Middle East over the past decade. Turkish products, which dominate shops across the region, have brought Turkey clout the way Japanese cars ushered in global respect for Japan in the 1970s and 1980s. And Turkish soap operas depicting emancipated women against the background of a modern and functioning society have likewise appealed to the region's population, suggesting an appealing social model that is within reach. "Most people in the Middle East view Turkey's accomplishments as being replicable," an Arab friend of mine suggested to me. "Turkey was once like us, and that is why we like it, for it suggests a way forward." Read more ..
The Arab Winter in Egypt
|Barry Rubin||March 22nd 2012|
Reality: Those who are, or will soon be, governing Egypt view themselves as being at war with Israel for all practical purposes. It matters relatively little that there is still a peace treaty. In Cairo, there are no thoughts of peace.
This is the second biggest disaster of the “Arab Spring.” The same applies to the Egyptian government’s attitude to the United States. That is the biggest disaster.
It is a disaster that U.S. policymakers and journalists have not even begun to recognize, much less counter. Same applies to the British.
Here’s the latest example. The Egyptian parliament voted unanimously to demand the expulsion of Israel’s ambassador and the halt of all natural gas exports to Israel. Isn’t going to happen? Well, not this month. Of course, the military junta is still in control, but it won’t be by the end of June. And then the deluge begins.
The mechanics of this step are especially significant. The parliament’s Arab affairs committee issued a report that stated:
“Revolutionary Egypt will never be a friend, partner or ally of the Zionist entity (Israel), which we consider to be the number one enemy of Egypt and the Arab nation. It will deal with that entity as an enemy, and the Egyptian government is hereby called upon to review all its relations and accords with that enemy.” Read more ..
|Mitchell Bard||March 22nd 2012|
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear that Israel cannot afford to wait too long before acting to stop Iran's nuclear weapons program. Meanwhile, President Obama warns that acting "prematurely" would affect U.S. interests.
This is not the first time that an American president and Israeli prime minister have disagreed and, if history is any guide, the alliance between the two countries is likely to grow stronger rather than more distant regardless of how the Iranian threat is handled.
In 1956, Israel joined Britain and France in an attack on Egypt after years of Egyptian provocations. President Eisenhower was furious because the attack took place a week before the presidential election, he wasn't consulted, and he feared the war could lead to a wider conflict that would involve the Soviets and undermine the future of the United Nations. Immediately after his reelection, he began to threaten Israel with draconian sanctions if it did not withdraw from the territory it captured. Israel capitulated and withdrew. Eisenhower's failure to demand a quid pro quo from Egypt sowed the seeds of the next war. Read more ..
Israel and Palestine
|Mitchell Bard||March 22nd 2012|
Cutting Edge Commentator
Despite intolerable security threats, a surge in terrorism, and a stymied peace process, the government of Israel continues to support the Palestinian people and invest in their future by providing crucial medical, security, and economic assistance aimed at enhancing their quality of life.
With the Palestinian Authority facing dire financial difficulties in 2011 due to a shortfall in international donations and budget mismanagement, Israel stepped up its economic collaboration to help sustain and stabilize the Palestinian economy. In concrete terms, Israel transferred more than 5 million shekels in tax revenues to the PA—an increase of nearly 6 percent from 2010. Israeli purchases from the PA rose by almost 20 percent to $815.9 million, and Israeli trade with the PA grew to nearly $4.4 billion.
Additionally, Israel provided more than 57,000 permits for Palestinians to work in Israel and for Israeli companies in the West Bank. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also adopted measures, together with the Middle East Quartet, that will help the PA better balance their budget, increase tax collection from Gaza, and reform its revenue collection system to minimize losses. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|Michael Herzog||March 22nd 2012|
The March 5 summit between President Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu marked an important milestone in the U.S.-Israeli decisionmaking process on Iran's nuclear program. The meeting helped clarify positions and narrow gaps, yet significant differences remain to be addressed in the coming months.
According to Israeli government sources, the two leaders refrained from sharpening their differing red lines on Iran. This is understandable given that neither country is likely to forsake its freedom of action on such a crucial issue. Israelis are pleased that the Iranian nuclear file has moved to the top of the U.S. and global agenda, with the international community adopting sharp sanctions for the first time. They also appreciate Obama's strong public statements rejecting containment, depicting a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to U.S. national security, pledging to keep all options on the table -- including the military one -- and, above all, respecting Israel's sovereign right to protect its vital national security interests. Such statements are important to Israeli ears because they create a sense of commitment no less significant than what is said behind closed doors.
Yet respecting Israel's sovereign rights or appearing open to Israeli requests for certain military wherewithal does not mean that Washington has given its ally a green light to strike Iran. The White House apparently reiterated its negative attitude toward a premature strike during the summit, urging Israel to allow sufficient time for sanctions and diplomacy to work first. For its part, the Israeli leadership clarified that it had not yet made a decision and would wait to see whether Iran yields to international pressure. In interviews with the Israeli media following his return from Washington, however, Netanyahu stated that the time to decide is measured "not in days or weeks, but also not in years." Read more ..
The Nanotech Edge
|Donna Hesterman||March 21st 2012|
University of Florida
The percentage of electronic waste occupying our landfills has grown at an alarming rate over the last decade, giving rise to concerns about the toxicity of components used in consumer electronics.
Researchers at the University of Florida are looking for ways to minimize environmental hazards associated with a material likely to play an increasingly important role in the manufacture of these goods in the future. The results of their most recent studies are published in the March 2012 issue of Nanotoxicology.
Carbon nanotubes are already being used in touch screens and to make smaller, more efficient transistors. And if current research to develop them for use in lithium ion batteries is successful, carbon nanotubes could become important technology for powering everything from smartphones to hybrid vehicles. But for all of the promise developers see in this emerging technology, there is also some concern.
“Depending on how the nanotubes are used, they can be toxic—exhibiting properties similar to asbestos in laboratory mice,” said Jean-Claude Bonzongo, associate professor of environmental engineering at UF’s College of Engineering. He is involved in a research collaboration with Kirk Ziegler, a UF associate professor of chemical engineering, to minimize this important material’s potential for harm.
In particular, the UF team is investigating toxicity associated with aqueous solutions of carbon nanotubes that would be used in certain manufacturing processes. Read more ..
The Edge of Archaeology
|Peter Reuell||March 21st 2012|
|Radar image of Ankgor from orbit (credit: NASA/JPL)|
A Harvard archaeologist has dramatically simplified the process of finding early human settlements by using computers to scour satellite images for the tell-tale clues of human habitation, and in the process uncovered thousands of new sites that might reveal clues to the earliest complex human societies.
As described in a paper published in March in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Jason Ur, the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences, worked with Bjoern Menze, a research affiliate in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory to develop a system that identified settlements based on a series of factors—including soil discolorations and the distinctive mounding that results from the collapse of mud-brick settlements.
Armed with that profile, Ur used a computer to examine satellite images of a 23,000 square-kilometer area of north-eastern Syria, and turned up approximately 9,000 possible settlements, an increase of “at least an order of magnitude” over what had previously been identified.
“I could do this on the ground,” Ur said, of the results of the computer-aided survey. “But it would probably take me the rest of my life to survey an area this size. With these computer science techniques, however, we can immediately come up with an enormous map which is methodologically very interesting, but which also shows the staggering amount of human occupation over the last 7,000 or 8,000 years. Read more ..
Egyptian Democracy on Edge
|Eric Trager||March 21st 2012|
The Egyptian government’s prosecution this winter of seven American democracy workers catalyzed a two-month crisis in American-Egyptian relations. But after Washington threatened to withhold $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt, the standoff swiftly subsided. The presiding judge resigned from the case, travel bans on the Americans were lifted, and most of the Americans were on their way home by the beginning of March.
This rapid turn of events surprised many Americans, but it shouldn’t have. The prosecutions targeted the Americans, but they weren’t really about them. The democracy workers had merely become pawns in a bitter domestic power struggle over Egypt’s future, in which rival groups competed by appealing to anti-Americanism.
For that reason, the crisis didn’t change America’s core interests in Egypt. But it should prompt Washington to develop a strategy for persuading the various political forces in Egypt to cooperate in pursuit of those interests rather than allowing American-sponsored efforts to become political footballs there. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Michael Beckel||March 21st 2012|
As unlimited contributions flow into super PACs this year, one man is at the center of a new effort to allow people to donate more money, to more candidates, at the national stage.
“I don’t believe government is there to limit us,” says Shaun McCutcheon.
McCutcheon is a 44-year-old general contractor in Alabama. He’s the owner, founder and president of Coalmont Electrical Development. He’s a member of the Republican Party who admits he may have a bit of a libertarian streak. And he’s also the treasurer of a super PAC called the “Conservative Action Fund.”
That's a group that spent more than $43,000 opposing House Financial Services Committee Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) in his GOP primary in Alabama, although it has mostly targeted Democrats with its attacks.
In one advertisement it produced last fall, the super PAC accused President Barack Obama of implementing “draconian laws and regulations.” And it aired another ad that featured a “surfing rabbi” and computer-animated versions of the president along with New York Democrats Anthony Weiner and David Weprin, dancing in hot dog costumes—all while successfully encouraging voters to support Republican Bob Turner in the special election to replace Weiner after his sexting scandal. Read more ..
Battle for Syria
|Martin Barillas||March 21st 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
While the Syrian opposition forces have been guilty of violence, abuse, torture - as stated in a report released by Human Rights Watch - in Homs there is "an ongoing ethnic cleansing of Christians", carried out by members of the "Brigade Faruq", which has been linked to Al Qaeda. This is according to sources in the Syrian Orthodox Church, which represents 60 percent of Christians in Syria.
Militant armed Islamists - says the sources - have managed to expel 90 percent of Christians from Homs and confiscated their homes by force. According to the sources within the Syrian Orthodox Church, the militants went door to door in the neighborhoods of Hamidiya and Bustan al-Diwan, forcing Christians to flee, without giving them the chance to take their belongings. The "Faruq Brigade" is run by armed elements of Al-Qaeda and various Wahhabi groups and includes mercenaries from Libya and Iraq. Read more ..
The Race for Wind
|Julie Chao||March 21st 2012|
A new assessment of wind energy in India by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has found that the potential for on-shore wind energy deployment is far higher than the official estimates— about 20 times and up to 30 times greater than the current government estimate of 102 gigawatts.
This landmark finding may have significant impact on India’s renewable energy strategy as it attempts to cope with a massive and chronic shortage of electricity. “The main importance of this study, why it’s groundbreaking, is that wind is one of the most cost-effective and mature renewable energy sources commercially available in India, with an installed capacity of 15 GW and rising rapidly,” says Berkeley Lab scientist Amol Phadke, the lead author of the report. Read more ..
Top executives with Oklahoma-based oil-and-gas companies are greeting President Obama’s upcoming visit with a push for approval of the entire Keystone XL pipeline, not just the Oklahoma-to-Texas portion that the White House is pledging to expedite.
That message is part of a broader open letter to Obama from the heads of four prominent independent oil-and-gas companies: Continental Resources (whose CEO is heading Mitt Romney’s energy advisory team), Chesapeake Energy, Devon Energy, and Sandridge Energy.
It comes ahead of Obama’s Thursday visit to Cushing, Okla., where he’s expected to tout plans to expedite federal permits for the southern part of TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone project.
But the administration in January rejected a cross-border permit for the bigger portion that would carry crude from Alberta’s tar sands projects (and some oil from production in North Dakota and Montana) to Gulf Coast refineries. It has invited TransCanada to reapply.
“Approval of the entire Keystone XL pipeline should happen now—not after the election. Yes, we are pleased TransCanada decided to build a critical section of the project from Cushing to the Gulf Coast. We note that this section doesn't require State Department approval. However, America's greatest benefit will come when we can transport oil from our best energy partner, Canada, and oil-rich North Dakota and Montana,” states the letter, published in The Oklahoman.
The letter is part of a wider clash between the White House and oil-and-gas companies that allege administration policies are too restrictive. Read more ..
Obama on Edge
|Shoshana Bryen||March 21st 2012|
Jewish Policy Center
Some things should be difficult—like sending your sons and daughters to war. The Founding Fathers, in their wisdom, separated the commander in chief of the force from the war-making authority; it was designed to keep the president—who is not the king or the emperor—from seeing America’s troops as his troops and deciding to send them off to do his bidding. On the other hand, while Congress can determine that the time has come to defend the country, its allies, or its interests, once that decision is made, the troops can serve only one commander in chief.
Clever system … but hold that thought.
There is temptation these days to compare our posture in Afghanistan with that of the U.S. in the waning days of Vietnam. There we took over a long guerrilla war from the French. Our goals were unclear—what did we ever want from the Vietnamese? Our enemies wanted unity under communist rule, and they were willing to fight in their homeland until they won. We were willing to fight only until we weren’t—which was obvious even to our South Vietnamese allies. We negotiated our withdrawal with people who understood that we wanted “out” more than we wanted anything else.
You can see what of this applies to Afghanistan. Read more ..
Israel and Palestine
|Jonathan Spyer||March 21st 2012|
In by far the sharpest escalation since late 2008, scores of rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel during recent days, following Israel’s killing of the Gaza-based leader of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) Zuhair al-Qaisi and one of his lieutenants. Al-Qaisi was in the last stages of planning a major terror attack when he was killed.
The rocket attacks, creating a dilemma for Gaza’s Hamas rulers, are mainly being carried out by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad with involvement from the smaller PRC.
From Hamas’s standpoint, the escalation comes at an unwelcome time. The movement is in the midst of a tricky political process whereby it is seeking to extricate itself from the regional bloc led by Iran and to realign with the Sunni rulers of Egypt and Qatar. This move comes as a result of both problems and opportunities opened up by political upheavals in the Arab world—especially the largely Islamist revolution in Egypt—and by Iran’s backing for the Syrian government’s assault on the largely Sunni Arab population in the civil war there. Read more ..
Israel on Edge
|Isi Leibler||March 21st 2012|
Special to the Cutting Edge News
I must confess I rubbed my eyes in disbelief when I read that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had accepted an invitation to be the keynote speaker at the J Street Conference Gala dinner on March 26.
By doing so, Olmert has sunk to an all-time low, not only destroying whatever remained of his battered political legacy but also shaming the State of Israel.
Let me state at the outset that I am acquainted with Olmert and once admired him. At 28, as the youngest member of Knesset, he developed a reputation, ironically as a crusader against crime and corruption. A successful fundraiser and networker, his engaging personality contributed towards making him the consummate politician. Olmert was loyal to his supporters and friends and made a distinguished contribution as health minister. I enthusiastically supported him when he was candidate for the mayor of Jerusalem, campaigning on the platform of a united city.
Let me also express the hope, for Olmert’s sake as well the reputation of Israel, that the courts will exonerate him from the charges currently confronting him. Few of us wish to see yet another former high-profile Israeli leader found guilty of corruption or consigned to prison.
Something snapped with Olmert when he effectively spurned his longstanding political roots and developed a penchant for crass political opportunism. This climaxed when he joined the Kadima bandwagon, and became one of the most enthusiastic promoters of Ariel Sharon’s devastating unilateral disengagement, paving the way for his appointment as deputy prime minister and succeeding Sharon. Read more ..
|Robert D. Kaplan||March 21st 2012|
Myanmar's ongoing liberalization and its normalization of relations with the outside world have the possibility of profoundly affecting geopolitics in Asia – and all for the better.
Geographically, Myanmar dominates the Bay of Bengal. It is where the spheres of influence of China and India overlap. Myanmar is also abundant in oil, natural gas, coal, zinc, copper, precious stones, timber and hydropower, with some uranium deposits as well. The prize of the Indo-Pacific region, Myanmar has been locked up by dictatorship for decades, even as the Chinese have been slowly stripping it of natural resources. Think of Myanmar as another Afghanistan in terms of its potential to change a region: a key, geo-strategic puzzle piece ravaged by war and ineffective government that, if only normalized, would unroll trade routes in all directions.
Ever since China's Yuan (ethnic Mongol) dynasty invaded Myanmar in the 13th century, Myanmar has been under the shadow of a Greater China, with no insurmountable geographic barriers or architectural obstacles like the Great Wall to separate the two lands -- though the Hengduan Shan range borders the two countries. At the same time, Myanmar has historically been the home of an Indian business community -- a middleman minority in sociological terms -- that facilitated the British hold on Myanmar as part of a Greater British India. Read more ..
Edge of Terrorism
|Martin Barillas||March 21st 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
The gunman suspected of killing seven people in the name of Al-Qaeda, including three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school, is expected to give himself up to police on March 21 in the French city of Toulouse, thus ending an hours-long siege in the southwestern French city.
Gas service and other utilities have been cut off at the apartment building where the suspect is currently holed up. Minutes before 12 noon local time, residents were evacuated from the building where the gunman is now holding off more than 300 police officers. Anti-terrorism teams are on hand, some members of which have been seen wearing bullet-proof gear and executioner-style black hoods to disguise their faces. President Nicolas Sarkozy has applauded French police for corralling the gunman who, on March 19 committed the most recent of his series of murders.
The alleged murderer has been identified as Mohamed Murah, a 24-year-old Muslim man of Algerian origin. A French citizen, he is believed to have been recently in Pakistan and Afghanistan, ostensibly for training. The gunman claims to be armed with a Kalashnikov automatic weapon, as well as an Israeli-made UZI automatic. Read more ..
The Race for Oil Drilling
|Stephanie Holinka||March 20th 2012|
Nearly two-thirds of the oil we use comes from wells drilled using polycrystalline diamond compact (PDC) bits, originally developed nearly 30 years ago to lower the cost of geothermal drilling. Sandia and the U.S. Navy recently brought the technology fullcircle, showing how geothermal drillers might use the original PDC technology, incorporating decades of subsequent improvements by the oil and gas industry.
Sandia and the Navy’s Geothermal Program Office (USN GPO) conducted the Phase One demonstration tests as part of a geothermal resources evaluation at the Chocolate Mountains Aerial Gunnery Range in Imperial Valley, Calif.
Sandia has a long history in geothermal research and drill bit technology development. Three decades ago, Sandia played a large role in developing PDCs for geothermal drilling. That work focused on resolving issues with materials, devising laboratory tests and developing data and design codes that now form the basis of the bit industry. Recently, Sandia received American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding to improve PDC bits, potentially increasing access to geothermal resources in the continental U.S. by enabling the drilling of deeper, hotter geothermal resources in hard, basement rock formations. Read more ..
The Race for Graphene
|Julien Happich ||March 20th 2012|
Electrochemical capacitors (ECs), also known as supercapacitors or ultracapacitors, differ from regular capacitors that you would find in your TV or computer in that they store sustantially higher amounts of charges. They have garnered attention as energy storage devices as they charge and discharge faster than batteries, yet they are still limited by low energy densities, only a fraction of the energy density of batteries.
An EC that combines the power performance of capacitors with the high energy density of batteries would represent a significant advance in energy storage technology. This requires new electrodes that not only maintain high conductivity but also provide higher and more accessible surface area than conventional ECs that use activated carbon electrodes. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Shoshana Bryen||March 20th 2012|
The Jewish Policy Center
The New York Police Department (NYPD) has been subject to harsh criticism for doing surveillance on certain Muslim organizations and neighborhoods in an effort to stay ahead of people plotting terrorism in New York. Typical is the Huffington Post blogger who wanted "tough" police surveillance, but not, mind you, of actual people or actual places that people gather; just kind of "watching" public places to see if anything develops in front of them. "The NYPD should monitor websites and publications... have officers and surveillance cameras watching in public places... radiological devices and other detection devices on our subways and bridges. And when there is a real, specific lead that suggests criminal behavior, they should follow up swiftly to investigate."
However, the terror threat (it is not "criminal behavior") morphs, and intrusive police work is necessary precisely because you don't always get a "real specific lead" before the deed is done. Italian police, for example, monitor not only websites and publications, but also individual Internet usage in ways American police do not, and yesterday it paid off. Read more ..
|Molly K. Hooper ||March 20th 2012|
A bipartisan bill on insider trading that had been steamrolling through Congress has ground to a halt.
The Senate and House last month overwhelmingly approved different versions of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle predicted some version of the bill would reach President Obama’s desk swiftly.
But what had been a legislative locomotive is now attracting something quite common in an election year: finger-pointing.
Democrats in the House and a senior Senate Republican want provisions on political intelligence added to the bill. House Republican leaders, who scrapped that part of the legislation, say it’s up to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to make a decision of whether to go to conference or pass the House-passed version. Reid, meanwhile, isn’t saying much.
On Monday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) called for a conference committee to iron out the differences with the House bill.
“Taking up the House-passed bill without the opportunity for the Senate to reassert its position with respect to these [political intelligence] provisions would be wrong. These are two of the most important and substantive provisions in the bill,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Read more ..
|Wendell Potter||March 20th 2012|
As I was reading former Wall Street executive Greg Smith’s recent bombshell of an Op-Ed in the New York Times, I mentally inserted the names of the big for-profit health insurers—two of which I worked for—in place of Goldman Sachs, where Smith worked until resigning on the day his column was published.
Smith wrote that he decided to leave Goldman-Sachs because it had veered so far from the company he had joined straight out of college that he could no longer say in good conscience “that I identify with what it stands for.”
He put the blame squarely on Goldman’s current CEO and president. It was during their watch, he wrote, that “the firm changed the very way it thought about leadership. “Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence.”
Had Smith been an executive at any one of the big investor-owned insurers that have come to control the U.S. health care system, he could have written the same thing. Read more ..
Israel on Edge
|Yaakov Lappin||March 20th 2012|
Ashdod, March 15, 3:30 PM
: I had just parked my car in the Southern Israeli city of Ashdod, near where a Palestinian rocket had earlier smashed into a main street, when the air raid siren went off again.
No matter how many times one has heard it, when the siren goes off to warn of rockets heading your way, survival instincts take control.
I found myself running into the closest residential building, where I gathered with a group of random passers-by at an entrance to a bomb shelter, far from the building's entrance. The IDF's Home Front Command would be pleased; this was the textbook response, in line with instructions passed on to civilians. The sirens wailed, before falling silent. Now we had entered the quiet and most tense phase of the attack, after the sirens cease, and before the arrival of the rockets sent by terrorists in Gaza to kill and maim Israeli civilians indiscriminately. Read more ..
The Defense Edge
|Edwin Black||March 20th 2012|
Last Friday, March 16, President Barack Obama may have quietly placed the United States on a war preparedness footing, perhaps in anticipation of an outbreak of war between Israel, the West, and Iran. A newly-propounded Executive Order, titled "National Defense Resources Preparedness," renews and updates the president's power to take control of all civil energy supplies, including oil and natural gas, control and restrict all civil transportation, which is almost 97 percent dependent upon oil; and even provides the option to re-enable a draft in order to achieve both the military and non-military demands of the country, according to a simple reading of the text. The Executive Order was published on the White House website.
The timing of the Order -- with little fanfare -- could not be explained. Opinions among the very first bloggers on the purpose of the unexpected Executive Order run the gamut from the confused to the absurd. None focus on the obvious sudden need for such a pronouncement: oil and its potential for imminent interruption. If Iran was struck by Israel or the West, or if Iran thought it might be struck, the Tehran regime has promised it would block the Strait of Hormuz, which would obstruct some 40 percent of the world's seaborne oil, some twenty percent of the global supply, and about 20 percent of America's daily needs. Moreover, Tehran has promised military retaliation against any nation it feels has harmed it. The United States is at the top of the list. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|Shoshana Bryen||March 20th 2012|
Jewish Policy Center
If Syria and Egypt have nothing to fear from the President of the United States, what will Iran fear?
“What is being done in Homs [Syria] … is simply appalling and shouldn't be allowed to stand in our world,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron in Washington. The British, he said, are cataloguing “these crimes,“ and al-Assad should “always remember that international law has got a long reach and a long memory.”
Standing next to Mr. Cameron, President Obama demanded that Bashar al-Assad step down while reassuring him that the U.S. is unlikely actually to do anything about the problem. “The best thing we can do right now is to make sure that the international community continues to unify around the fact that what the Syrian regime is doing is unacceptable.”
Really? That's the best we can do? Who out there doesn't think what the Syrians are doing is unacceptable? The Russians? They know perfectly well it is morally unacceptable; they just don't care because a larger Russian interest is involved. As in Chechnya. As when the French and Germans said they were opposed to the Iraq war for moral reasons while they were taking Oil-for-Food kickbacks from Saddam. Read more ..
The Afghan War
|George Friedman||March 20th 2012|
The war in Afghanistan has been under way for more than 10 years. It has not been the only war fought during this time; for seven of those years another, larger war was waged in Iraq, and smaller conflicts were under way in a number of other countries as well. But the Afghanistan War is still the longest large-scale, multi-divisional war fought in American history. An American soldier's killing of 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, on March 11 represents only a moment in this long war, but it is an important moment.
In the course of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, military strategists in the United States developed the concept of the long war. The theory was presented in many ways, but its core argument was this: The defeat of Taliban forces and the Iraqi resistance would take a long time, but success would not end the war because Islamist terrorism and its supporters would be a constantly shifting threat, both in the places and in the ways they would operate. Therefore, since it was essential to defeat terrorism, the United States was now engaging in a long war whose end was distant and course unknown.
Read more ..
|Jim Malone||March 20th 2012|
2012 is a presidential election year in the United States, and so far, much of the focus has been on the lengthy and divisive race for the Republican Party nomination between former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum. But President Obama has plenty of challenges of his own as he prepares for a re-election contest in November. Mitt Romney leads the Republican race over Rick Santorum and would like to shift his focus to President Obama as soon as possible. “He said if he couldn’t turn it around in three years that he would be looking at a one term proposition. We are here to collect, alright? We are here to collect," he said.
The Republican race has turned into a drawn-out slog for delegates and is likely to go on indefinitely, something experts say should help the president. But rising gas prices in the U.S. are driving down Mr. Obama’s approval ratings and pose a major challenge for his re-election. Outside the White House, tourists from around the country worry about soaring prices but differ on who is to blame. “They are a little high right now being that I drove all the way up here, so it’s hit me in the pocketbook a little bit," said one man. “But I would think as president there is something he can do. I mean there has got to be something he can do to help with the gas," said another man. Read more ..
|Luther Spoehr||March 20th 2012|
The Battle of Midway. Craig L. Symonds. Oxford Univ. Press. 2011. 464 pages.
“In a series that focuses on historical contingency, it is appropriate, perhaps even essential, to include the Battle of Midway,” says Craig Symonds, a historian at the Naval Academy and author of Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles that Shaped American History (one of which was, yes, the Battle of Midway) and the award-winning Lincoln and His Admirals. His book is apparently part of Oxford University Press’s series on “Pivotal Moments in American History,” which already includes military histories such as David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing (about the Battle of Trenton) and James McPherson’s Crossroads of Freedom (on the Battle of Antietam), along with treatises on civilian topics such as rock ‘n’ roll, Brown v. Board of Education, and the election of 1800.
But except for Symonds’s early remark, quoted above, and series editor McPherson’s 2-page introduction, one would never know this book was part of any series: there’s no mention of it anywhere on the cover or in the book.
Such an ambiguous introduction makes for a weird start (what is Oxford thinking?). But no matter. Symonds follows up his opening remark with a little over 350 pages of superb narrative, clearly, vividly, and energetically written, with attention to detail that is always relevant to his interpretation and almost never descends into minutiae for its own sake. I have read a fair amount of military history, but am hardly a specialist, so I can say confidently that this book will be read appreciatively by other non-specialists. Indeed, it demonstrates why military history should not be considered “merely” a “niche” subject, but part of the mainstream of the national narrative.
Not that the Battle of Midway has lacked for popular attention. Most notably, Walter Lord’s Incredible Victory (1967) and Gordon Prange’s Miracle at Midway (1982) both attracted many, many readers. As their titles suggest, however, they seemed to be saying that the U.S. Navy’s triumph on June 4, 1942, was so unlikely as to defy rational explanation—or, as Symonds puts it, that victory was “the product of fate, or chance, or luck, or even divine will.” Read more ..
|Jim Cullen||March 20th 2012|
Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power. Andrew Nagorski. Simon and Shuster, 2011. 400 pages.
Hitlerland: a term coined in the Berlin-based 1930s by International News Service writer Pierre John Huss to describe Nazi Germany. Huss. Huss, who later worked as one of the so-called "Murrow's Boys" assembled by the legendary broadcaster Edward R. Murrow, interviewed Adolf Hitler multiple times. William Shirer, who also knew a thing or two about Germany in the '30s, described Huss as "slick, debonair, and ambitious."
Some of Huss's peers grumbled at the time that he was a little to close the Nazi regime, which may or may not have been true. But as Andrew Nagorski makes clear in this often absorbing book, there were many Americans in Germany at the time who were open in their admiration of it, along with those who were confused, afraid, and angry about it.
In Hitlerland, former Newsweek journalist Andrew Nagorski finds a clever way to tell a familiar story. He's gathered up dozens of sources from Americans who lived, worked, or simply passed through Germany in the two decades following the Great War and sketched a compelling composite portrait. Among the most durable and informed observers we meet are Truman Smith, a military attaché to the U.S. embassy in Berlin, Hearst correspondent Karl Henry von Wiegand, and Chicago Tribune reporter (and later radio correspondent) Sigrid Schultz. More familiar names include future television broadcaster Howard K. Smith, future CIA director Richard Helms, and celebrity aviator Charles Lindbergh.
Lindbergh, of course, later became infamous for his isolationism, widely viewed as Naziphilia by another name. In Hitlerland, however, we meet him and his also famous wife Anne in their first visit to Germany before his views solidified. Ironically, Lindbergh's VIP tour of state-of-the-art German aviation yielded information that proved to be of considerable value to the American government. The far more repugnant figure in Hitlerland is Ernst "Putzi" Hafstaengl the half-German/half-American Harvard graduate who worked for a time as Hitler's propagandist before being dumped by the Fuhrer. In one of the more dramatic moments in the book, young Hitler takes refuge in the immediate aftermath of the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 with Hafstaengl's wife, Helen, in their Bavarian home. Read more ..
The Medical Edge
|Nalini Padmanabhan||March 20th 2012|
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
|Tuberculosis bacteria (credit: NIH)|
In the past decade, scientists have made significant progress building the critical knowledge and infrastructure needed to identify and develop novel tuberculosis (TB) vaccine candidates and move the most promising ones into human clinical trials. The results of those trials, coupled with advances from other TB studies, have paved the way for the next 10 years of research on TB vaccines, a critical component of TB control efforts, note scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health. Their editorial, co-authored by NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., and Christine Sizemore, Ph.D., appears in the journal Tuberculosis to coincide with the publication of Tuberculosis Vaccines: A Strategic Blueprint for the Next Decade.
The new Blueprint on TB vaccines updates the original, which was published in 2000 as the result of an NIH-sponsored workshop.
Since that time, TB researchers have assembled a significant pipeline of vaccine candidates and assessed them in clinical trials. However, to transform the field and help make licensure of new vaccines a reality, the co-authors stress, scientists must investigate remaining fundamental questions, including:
- Why does infection with the TB bacterium cause active disease in some people but not others?
- Why does the current licensed TB vaccine, Bacille Calmette-Guérin, protect children more effectively than adults?
- What immune responses must effective vaccines elicit to successfully protect against TB?
NIAID, part of the team that helped to develop both iterations of the Blueprint, supports scientists working worldwide in contributing important data to these and other areas of inquiry. Read more ..
Edge on Anti-Semitism
|Daniel Vahab||March 20th 2012|
Did you know that, until recently, Jews lacked the same civil rights protections on college campuses that is afforded to Arab Americans, African Americans, and Hispanic Americans, to name just a few?
That was until Kenneth L. Marcus, former head of the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR), and others lobbied to revise the Title VI policy of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 2004, as head of OCR, he revised—or "clarified"—the policy which he said always meant to apply to Jews, too, but technically didn't because of a legal loophole.
The loophole stemmed from the fact that OCR classified Judaism as just a religion, and not a race or ethnicity. Religion is not protected under Title VI. And so, Jewish students who suffered discrimination and harassment on federally funded universities (even most private institutions receive at least some government funding, said Marcus) were not able to receive the standard protection of resources and support, and have their complaints investigated by the university.
Jewish students who reported such incidents were previously told by the campus that it basically couldn't do anything, and that the student could either go through the process of getting an attorney and taking her complaint to the federal courts or take her complaint to the justice department, which Marcus said "wasn't interested in pursuing these cases." Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Kane Farabaugh||March 20th 2012|
Republican presidential candidates are campaigning in the midwest state of Illinois ahead of the March 20th primary election. Republicans have been holding a series of contests to choose a nominee to face President Barack Obama, a Democrat, in the November presidential election. While the biggest city in Illinois - Chicago - accounts for a large bloc of voters, people in the rural and more conservative parts of the state could play a major role in determining who wins the Republican primary. The economy and government spending are the biggest issues on the minds of voters as they head to the polls. In his small shop on one of the main streets in downtown Pontiac, Illinois, Jon Sear is hard at work fixing computers. He says he runs his business by following a basic principle. “You can’t have [a] deficit. You take in what you get, you spend what you have, other than that you don’t spend it. It’s common sense,” Sear said.
Sear says that common sense is lacking in the state government of Illinois, where the estimated budget shortfall is over $11 billion. As Republican presidential candidates campaign throughout the state, Illinois budget woes, and federal government spending are on the minds of many voters like Sear and his wife Amy. “You worry because you don’t understand how spending more money will make things better when that seems like the total opposite. You have to pay your bills as citizens, so you want the government to do the same thing I guess,” Sear said. Polling shows former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is ahead of former U.S. senator Rick Santorum in Illinois. While Romney might easily win the support of Chicago’s large group of moderate Republican voters, Santorum is positioned to do well in places outside the city, like Pontiac, Illinois, population 12,000. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Ed Feulner||March 20th 2012|
It has been two years this week since the passage of Obamacare, and the firestorm it ignited has not abated but only spread and intensified. Most Americans have already made up their minds, understanding that until it is completely removed, the cancer of Obamacare threatens not only our healthcare and our economy but also our most fundamental liberties and constitutional self-government. Next week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on its constitutionality, bringing this intolerable act to the forefront of the American mind once again and reminding the country that the issue of Obamacare is by no means settled. Nothing the Administration has done has made this law more palatable, quite the opposite, and none of the PR events the White House has planned for this week is likely to change people’s minds.
Nor will Obamacare likely be settled by the Supreme Court. As with such divisive questions in the past, this question will be settled by the American people who have throughout this failed episode signaled loud and clear that they want the whole monstrosity repealed once and for all. In its short 24-month life, Obamacare has done nothing but confirm our worst fears, being a signal failure from the very beginning. Obamacare promised to make healthcare more accessible and cheaper without increasing taxes or the deficit. If you liked your doctor, of course you could keep your doctor. No one would be made to do anything against their will. These promises have all been broken. Read more ..
Pakistan on Edge
Pakistan's parliament will consider the future of its relations with the United States, Tuesday, nearly five months after bilateral ties reached a low point when NATO forces mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border. The long-awaited session of both houses of parliament will debate the recommendations of a special commission tasked with laying out the new terms of engagement with the U.S. and NATO. The recommendations, which have not been made public, are expected to deal with the conditions for re-opening NATO supply routes through Pakistan to Afghanistan and the full resumption of counter-terrorism cooperation with the U.S. Many observers expect the lawmakers to approve the recommendations after several days of debate.
The November border attack brought U.S.-Pakistan relations to an ebb, with ties already strained by the covert U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last year and a number of American drone strikes targeting militants in Pakistan's northwest. Pakistan responded to the NATO attack by shutting down the two main overland routes the coalition uses to send nonlethal supplies to Afghanistan. It also ordered American personnel out of Shamsi air base and drew back its cooperation in the U.S. war on terror. Read more ..
Russia on Edge
From RFE and Services
|Typical pipeline construction|
Gazprom chief Aleksei Miller has nominated the former mayor of Hamburg, Henning Voscherau, to head the board of the Russia-backed South Stream pipeline project.
Miller on March 19 cited Voscherau's "experience in working with international organizations dealing with legal regulation" and said his "weighty authority will make him a considerable contribution to the successful and timely implementation of the South Stream project." After serving as the first mayor of Hamburg, Voscherau is also a former president of Germany's upper house of parliament. The South Stream natural-gas pipeline aims to carry some 63 billion cubic meters of Russian gas across southeastern Europe to points in Italy and Austria. Miller said that construction of the pipeline is due to start this December with operation set to start in December 2015. Voscherau, 70, is not the first high-ranking former German official to receive a post with Gazprom. Read more ..
|Golnaz Esfandiari||March 20th 2012|
Amid the drumbeat of war between Iran and Israel, an Israeli couple has launched an online peace campaign in an effort to reach out to Iranians and say no to a military conflict. Forty-one-year-old graphic designer Ronny Edry and his partner, 36-year-old Michal Tamir, launched the initiative last week by posting pictures of themselves with their children on a Facebook page with a simple message: "Iranians, we love you. We don't want to bomb your country." Edry wrote, "To the Iranian people, to all the fathers, mothers, children, brothers, and sisters. For there to be a war between us, first we must be afraid of each other. We must hate. I'm not afraid of you. I don't hate you. I don't even know you. No Iranian ever did me harm." When he sometimes sees "an Iranian" on television talking about war, he wrote, "I'm sure he does not represent all the people of Iran… If you see someone on your TV talking about bombing you… be sure he does not represent all of us. To all those who feel the same, share this message and help it reach the Iranian people." Read more ..
Weather on Edge
Infrared and microwave satellite imagery from NASA have been providing forecasters at the National Weather Service valuable data on weather system that has potential to bring severe weather to the south central U.S. over the next several days. A large upper-level storm system is approaching central Oklahoma and moving east, into eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas, bringing the threat of heavy rain, gusty winds, and tornadoes. Severe thunderstorm warnings were posted early on March 19 in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas. Oklahoma also has a flash flood warning centered on Oklahoma City. Texas had a tornado warning near Midland earlier in the day.
The National Weather Service issued warnings today, March 19, 2012 for eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas which stated "Dangerous/potentially life-threatening flooding is expected." Forecasters at the National Weather Service expect 4 to 8 inch rainfall totals through Wednesday, March 21, and possibly moderate and major river flooding. Edward Olsen of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. creates imagery using data from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument that flies onboard NASA's Aqua satellite. Olsen created imagery from a satellite overpass during the morning hours today, March 19. He said, "The infrared and microwave images show the early phase of the convection blow-up." Read more ..
Russia on Edge
|James Brooke||March 20th 2012|
Just when politics here were starting to look boring again, along comes an outrageous girl band to rattle Russia. With their day glo balaclavas, bright tights and summer dresses on the white snow, the angry girls call themselves Pussy Riot. They’re starting to make President Vladimir Putin look like Dwight Eisenhower. He was the American president who took a dim view of Elvis “the Pelvis” Presley and his scandalous hip gyrations. Under Eisenhower, the King of Rock and Roll was drafted into the U.S. Army. Under Putin, the leaders of Pussy Riot are now in jail facing charges that could carry sentences of up to eight years. Russia’s generational clash was triggered by Putin’s announcement last Sept. 24 that he and President Dmitri Medvedev were going to switch jobs. For a group of Russian feminists, six more years of Putinism was six years too many. They formed a punk band, took vows of individual anonymity, agreed to perform only illegal concerts, and chose a deliberately rude and provocative name. In the old days (five years ago), Pussy Riot would have been a dead-end garage band, playing for friends in an abandoned warehouse. Read more ..
See Earlier Stories 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12