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Archive for November 2012

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The Race for Biofuel

More Bang for the Biofuel Buck

November 9th 2012

oil seed field

A fermentation technique once used to make cordite, the explosive propellant that replaced gunpowder in bullets and artillery shells, may find an important new use in the production of advanced biofuels. With the addition of a metal catalyst, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have shown that the production of acetone, butanol and ethanol from lignocellulosic biomass could be selectively upgraded to the high volume production of gasoline, diesel or jet fuel.

Using the bacterium Clostridium acetobutylicum, the Berkeley Lab researchers fermented the sugars found in biomass into the solvent acetone and the alcohols butanol and ethanol, collectively known as “ABE” products. They then catalyzed these low carbon number products with the transition metal palladium into higher-molecular-mass hydrocarbons that are possible precursors to the three major transportation fuel molecules. The specific type of fuel molecule produced – whether a precursor to gasoline, diesel or jet – was determined by the amount of time the ABE products resided with the palladium catalyst. Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Link Found Between Child Prodigies and Autism

November 9th 2012


A new study of eight child prodigies suggests a possible link between these children’s special skills and autism.

Of the eight prodigies studied, three had a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders. As a group, the prodigies also tended to have slightly elevated scores on a test of autistic traits, when compared to a control group.

In addition, half of the prodigies had a family member or a first- or second-degree relative with an autism diagnosis. The fact that half of the families and three of the prodigies themselves were affected by autism is surprising because autism occurs in only one of 120 individuals, said Joanne Ruthsatz, lead author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University’s Mansfield campus.

“The link between child prodigies and autism is strong in our study,” Ruthsatz said. “Our findings suggest child prodigies have traits in common with autistic children, but something is preventing them from displaying the deficits we associate with the disorder.” Read more ..

Education on Edge

Examining Transition from Student to Teacher

November 9th 2012


“It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, emotionally and mentally.” These are not the words we generally associate with a university student who is undergoing teacher training, yet Concordia researcher Anita Sinner has heard similar statements from many such individuals. Every year thousands of students make the transition from student to teacher and the stories of those who struggle are often missing from our conversations. 

“Pre-service teachers who experience varying degrees of struggle have few stories against which to compare their experiences when entering the teaching profession,” Sinner explains. This magnifies a sense of dislocation in the very profession they seek to dedicate their working lives.” By examining the challenges faced by one person transitioning from student to teacher, she hopes to “raise awareness about the stresses of the teaching occupation and works to establish, within teacher culture, alternative perspectives about the profession.” Read more ..

The Race for Biofuel

Quick-cook Method Turns Algae into Bio-Crude Oil

November 9th 2012


It looks like Mother Nature was wasting her time with a multimillion-year process to produce crude oil. Michigan Engineering researchers can "pressure-cook" algae for as little as a minute and transform an unprecedented 65 percent of the green slime into biocrude. "We're trying to mimic the process in nature that forms crude oil with marine organisms," said Phil Savage, an Arthur F. Thurnau professor and a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Michigan.

Savage's ocean-going organism of choice is the green marine micro-alga of the genus Nannochloropsis. To make their one-minute biocrude, Savage and Julia Faeth, a doctoral student in Savage's lab, filled a steel pipe connector with 1.5 milliliters of wet algae, capped it and plunged it into 1,100-degree Fahrenheit sand. The small volume ensured that the algae was heated through, but with only a minute to warm up, the algae's temperature should have just grazed the 550-degree mark before the team pulled the reactor back out. Read more ..

China on Edge

Tibetan Protests Erupt in Western China

November 9th 2012

Tibetan Protest

Reports from China's western Qinghai Province say hundreds or even thousands of Tibetans marched on government offices Friday.  The protests come amid attempts by China's government to maintain social stability during a political transition.

Tibetans marched on government offices in Rebkong, a region of eastern Tibet, after a series of self-immolations that drew international attention.  Estimates ranged from hundreds to thousands of protesters who began gathering on the streets at 5:00 a.m.  Many said they were speaking out against China's education system.

"Our sources have confirmed that many of the students have been calling for freedom of language and for the return of his Holiness," said Stephanie Brigden, executive director of rights group Free Tibet. Mass protests in Rebkong also occurred in 2010, when demonstrators spoke out against China's plans to replace Tibetan with Chinese as the language of instruction in local schools.

The Vote Aftermath

CIA Director Petraeus Resigns Following Admission of Extramarital Affair

November 9th 2012

David Petraeus

President Barack Obama accepted the resignation of CIA director David Petraeus on November 9, following a meeting they had on the previous day. In a statement, the former top Army general explained the rationale for his departure. “After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair,” Petraeus said in a statement. “Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the President graciously accepted my resignation.”

Obama’s national security was already expected to have some departures, but Petraeus’s announcement has caused turmoil in the administration. Having taken the position just fourteen months ago, Petraeus had been expected to remain in situ. Obama stated that Petraeus has “provided extraordinary service to the United States for decades,” adding that “through his lifetime of service David Petraeus has made our country safer and stronger.” Read more ..

America on Edge

Petraeus Resigns as CIA Chief over Extramarital Affair

November 9th 2012


CIA Director David Petraeus has resigned because of an extramarital affair. Petraeus announced the decision in a letter to President Obama released Friday after telling the president the news on Thursday.

“Yesterday afternoon, I went to the White House and asked the president to be allowed, for personal reasons, to resign from my position as D/CIA,” he wrote.

“After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the president graciously accepted my resignation,” he wrote. Petraeus's wife, Holly, works at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau set up by the Wall Street reform bill. The shocking news could end a sparkling Washington career for Petraeus, who has been mentioned as a presidential candidate. Affairs can end any political career, but are particularly unacceptable for the nation’s top spy given national security implications. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

The US Can't Afford Not to Lead

November 9th 2012

Barack Obama in Thought

President Obama may believe he can abandon “nation-building abroad” to focus on “nation-building at home,” but that is what he would normally call a “false choice.”

In his next term he will face major challenges abroad, not just challenges of “nation-building” but threats to our national security: an unstable and nuclear-armed Pakistan; a possible Taliban take-over in Afghanistan; a potential Iranian nuclear capability threatening vital U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf and the security of Israel; the growing strength of anti‑American Islamist extremists in Syria in the absence of meaningful support for the non-Islamist opposition.

Libya does present a challenge of nation-building, but the U.S. has already suffered a major setback -- including the murder of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans -- by leaving the new pro-American Libyan government unable to provide for that country’s security. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran Implicitly Confirms Attack on US Drone

November 9th 2012

Click to select Image

Iran has confirmed a Pentagon report that two Iranian warplanes fired on an unarmed U.S. drone in the Persian Gulf last week.

Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi was quoted on the Iranian Students' News Organization website as saying that Iran's armed forces took action against an anonymous plane that entered the country's airspace - countering the Pentagon's contention that the U.S. aircraft was over international waters. Iran also vowed to confront any other aircraft that enters its airspace. According to FARS news agency, Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Massoud Jazayeri said Iran would "give a decisive response to any aerial, ground or sea aggression."

US pondering response

Pentagon spokesman George Little said Thursday that the unmanned Predator was outside Iranian waters on a routine classified surveillance mission on November 1 when an Iranian military plane fired at, and missed, the drone. Read more ..

America and Israel

Friends with Benefits: Why the U.S.-Israeli Alliance Is Good for America

November 9th 2012

Click to select Image

At the final presidential debate of the 2012 campaign season, President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney mentioned Israel some 30 times, more than any other country except Iran. Both candidates called the Jewish state "a true friend," pledging to stand with it through thick and thin. Some political commentators criticized these effusive declarations of support as pandering, suggesting that the candidates were simply going after Jewish and pro-Israel votes.

But if support for Israel is indeed such a political winner, then it's at least in part because the voters know best. The U.S.-Israeli alliance now contributes more than ever to American security, as bilateral cooperation to deal with both military and nonmilitary challenges has grown in recent years. The relationship may not be symmetrical; the United States has provided Israel with indispensable diplomatic, economic, and military support totaling more than $115 billion since 1949. But it is a two-way partnership whose benefits to the United States have been substantial. The other, less tangible costs of the U.S.-Israeli alliance -- mainly, damage to Washington's reputation in Arab and Muslim countries, a problem also caused by American interventions and decades of U.S. support for autocratic leaders in the Middle East -- pale in comparison with the economic, military, and political gains it affords Washington. Read more ..

The Vote Aftermath

Bad Day for Super Donors

November 9th 2012

Money can't buy happiness, nor can it buy an election, apparently.

The top donors to super PACs in 2012 did not fare well — casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the No. 1 super PAC contributor with more than $53 million in giving, backed eight losers at this writing.

Adelson was top backer of the pro-Mitt Romney Restore Our Future super PAC, with $20 million in donations. Romney lost to President Barack Obama. In addition, Adelson's contributions to super PACs backing U.S. Senate candidates in Florida, Virginia and New Jersey were also for naught. He was not the only conservative billionaire who had a bad night.

Contran Corp. CEO Harold Simmons, (No. 2), homebuilder Bob Perry (No. 3) and TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, (No.4), also bet on Romney. Collectively, the trio gave $13.4 million to Restore Our Future, and Ricketts’ super PAC, Ending Spending Action Fund, spent an additional $9.9 million helping Romney’s failed bid.

The super donor winner of the night was Newsweb Corp. CEO Fred Eychaner (No. 5). Eychaner gave $3.5 million to pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action through the most recent filing period, which ended Oct. 17, according to Federal Election Commission records. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Military Stats Reveal Epicenter of U.S. Drone War

November 9th 2012

MQ-1 Predator Drone

Forget Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and all the other secret little warzones. The real center of the U.S. drone campaign is in plain sight — on the hot and open battlefield of Afghanistan.

The American military has launched 333 drone strikes this year in Afghanistan. That’s not only the highest total ever, according to U.S. Air Force statistics. It’s essentially the same number of robotic attacks in Pakistan since the CIA-led campaign there began nearly eight years ago. In the last 30 days, there have been three reported strikes in Yemen. In Afghanistan, that’s just an average day’s worth of remotely piloted attacks. And the increased strikes come as the rest of the war in Afghanistan is slowing down.

The secret drone campaigns have drawn the most scrutiny because of the legal, geopolitical, and ethical questions they raise. But it’s worth remembering that the rise of the flying robots is largely occurring in the open, on an acknowledged battlefield where the targets are largely unquestioned and the attending issues aren’t nearly as fraught. Read more ..

Yemen on Edge

Why Yemen is the Scariest Challenge Facing Obama Abroad

November 9th 2012

Yemeni terrorists

Obama will have to face the growing menace of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the failing state in Yemen that it thrives on. The response must be nimble and careful because AQAP’s real goal is to drag America into another bleeding war in the Muslim world, this time hoping it will spread into the oil rich deserts of Saudi Arabia. Luckily, Gregory Johnson has written the best new book on al Qaeda in 2012 and the best book on Yemen in years.

The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al Qaeda and America’s War in Arabia is a detailed narrative account of the development of AQAP.  It is also a great read; Johnson is a very good storyteller.  The story is fascinating, this is a group that was virtually destroyed in 2004 by drone attacks and effective counter terrorism operations, and then it recovered, helped immensely by the Arab world’s anger over the American invasion of Iraq. In 2009 it rebranded itself with new leadership composed of Saudis and Yemenis, several of whom had been prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. It’s number two, Saeed al Shihri, spent five years America’s Cuban prison before being released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 where he fled into Yemen. A drone had allegedly killed him last month, then he reappeared alive in a message threatening more attacks on America. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syrian Nightmare Worsens at 11,000 Refugees Flee in Single Day

November 9th 2012

Syrians by VOA photog Elizabeth Arrot

Dispatches from Mideast media and diplomatic sources indicate the Syrian crisis has escalated to a new level of carnage and human misery. The Daily Star of Lebanon reports: "Thousands of Syrians fled their country on Friday in one of the biggest refugee exoduses of the 20 month war after rebels seized a border town. Syria's fractious opposition was meeting in Qatar, under increasing pressure from the United States and Qatar to unite and form a credible body capable of ruling the country effectively if President Bashar al-Assad falls. The United Nations said 11,000 refugees had fled in 24 hours, most to Turkey. The exodus is testing the patience of Ankara, the most militarily capable of Syria's neighbours and a strong opponent of Assad. Ankara has long said a full-blown refugee emergency would demand robust intervention."

One town alone yielded thousands of residents pouring out of the Arab and Kurd town, in the northeastern oil-producing province of Hasaka, 600 km (375 miles) from Damascus.

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan hit out at world powers on the U.N. Security Council over their inaction. "It is very strange. There are currently atrocities being committed in Syria and these atrocities are being directed by a state leader," he said. "How far will this go? When will the permanent members of the Security Council take responsibility?" Read more ..

Authors on Tour

Edwin Black Chronicles IBM's Complicity in Genocide and Arab-Nazi Farhud in Nine-Event Las Vegas Kristallnacht Scholar-in-Residence

November 9th 2012

Edwin Black
Edwin Black

Award-winning investigative author Edwin Black will chronicle how IBM co-planned and co-organized the Holocaust, and the roots of the Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust as the highlight of a nine-event Kristallnacht scholar-in-residence in Las Vegas November 8-14. Black's trademark "campus-community-congregation" series is broadly sponsored by Temple Beth Sholom, the Las Vegas Jewish Federation, UNLV College of Liberal Arts, William S. Boyd School of Law, Phi Alpha Theta Psi Sigma at UNLV and the UNLV Department of Communications. All events are open to the public, some with an admission fee.

Black kicks off the Temple Beth Sholom series November 9 with a Friday night services presentation entitled American Corporate Complicity in the Holocaust, How they Hid It, and How we Can Preserve the Truth." His remarks will tie pivotal involvement of Ford, GM, IBM, the Carnegie Institution, and the Rockefeller Foundation with the Nazi Holocaust. Black wrote a bestseller book, Nazi Nexus, summarizing the indispensible involvement of those five corporations in determining the size and shape of the Holocaust as we now know it.

Saturday morning's topic will be devoted to "The Farhud--the Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust and What it Means For Today's World" based on Black's award-winning bestseller, The Farhud--Roots of The Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust. Black makes brief remartks during the service, and then takes questions in a reception afterword.

The temple's main event will be held Sunday morning, with Black's signature presentation, "How IBM Co-Planned and Co-Organized the Holocaust--What the New Documentation Shows" based on the award-winning global bestseller IBM and the Holocaust. Black has blazed a track-record of riveting sessions documenting the conscious involvement of IBM in co-planning and co-organizing all six phases of Hitler's Holocaust: 1) identification; 2) exclusion; 3) confiscation; 4) ghettoization; 5) deportation and 6) even extermination. The infamous Auschwitz tattoo began as an IBM number. IBM's genocide-for-profit record was first exposed in Black's international and New York Times best-selling book, IBM and the Holocaust, now with more than a million copies in print in 14 languages in 80 countries. Black has garnered numerous awards for the work and frequently speaks on the topic worldwide. Despite hundreds of requests, IBM has never denied the details of the book. Newsweek called the book "explosive" and "stunning." The Washington Post's review proclaimed the book was "beyond dispute." Der Spiegel declared the work "devastating." Read more ..

Palestine on Edge

The Palestinian Conflict with Israel is Not the Core of the Middle East Conflict

November 9th 2012

Syrian Carnage

As Syria's civil war drags on, it is increasingly destabilizing its neighbors. First, hundreds of thousands of refugees poured over their borders; now, violence has as well. Turkey and Syria have repeatedly exchanged deadly cross-border fire; in Jordan, a soldier was killed in clashes with militants heading for Syria to join the fighting; in Lebanon, the assassination of a senior intelligence official considered close to the Syrian opposition sparked violent clashes in Beirut. Ironically, in fact, Syria's quietest border nowadays is with Israel - the one neighbor it's officially at war with. Despite occasional accidents (tanks straying into the demilitarized zone during the ongoing civil war, errant bullets and mortars), there has been no intentional violence across this border, and no casualties.

Yet in reality, this shouldn't be surprising; it's the logical outgrowth of a basic fact about the Middle East that is too often overlooked: Contrary to the popular perception that the region revolves around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the truth is that Israel is irrelevant to most of the region most of the time, because it isn't a player in the nonstop jockeying for power among the Mideast's various Muslim sects and countries. Read more ..

Book Review

Obama and the Middle East: Whither Four Years of Obama Idealism has Led Us

November 9th 2012

Obama and the middle east

Obama and the Middle East The End of America's Moment? Fawaz A. Gerges. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. 304 pp.

It has been a bumpy road in the Middle East during the course of Barack Obama's term in office. Nearly two years ago the Arab uprisings began in Tunisia and spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa, in some cases tossing decades-old dictatorships aside. A year ago America's war in Iraq officially ended with the U.S. military pulling out in full. It has been two years since Israeli and Palestinian leaders last sat down at the negotiating table and nearly four years since President Obama extended an open hand to Iran. It is natural to now tally the scorecard and examine Obama's legacy in the Middle East. Some suggest recent events signify the end of America's influence there.

"Today America's position in the region resembles that of Great Britain at the end of World War II, before its sharp decline in the 1950s. We are witnessing the beginning of the end of America's moment in the Middle East." So writes Fawaz Gerges, professor and director of the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics, in the introduction to his new book, Obama and the Middle East: The End of America's Moment?.

Gerges argues that American influence in the Middle East is in decline; its desires for the region will be increasingly challenged and overruled by both friend and foe in pursuit of "policies that mostly cater to public opinion." For Gerges, America's waning influence in the region results from decades of poor policies that President Obama continued rather than changed, as many in the Middle East had hoped. Far from the president's idealist promises—to politically engage with America's enemies and embrace a multilateral approach—Gerges finds that Obama has favored a realist approach by basing policy on preserving America's security interests. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Make-or-Break for the U.S. and Iran

November 8th 2012

Iranian Revolutionary Guard

It is an accident of fate that the quadrennial American exercise in selecting a president happens to coincide almost precisely with the anniversary of the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. That episode unraveled the Carter Administration and left a legacy of U.S.-Iranian animosity that has confounded every subsequent America president. And so it was last week, on the eve of Barack Obama's historic reelection victory, that thousands of Iranians joined in the Islamic Republic's commemoration of the hostage ordeal, which has become an annual jubilee of anti-Americanism, with demonstrators showcasing effigies of Obama and shouting 'death to America.'

Such scenes, together with the bombastic rhetoric of Iranian leaders who used the anniversary to vilify Washington as "the most criminal regime on earth," might suggest that little has changed between the two old adversaries and that the prospects of any progress in resolving the crisis over Iran's nuclear ambitions remain as distant as ever. Read more ..

America on Edge

On Election Day, A New American Mainstream

November 8th 2012

Multiracial kids

Tuesday’s election might someday be seen as a historic turning point in American politics: the last time a major party candidate could hope to win the presidency with a campaign aimed directly at the nation’s “mainstream” white population. If that was Mitt Romney’s strategy, he succeeded wildly, gaining a nearly unprecedented Republican vote advantage over Democrats among whites, 59 percent to 39 percent.

In the end though, he lost largely by ignoring the rising clout of the country’s minority population, including blacks, Asian Americans and especially Hispanics.   

The failure to reach out more to these groups went a long way toward costing him the presidency, leading to losses in rapidly growing swing states like Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, Florida, and almost North Carolina—states that that once stood squarely within the GOP’s Sun Belt wheelhouse. In each of these states, through enthusiastic turnout or stronger support, Hispanics made bigger contributions to Obama’s election than in 2008. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Challenge Facing Designers of Future Computer Chips

November 8th 2012

computer chip

To build the computer chips of the future, designers will need to understand how an electrical charge behaves when it is confined to metal wires only a few atom-widths in diameter.

Now, a team of physicists at McGill University, in collaboration with researchers at General Motors R&D, have shown that electrical current may be drastically reduced when wires from two dissimilar metals meet. The surprisingly sharp reduction in current reveals a significant challenge that could shape material choices and device design in the emerging field of nanoelectronics.

The size of features in electronic circuits is shrinking every year, thanks to the aggressive miniaturization prescribed by Moore's Law, which postulated that the density of transistors on integrated circuits would double every 18 months or so. This steady progress makes it possible to carry around computers in our pockets, but poses serious challenges. As feature sizes dwindle to the level of atoms, the resistance to current no longer increases at a consistent rate as devices shrink; instead the resistance "jumps around," displaying the counterintuitive effects of quantum mechanics, says McGill Physics professor Peter Grütter. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Team Finds New Way to Inhibit Blood Clotting and Inflammation

November 8th 2012

Premature Baby

Scientists have identified a group of small molecules that interfere with the activity of a compound that initiates multiple steps in blood clotting, including those that lead to the obstruction of veins or arteries, a condition called thrombosis. Blocking the activity of this compound, polyphosphate, could treat thrombosis with fewer bleeding side effects than the drugs that are currently on the market. Their findings appear in the journal Blood.

Blood clots are formed at the site of an injured blood vessel to prevent blood loss. Sometimes, however, blood clots completely clog an artery or vein and the surrounding tissues are damaged. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that annually, 300,000 to 600,000 Americans are afflicted with deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism, a blocked lung artery that often results from thrombosis, and 60,000 to 100,000 people die each year as a result of these conditions. Read more ..

America After Sandy

Israeli Aid Missions Provide Relief to Hurricane Sandy Victims.

November 8th 2012

Staten Island community

An Israeli delegation of trained rescue volunteers will depart to New York on Friday, November 9 to assist victims devastated by Hurricane Sandy.  The delegation is headed by the Shahar Zahavi, the CEO of IsraAID, The Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid, an Israeli non-governmental organization (NGO) that has facilitated aid and relief program across the world, including in Haiti, Japan, Turkey, Kenya and South Sudan.

The 12-person delegation will be offering rescue, rehabilitation, and communal resource services to New York residents of Far Rockaway and Long Beach as well as the Atlantic City-Margate area of the Jersey Shore. They will also be identifying areas with vulnerable populations and allocating resources to older people and families with young children who have suffered significant damages to their homes and have no power. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

More Smart Phones Connect to Wi-Fi Hotspots Than Laptops

November 8th 2012


The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) has published a report on the Wi-Fi hotspot market compiled by global research company Informa Telecoms & Media, revealing that smartphone-based hotspot connections now outnumber those from laptops for the first time.

This trend is set to accelerate as the industry moves toward the deployment of Next Generation Hotspots (NGH), based on open industry standards, which will make it even easier for the rapidly increasing number of smartphone owners to use the technology.

The survey revealed that hotspot connections are now led by smartphones (40 percent), followed closely by laptops (39 percent) and then tablets (17 percent) which have seen rapid growth since their recent emergence. The survey also highlighted rapid deployment of NGH, which is based on Passpoint certified equipment, with 19 percent of operator respondents planning to deploy by the end of 2013. NGH dramatically simplifies public Wi-Fi access, especially from smartphones, by allowing secure connections without the need for usernames and passwords, and is seen as a vital tool for offloading busy mobile broadband networks. Read more ..

Destination Adriatic Sea

Cruising the Adriatic

November 8th 2012

Cruise Ship

When Captain Mark Dexter of the good ship Seabourn Odyssey urged his 450 pampered cruise guests to arise at sunrise one morning, he must have had a good reason. On our recent Adriatic cruise that reason was our scheduled arrival in Kotor, an 800 year old seaport and one of Montenegros principal attractions.

Kotor is situated at the end of Europes southernmost fjord. As you approach it from the open sea, your ship glides through calm, mirror-smooth waters and is surrounded on either side by the black mountains from which Montenegro derives its name. And, as the sun rises over the mountains, you will spot fairy-tale villages along the shore. A truly magical experience well worth the sacrifice of an extra hour of sleep! Once ashore, you will want to explore this colorful walled mediaeval town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site full of museums, churches and delightful shops and cafes.


The Two Koreas

S. Korean Presidential Frontrunner Willing to Meet North's Leader

November 8th 2012

Park Geun-hye

South Korea holds a hotly-contested election December 19 to choose a successor to President Lee Myung-bak. He is limited to a single five-year term under South Korea's constitution. Park Geun-hye, the front-runner from the governing party,  spoke to correspondents in Seoul Thursday for the first time during her current run. Saying the situation on the Korean peninsula is in an unprecedented state of flux, Park is portraying herself as the best candidate to lead during this critical time. Addressing correspondents in Seoul, the Saenuri (New Frontier) Party presidential candidate noted tensions in Northeast Asia are on the rise, unlike in any previous period.

“If it helps in moving forward South-North relations, I am willing to meet with the new North Korean leader," Park said. "But, importantly, I will not seek a meeting just for the sake of having a meeting. Rather, such a summit must involve an honest dialogue on issues of mutual concern.” Read more ..

China on Edge

China's Hu Issues Warning About Corruption

November 8th 2012

President Hu

China’s once-in-a-decade leadership transition began Thursday, with a warning from the country’s outgoing leader. In a long and wide-ranging speech to mark the beginning of China’s 18th party congress, President Hu Jintao warned that the party and even the country are facing fatal challenges if it does not do more to deal with the problem of corruption. In his final remarks as leader of the political party that single-handedly rules 1.3 billion people and charts the course for the world’s second-largest economy, President Hu had a warning for the Chinese Communist party. "Opposing corruption and building an honest and clean government is a clear stance the party has been adhering to and is an important political issue the people have been paying attention to. If we fail to handle this issue [corruption] well, it could prove fatal to the party and even cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state," he said. Read more ..

Saudi Succession

Saudi Resignation Prompts Fresh Succession Debate

November 8th 2012

King Abdullah2

Assumptions about who will be the future ruler of Saudi Arabia -- the world's largest oil exporter and self-declared leader of the Islamic world -- need to be revised after the sudden resignation of one of the royal family's senior-most members. Today's surprise announcement that Interior Minister Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz has been relieved of his duties and replaced by his nephew, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, introduces fresh elements of competition into the kingdom's ruling structure.

At 72 years old, Prince Ahmed is the youngest of the so-called "Sudairi Seven," the largest group of full brothers among the many sons of Ibn Saud, the modern kingdom's founder. In recent months, he had seemed to be emerging as a possible future king. The current monarch, King Abdullah, will turn 90 next year and is in failing health, while Crown Prince Salman (76) is widely reported to be in a poor mental state. When former crown prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz died in June, Ahmed replaced him at the Interior Ministry and organized last month's Hajj pilgrimage, an event that went off without mishap.

Prior to the latest news, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef had long served as assistant interior minister, charged with supervising the kingdom's counterterrorism efforts -- a role that he performed, according to many foreign officials, very competently. But he was not promoted to the vacant position of deputy interior minister during the summer, leading to speculation that he had been sidelined. Now, to the contrary, he has suddenly become the first of his generation to be awarded a senior ministerial post.


The Vote Aftermath

Four More Years of Gridlock Coming

November 8th 2012


To put it mildly, many in the GOP were not pleased with the outcome of Tuesday night’s elections. This represents a national repudiation of reality: we have tossed out the doctor because we don’t like his prognosis. The spending addict does not want an intervention; he wants more spending, no matter what.

​The Democrats banked on their 2008 coalition, and won big, bigger than big. This wasn’t just a narrow survival by a weak incumbent President, it was a nationwide wave, a sweep at every level, from the president down to ballot initiatives like redefining marriage and legalizing marijuana. You can’t blame Hurricane Sandy for that. The unfortunate fact is that the Millennial generation is the most secular generation in American history, the most socially liberal. They will be shifting every election to the Left from now on.

​The Obama campaign—Axelrod, Plouffe, Cutter—look even smarter than they did four years ago, when they got a freshman Senator elected President by seven points over an experienced war hero. This time, they got President Benghazi, President Obamacare, President Contraception Mandate re-elected after a historic midterm loss. And they did it all without actually revealing a second term agenda, or any evidence that their policies had done any good.

The Democrats have a mandate to govern, and Republicans are now in an uncomfortable position everywhere. The policies of the last four years have been not only affirmed but, with these ballot initiatives, shown to be now mainstream. Our nation’s culture has shifted to the Left, validating that self-fulfilling epithet of “Republican extremism.” It is apparently extreme now to balance a budget, to stay out of people’s lives, and respect tradition. Obama almost ran the table with swing states: it was a landslide. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

After Obama Wins Second Term, Debate Shifts to Future of U.S.-Israel Relationship

November 8th 2012

Obama and Israel

Capping a race that on a national level was largely defined by the economy but in the Jewish community turned into an extended debate over which candidate would steer the best course for the U.S.-Israel relationship, President Barack Obama defeated Republican challenger Mitt Romney to earn a second term.

Obama won 69 percent of the Jewish vote, according to a CNN exit poll, representing a nine-point drop from the 78 percent he garnered in 2008 exit polls.

National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) President and CEO David A. Harris, speaking exclusively with JNS.org after major television networks called the race for Obama on Tuesday night, said he “and the clear majority of American Jews” are “reassured by having President Obama in office for another four years.” Read more ..

The Vote Aftermath

Republicans Engage in Navel-Gazing Following Obama Victory

November 8th 2012

romney buttons

Republicans were in a soul-searching mood Wednesday, pondering their political future after President Obama won a resounding victory despite the stagnant economy and an approval rating routinely south of 50 percent. The 2012 election seemed to underscore the point many in the GOP most feared in 2008: Without improving numbers among Hispanic voters and women, and with a younger population becoming more socially liberal each year, the Republican Party risks marginalization in future presidential elections.

Further complicating efforts for Republicans was the one bright spot in an otherwise gloomy night: The party easily retained the House of Representatives on the back of their incumbents — a large faction of whom were elected by appealing to strongly conservative voters in home districts that have become increasingly polarized through the redistricting process. Read more ..

The Vote Aftermath

House Leader Boehner Pivots on Tax Hikes Following Obama Victory

November 8th 2012

John Boehner
Speaker John Boehner

In the wake of the GOP’s disappointing election, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday signaled a willingness to accept higher tax revenues as part of a deficit cutting deal.

The fast-approaching deadline to stop a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts left Boehner and other leaders with little time to digest Republican Mitt Romney’s defeat on Tuesday.

Leaders on both sides of the Capitol moved swiftly to stake out their positions on the fiscal cliff, with Boehner calling for a “down payment” that would lead to a farther-reaching pact in 2013 and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) saying he did not want to see a short-term fix. “I’m not for kicking the can down the road; I think we’ve done that far too much,” Reid told reporters in the Capitol. “I think we should just roll up our sleeves and get it done.” Read more ..

The Edge of Piracy

Somali Piracy Drops Off Dramatically

November 8th 2012


Piracy off the coast of Somalia has dropped off dramatically in 2012. Successful ship hijackings have decreased from 31 in 2011 (and 49 in 2010) to only four so far in 2012. Attacks against ships have also decreased, falling from 199 reported attacks in the first nine months of 2011 to 70 attacks over the same span in 2012 -- a 65 percent drop.

However, diminished activity does not necessarily mean a decrease in the cost of sailing around the Horn of Africa. Somali pirates occupy a unique position, which is right along highly strategic global shipping lanes yet outside the reach of any national power. For international actors, it is politically and militarily easier to try to contain the Somali piracy threat than to eliminate it. But containment comes at a high cost.

Controlling Territory

Many factors have contributed to the decrease in pirate hijackings in 2012. One factor is that shipping companies have begun equipping their ships with more countermeasures, namely armed guards. For several years, commercial ships sailing in the Indian Ocean have used other countermeasures, such as fences, water cannons and adjusted tactics like disabling the ship. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Siemens Exits Desertec and China Wants to Enter

November 7th 2012

Solar Panels

As part of its plan to shake off its unprofitable solar shackles, including Israel’s Solel initiative, German giant Siemens has exited the ambitious Desertec project. But that doesn’t seem to have deterred the strength of the initiative, which is designed to enable Europe to import one fifth of its power by 2050 from renewable energy plants scattered across Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and other North African and Middle Eastern countries, as firms in China and other countries make moves to get involved.

China’s State Grid Corp (SGCC) expressed an interest in becoming involved in the $514 billion Desertec renewable energy project, according to a conglomerate spokesperson. This news comes just after Siemens’ announcement that it is severing its solar arm, which included both the Desertec and Solel initiatives.

Energy generated by solar and wind plants in North Africa will be evacuated to Europe via cables that will run under the Mediterranean Sea, so it’s uncertain how SGCC expects to benefit from a partnership except as a shareholder. But the firm’s interest does show a growing faith that it can succeed. Despite criticism of the project’s ambitious scope and costs, progress continues apace. Read more ..

The Edge of Earth

What Happens When the Earth is Tripping on Acid

November 7th 2012

Click to select Image

Climate change and extreme weather events grab the headlines, but there is another, lesser known, global change underway on land, in the seas, and in the air: acidification.
It turns out that combustion of fossil fuels, smelting of ores, mining of coal and metal ores, and application of nitrogen fertilizer to soils are all driving down the pH of the air, water, and the soil at rates far faster than Earth's natural systems can buffer, posing threats to both land and sea life.

"It's a bigger picture than most of us know," says Janet Herman of the Department of Environmental Sciences at University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Herman and her colleague, Karen Rice of the USGS, discovered that despite the fact that they worked on different kinds of acidification in the environment, they were not well informed about the matter beyond their own specialties. So they have done an extensive review of science papers about all kinds of environmental acidification and are presenting their work in a poster session on Tuesday, 6 Nov., at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA) in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Acidification is both a local and global problem, since it can be as close as a nearby stream contaminated by mine tailings or as far-reaching as the world's oceans, which are becoming more acidic as sea water absorbs higher concentrations of carbon dioxide that humans dump into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels.  Read more ..

The New Africa

West Africans Push Traditional Crafts as Economic Engine

November 7th 2012

African Arts

 More than 3,000 artisans from throughout West Africa showcased their creations in wood, bronze, fabric and other mediums at the 13th International Artisan Crafts Festival in the Burkina Faso capital, Ouagadougou. The 10-day fair wrapped up Sunday.

One of the objectives of the biennial crafts festival is to help West Africans thrive where they live - avoiding an exodus to urban capitals or abroad in search of work. Making traditional crafts a viable livelihood depends largely on stability in the region. Assemien Yapo is among the Ivoirians who came to Ouagadougou for the festival - a significantly larger group this year than was able to come in 2010, when Côte d’Ivoire was gripped by political unrest.

The Ivoirian government and artisans’ associations are working on revitalizing the sector as part of overall recovery and development efforts. Yapo said Ivoirians are working toward giving artisanship its rightful place in the country's economy. He said this kind of work not only can be a livelihood for individuals, but also a veritable job creator in Côte d’Ivoire. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

The Enemy of My Enemy in Damascus

November 7th 2012

Riot Gear Police

A reminder to the administration: the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend.  The friend of my friend is not necessarily my friend.  And the friend of my enemy is not necessarily my enemy, but he may be not by my friend, either. Friends, in fact, are hard to come by in the Middle East.

Bashar Assad, for example, is Iran's puppet, Hezb'allah's patron, Israel's nemesis, Hamas's erstwhile landlord, and his people's tyrant.  He is the enemy of the Muslim Brotherhood -- our (former?) enemy.  And he has a mixed relationship with al-Qaeda, permitting it to infiltrate Iraq to kill Americans, Shiites, and non-compliant Sunnis, but now finding it joining the jihadis against him.

But Assad is also the friend of Russia, the object of the Obama administration's ardent courtship.  And Russia's enemies are Sunni jihadists, including Chechens and the Muslim Brotherhood.  One (admittedly unlikely) calculation of American interests might have had us join the Russians in stopping the rebels and then working with the Russians to effect political change in Syria.  It couldn't have worked any worse for the Syrian people or the U.S.-Russian relationship than Mrs. Clinton hectoring Putin but failing to change his deeply rooted interest in maintaining its port in Syria and hitting back at the jihadists. Read more ..

Mali on Edge

Militant Group in Mali Ready to Negotiate

November 7th 2012

Taureg dude

One of the three armed al-Qaida-linked militant groups in control of northern Mali since April says it rejects all ties to terrorism and is ready to negotiate with Mali's transitional authorities. A spokesman for the delegation from the Malian Islamist group, Ansar Dine, read the declaration following a meeting with Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore Tuesday in Ouagadougou.

Spokesman Mohamed Aharib says Ansar Dine reiterates its availability to open a "frank and constructive dialogue" with Mali's transitional authorities.  In the interest of creating an environment of confidence and security, he says, Ansar Dine pledges to observe a complete halt in hostilities to guarantee the free movement of people and goods and to facilitate humanitarian aid in the zones under its control.  Ansar Dine, he says, "rejects all form of extremism and terrorism" and pledges to fight organized, cross-border crime. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Climate Change Could Alter Eating Habits

November 7th 2012

Arid Desert

Climate change might force changes in diets around the world as certain staple foods become harder to produce, according to international agriculture researchers.

However, future shortfalls could be offset by switching to crops which can thrive in those altered climates, according to new reports by the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research. Important crops like maize and wheat produce less grain at temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius. “Those kinds of temperatures are being reached on a regular basis and more frequently in many countries now,” says Sonja Vermeulen, head of CGIAR climate change research.

Widespread changes
Vermeulen says growing-season temperatures are not the only factors affected by climate change. Rainfall patterns are shifting, too. Water supplies will be strained in some areas, while others will see more floods. Freshly threshed rice near Sangrur, India. Salt water encroachment, flooding and droughts are more likely as the climate changes, which could impact crops such as rice.

Climate change is also altering habitats for pests and diseases, she says. "And for some crops, particularly crops we really value, such as potatoes, we think those are really likely to increase and change in their patterns in the future.” Rice will not be spared, either. Higher temperatures, salt water encroachment, more flooding and more droughts are likely as the climate changes.

Maize vs. millet
Some crops in some regions will be able to adapt, “But for others, we’re really going to have to think about switching out of growing some crops entirely,” Vermeulen says. For example, by later this century large parts of Africa will no longer be suitable for growing maize. Sorghum, millet and cassava are becoming better options. Read more ..

Education on Edge

Study Student Aid Before You Reform It

November 7th 2012


After four years of significant growth, the Pell Grant program faces in 2014 what has been called a "funding cliff." The looming shortfall has set off a heated debate about how to put the program—and our entire student-financial-aid system—on a path that is more sustainable and better serves students.

Behind the sound bites of the presidential election, many researchers, wonks, advocates, and foundations have become involved. This fall, for instance, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded grants to an array of organizations tasked with reimagining the design and delivery of financial-aid programs. (I am a part of one project, organized by HCM Strategists.)

The discussions under way go beyond temporary fixes to financing issues; they are asking important questions about the future shape of financial aid. How can scarce money be allocated more efficiently? Can reforms help more students complete college while maintaining a commitment to ensuring them access to postsecondary education? Read more ..

Broken Government

Extend Bush-Era Tax Cuts to Spur Economy

November 7th 2012

Employee applications

There is a sharp contrast between the Republican and Democratic views when it comes to the issue of job creation. Upon taking office in 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was predicted to provide a Keynesian or demand-side stimulus to the economy, spurring growth and job creation.

One could argue endlessly about whether the $814 billion injection into the economy created or saved millions of jobs. The fact is that three years down the line, the lofty prediction that the Recovery Act would result in average unemployment rates of 6 percent or less has not worked out. It's time to try a different approach.

Supply-side economics makes several common-sense predictions about ways to stimulate economic growth and job creation. Tax cuts are important for businesses of all sizes - large and small - and for individuals. Lower tax burdens mean everyone has more money to spend, invest, and expand the economy. If that logic holds for those earning less than $250,000, why wouldn't it hold for those making more than that arbitrarily picked amount? Read more ..

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