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Archive for November 2008

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The Detroit Bailout

2008 L.A. Auto Show: Was it the Kick off for the Big Three's Farewell Tour?

November 24th 2008

Economy - Big Three at Congress
GM's Wagoner, Chrysler's Nardelli, & Ford's Mullaly

Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York…

That sounds like the city stops along a rock band’s national tour—and it could be.

But in this case these are major cities that make up part of the 2009 model-year auto show exposition tour that car companies will follow to display their products to the American public. For the Big Three—General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, it could be their farewell tour.

While nearly everyone hopes this won’t be the situation, it doesn’t look particularly promising judging from what the U.S. carmakers unveiled—or more pointedly, didn’t unveil—last week at the Los Angeles Auto Show. 

Last Tuesday night, Ford debuted its latest muscle car, the 2010 Mustang. Yes, the Mustang has always been an American favorite, and the unveiling is obviously intended to blunt Chevrolet’s intended 2010 re-launch of Mustang’s longtime competitor, Camaro. But is this the right time to be talking about gasoline-guzzling muscle cars… regardless of how relatively fuel-efficient the new Mustang may be. Read more ..

International Justice

Former President Of Argentina To Be Charged With Crimes Against Humanity

November 24th 2008

History-Genocide - Jorge Rafael Videla

The former dictator of Argentina, General Jorge Rafael Videla Redondo, has been charged with ordering the deaths of 31 political prisoners when he led the governing military junta of the South American country in the 1970s. Judge Cristina Garzón de Lascano of Córdoba charged him with crimes against humanity perpetrated from 1976 to 1983.

The judge is to investigate the participation of Videla and other Argentine military authorities in human rights abuses and other crimes committed in police facilities and the San Martín prison in Córdoba, an area southwest of Buenos Aires in the foothills of the Andes. This is the first time that Videla has been charged in the Province of Córdoba for crimes against humanity.

In addition to Videla, another 20 persons have been charged and also facing fines and imprisonment. Among them are retired Army officers Vicente Meli, Mauricio Carlos Poncet, Raúl Eduardo Fierro, and Jorge González Navarro.

Videla and fellow junta member Admiral Eduardo Massera and Air Force Brigadier Orlando Ramón Agosti were both trained at the School of the Americas training facility organized by the U.S. Army in Panamá. In 1999 President Bill Clinton apologized to the people of Guatemala for the role the U.S. played in the repression of human rights in their country, as it was Argentina that provided military advisors to the governments of Guatemala and El Salvador during their civil wars in the 1970s when thousands of innocent persons, along with Marxist guerrillas, were killed by military and security forces. Read more ..

Tracking Electric Vehicles

Foreign Companies Surge Ahead with Electric Vehicles even as Detroit Prepares to Pull the Plug

November 24th 2008

Energy / Environment - Project Better Place

While U.S. manufactures may actually be putting the brakes on developing electric vehicles, overseas-based manufacturers are surging ahead.

Even though Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors have gone hat in hand to Congress for their unwanted internal combustion machine, the momentum towards electric transportation among foreign companies is fully charged. The unveiling of the MINI E produced by BMV made some waves at the L.A. Auto Show but a November 20 press conference with Mayor Gavin Newsome of San Francisco, Mayor Chuck Reed of San Jose, and Mayor Ron Dellums of Oakland promises more far-ranging impact. The mayoral threesome announced public-private investment coupled by a multi-step plan to transform the San Francisco Bay Area into the “Electric Vehicle Capital of the U.S.” The region will host the nation's first EV network. Read more ..

Inside Palestine

Arabs Unable to Influence Israeli Policies in Jerusalem Because They Will Not Vote

November 24th 2008

Israel Topics - Arab Vendor

On November 11, 2008, Nir Barkat was elected mayor of Jerusalem. Not participating in the mayoral election, once again, was Jerusalem's Arab population. As permanent residents of the city, Jerusalem's Arabs are entitled to vote in municipal elections, although the overwhelming majority of the Arab population boycott these elections.

Since 1967, various Palestinian Authority associations (now run both by Fatah and Hamas) have demanded that the Jerusalem Arabs refrain from voting in these elections. According to these groups, any voting in Israeli government elections on the part of the Arabs will signify their approval of the Israeli "occupation" of what they claim is Palestinian territory. East Jerusalem, of course, is one of these highly contested areas. Read more ..

Religious Freedom

Horrid Hindu Atrocities Against Christians in Orissa Challenge India's Pluralism

November 24th 2008

Asia Topics - Orissa Violence

The violence which ravaged the Christian community in Orissa, India, for two months from late August to October was brutal and bitterly partisan and would hardly have been out of place in the Rwanda of 1994. In one of the private relief camps in the Orissa state capital, a displaced lady told me the story of her pastor who had been targeted by a mob which came into his home. The members of the mob tried to force him to renounce his faith and when he refused to do so, protesting that he had been a leader and preacher for many years, they cut off his lips, poured kerosene over his head and burned him alive. They also burned down his house and threw his deaf and mute elderly mother onto the fire, where she died.

Attacks on the minority Christian community began in a remote rural district of the eastern state of Orissa in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of the controversial Hindu leader, Swami Lakhmananda Saraswati, by Maoist insurgents on August 23. The attacks were widespread, clearly targeted and extremely violent. Read more ..

Genetic Edge

The Quest for Global Consensus on Human Biotechnology

November 24th 2008

Science - Mouse in Beaker

The newest human biotechnologies have the potential for both great good and great harm. If used responsibly they could lead to medical advances and improved health outcomes. If misapplied they could exacerbate health disparities and generate new forms of discrimination and inequality. If we are to realize their benefits yet avoid their risks we will need regulations, laws, and guidelines at both national and international levels.

But how and where should the lines be drawn? If drawn too tightly they could constrain valuable medical research. If drawn too loosely they could open the door to a Gattaca-like world of neo-eugenic practices and ideologies.

In the United States, serious discussion of these questions has been thwarted for the past eight years by partisanship and polarization, and constructive engagement by the Bush administration at the international level has been effectively nil. The good news, however, is that during this same period many countries have been developing comprehensive human biotech policies that strike a practicable and socially responsible balance between being overly restrictive and overly permissive.

A survey of 192 countries and eight major intergovernmental organizations suggests that:

  • There is widespread support for human embryonic stem cell research involving embryos created but not used in the course of assisted reproductive technology (ART) procedures.
  • There is similarly widespread support for embryo screening to avoid passing serious diseases to one's offspring.
  • There is strong opposition to human reproductive cloning, inheritable genetic modification, and embryo screening for non-medical purposes.
  • There is widespread concern about the commercialization of human reproductive activities and about the use of genetic technologies for so-called "enhancement" purposes

Inside Terrorism

Al Qaeda’s Message: Global Jihad Will Not Stop With Obama White House

November 24th 2008

Terrorism - Zawahiri

While observers waited for the release of the "official" al Qaeda position on the election of Barack Obama as the next President of the United States, seasoned experts on the Jihadist movement had little doubt about the substance of the main message. As I have outlined in my appearances on Arabic television channels since November 4, Osama bin Laden or his second in command, was expected to declare that their "Jihad" will continue despite the election of an African-American president and despite Obama’s intention to withdraw from Iraq. Ayman al-Zawahiri lived up to expectations in his latest message to both his supporters and his enemies. The message: Even if the war ends in Iraq, the global war will continue everywhere.

The tape was expected to appear a few weeks after the election—because that’s how the terror group does things. First, al Qaeda monitors the reaction from of the international community, both from the Arab and Muslim world and also from other Islamist authorities. The Bin Laden-Zawahiri style is to give the "last word," like a Caliph would. The points raised in the tape were almost all predicted by experts familiar with the Jihadi-combat mind set: Although a new president was elected—one who would reverse some of Bush’s policies—the new president will also devise new strategies to defeat al Qaeda. Read more ..

Inside Islam

Bangladesh's Secular Democracy Struggles with Violent Radical Islam

November 24th 2008

Islamic Topics - Bengali Islamists

Bangladesh is a country associated more with floods, cyclones and poverty than terrorism or radical Islamism. Indeed, it is a country founded on secular, democratic values and widely regarded as a moderate Muslim state. In recent years, however, militant Islamism has quietly been taking ground – and Bangladesh’s survival as a progressive state is on a knife-edge.

The warning signs have been there for some years, and some commentators have been sounding the alarm. In 2002, Ruth Baldwin wrote a piece in The Nation headlined: “The ‘Talibanisation’ of Bangladesh.” Hiranmay Karlekar wrote Bangladesh: The Next Afghanistan? While Maneeza Hossain’s Broken Pendulum: Bangladesh’s Swing to Radicalism and Ali Riaz’s God Willing: The Politics of Islamism in Bangladesh are all important contributions. 

Perhaps the most visible and dramatic sign of the growth of extremism came three years ago. On 17 August 2005, between 11 and 11.30 am, 527 bombs were exploded in a massive attack on all but one of the country’s 64 districts. Such a carefully co-ordinated campaign of terror shocked the nation – but in many respects it was just the tip of the terror iceberg. Other terrorist incidents, including an attack on the Bangladeshi-born British High Commissioner, members of the judiciary and sporadic attacks on religious and ethnic minorities are further indicators of the presence of well-organised terrorist networks. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Give Thanks and Praise: Remaking Recession into a Season of Abundance

November 24th 2008

Contributors / Staff - Armstrong Williams Headshot

The chilly winds of change blowing across the global economic landscape this fall have tested our threadbare garments to the point of fraying. Many of our fellow travelers find themselves losing hope that things will ever get any better. Some of us may feel at times as if there is no choice but to stop in our tracks and forsake ourselves to the fate of the dry and dusty bones littering the ground all around us. However, despite facing a bleak landscape at present, the human spirit always has a choice. Instead of giving up the ghost, we can choose to reaffirm our faith. In fact, surviving these trying times demands of us that we give thanks and praise.


Consider, if you will, that the improbable and unfathomably precious gift of our lives takes shape in a crucible of struggle. A single sperm cell, swimming along a foreign and hostile canal, pushes past the strewn corpses of millions of its fellow sojourners, to finally arrive at the ultimate prize; an unfertilized egg. Upon meeting the egg, a miraculous process ensues.  The two cells combine and become instantly productive. They divide and multiply, and, in a matter of mere months, grow out of that singular union a complex and living being composed of hundreds of millions of cells. At length, we come to term. Again, a stark struggle occurs. Our mothers, in travail upon travail, bear the pain of ultimate sacrifice, approaching the very precipice of death to bring us forth, wailing and crying, into this world. Most of us have no memory of the shock and loss we experienced when we were evicted from the warm comfort of the womb to face the glaring sun for the first time. But out of such shock and awe emerges springs life, and for that miracle alone we must give thanks and praise. Read more ..

Book Review

A Very French Assessment of the Left and the Right in Dark Times

November 24th 2008

Book Covers - Left in Dark Times

Bernard-Henri Levy. Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism. September 2008, Random House. 256 pages.

The terms Left and Right were coined in 1789 to describe seating arrangements for the National Assembly during the early stages of the French Revolution. Those seated to the podium’s right wanted to preserve parts of the past; those on the left hoped, in the name of progress, to invent a new future. But the maneuverings of politics soon muddied the initial transparency of these terms into an enduring illegibility. The ideas of the bloody minded right-wing reactionary Joseph de Maistre, the intellectual arch-enemy of the Revolution, for instance, became an inspiration for the early socialists—and so it has gone ever since.

The flamboyant French litterateur Bernard-Henri Lévy, widely known in Paris as BHL, acknowledges the problem. In his new book, he writes that “the famous split between Left and Right that has structured French politics... has become harder and harder to believe in.” That is because, to his dismay, much of the Left, cuckolded by history, no longer believes in progress or modernity. He describes the contemporary Left, with its signature scowl of anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, and anti-liberalism, as “that great backward falling corpse which the worms have already started to chew.”

Despite his disdain for much of the current Left, and despite the fact that many of those closest to his point of view in France endorsed the presidential candidacy of the “right-wing” flag bearer Nicholas Sarkozy, a personal friend, Lévy refused to abandon the Socialist ticket. His dilemma, he told Sarkozy, was that no matter how much he liked, respected, and even agreed with the French president, he couldn’t support him because “the Left is my family.” Lévy’s new book is an effort—part memoir, part essay, part polemic—to explain the nature of those family ties. Read more ..

TCEN Called it on General Electric

November 24th 2008
Once again, the Cutting Edge cut right through the haze and did so just before the shoe dropped. You called it on General Electric just before the price dramatically tanked. The company has bamboozled the country and the investor community for years. They have always been a bank masquerading as an industrial combine. The Cutting Edge is to be commended. You did the same for Wachovia. That was the worst bank in America and you assembled all the facts in one place. Since the mainstream media won't give us this sort of insightful analysis, I for one am glad someone will. Keep up the slicing and dicing.

The Detroit Bailout

Denying Big Three a Bailout Can Be a Historic Opportunity to Get America off Oil and Save Detroit

November 24th 2008

Contributors / Staff - Edwin Black

The impulse to accede to political pressure and jobs blackmail from the Big Three for a $25 billion bailout offers America a historic turning-point opportunity. This is the country’s chance to both reform the auto industry and ignite a massive shift off of oil in one master stroke. How?

The $25 billion in lending should not go to the Big Three as a reward for consciously addicting this country to oil and subverting the alternatives.  A better idea is to allocate the same $25 billion in lending—but not to the Big Three. Instead, offer loans at rates as low as student loans to any American citizen or fleet manager willing to buy an alternative fuel, flex-fuel, open fuel standard, or alternative propulsion vehicle--new or retrofitted. This would provide an immediate incentive for Detroit and Torrance, California to spend the approximate $100 per vehicle necessary to make every car and truck a multi-fuel or open-fuel vehicle.

When we say open-fuel or multi-fuel, we are not talking about the governmental cash cow currently going to the corn ethanol-big oil combine. We are talking about fuel systems that can function on all forms of combustibles from methanol (the Chinese use 50 million gallons a year while we use none) to second generation biofuel such as cellulosic ethanol. There is already pending legislation advocating the open-fuel standard and the multi-fuel approach. Why wait?

At the same time, legislation should immediately eliminate the $.54 per gallon penalty tax assessed to every gallon of sugar cane ethanol that Brazil struggles to export to America’s Southeast. In the process, we should cut the $8 billion in government subsidies annually handed to the corn ethanol-big oil combine and use that money to both fund 25 percent of the bailout money and open a string of multi-fuel service stations throughout the country offering everything from compressed natural gas (CNG) to methanol to hydrogen to electric charging. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Israeli Air General Vows "We Won't Let Iran Go Nuclear"

November 17th 2008

Israel Topics - Israeli Jets Parked

Israel will not tolerate a nuclear Iran, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, the head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau, has stressed to this reporter in an unusually hard-hitting interview.

For now, Israel is backing diplomatic and economic efforts to thwart the Iranians, Gilad added, but it doubts these will work and it is keeping all options open.

Asked about the complexities of any resort to military action, particularly since Iran has built its facilities to withstand a repeat of the IAF's 1981 destruction of Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor at Osirak, Gilad replied, tellingly, that domestic critics 27 years ago said the Osirak raid "couldn't be done. And the fact is, it succeeded."

"Iran is a country with smart people that have capabilities," he noted. "It really would be a considerable challenge. Come the day, if and when this or that option is adopted, what will matter is the outcome."


The Detroit Bailout

OPEC and the Gasoline Companies Should Fund the Auto Bailout

November 17th 2008

Contributors / Staff - Marc
Marc J. Rauch

A few weeks ago, Congress approved a $25 billion aid package to the American car companies to help them design and build the vehicles of the future; cars and trucks that would utilize alternative fuel propulsion systems.
You’ll recall that around the same time that they agreed to provide this aid package to the carmakers, Congress debated and approved two other aid packages (one to insurance company AIG, the other to the banking and Wall Street firms that made such a mess of the financial and housing markets). These two bailout packages amount to about $800 billion.
Now, there is a movement afoot to allow the carmakers to shift the focus of the $25 billion alt-fuel vehicle aid package (from helping them create the next generation of alt-fuel vehicles to using the funds to shore up their poor general financial condition), and to provide at least an additional $25 billion in aid for the same cause.   
As I was leaving Detroit on Friday evening, after spending two days at the Propane Engine Fuel Summit, I listened to a local radio talk show host harangue his audience about those (in and out of Congress) who are against allowing the car companies to get off the hook (again) to develop cars and trucks that don’t rely on gasoline, and to award them the additional $25 billion for their financial debacle. “Is America going to just let the Big Three fail?” he screamed. “Don’t you stupid people realize what will happen to this country?”  Read more ..

America’s Economic Collapse

Could General Electric Collapse?

November 17th 2008

Corporate Logos - General Electric

General Electric, the legendary American institution, founded in 1878 by Thomas Edison, is in deep trouble. Its PR machine has been in constant spin mode as the company sinks deeper into fiscal despair. GE is one of the few major companies in the U.S. that still retains an AAA rating. Considering Moody’s and S&P’s track record rating companies and financial instruments, not a few observers feel that an AAA rating is not worth the paper it is written on.

One look at GE’s balance sheet will convince an inquirer that the firm indeed does not deserve an AAA rating. AAA companies do not need to take the desperate actions that GE has taken in the last few months. Something is seriously wrong at GE.

The stock reached $53 at its peak in 2000 and has virtually crashed to below $17 this past week, the lowest level since the mid-1990s. CEO Jeffrey Immelt, who took over from icon Jack Welch in 2001, has made his mark by managing the company to a 68 percent decline in its stock price. No one at CNBC seems willing to take a hard look at GE’s financial statements or ask the CEO tough questions, because Mr. Immelt signs their paychecks. While shareholders have taken a bath, Mr. Immelt, a Harvard MBA, raked in $72.2 million of compensation between 2002 and 2007. A company that is known for its "pay for performance" mantra evidently does not hold its CEO to the same standards.


Inside Islam

School Girls Doused with Acid by Taliban Assailants

November 17th 2008

Islamic Topics - Pakistani honor victims

Girls on the way to school in the Kandahar province in Afghanistan were attacked by terrorists who doused them with battery acid on November 12. A sixteen-year-old girl said, "We were on the way to school when two men on motorbikes stopped next to us. One of them threw acid on my sister's face. I tried to help her, and then they threw acid on me, too." This happened on the morning of November 12, and hundreds of school children have since stayed away from school out of fear of further attacks. A teacher at a girls school in Kandahar, who was also injured in the attack, was not certain whether classes would resume.

Some 15 women and girls were injured in the attacks in Kandahar, an area of considerable Taliban presence. Two girls were released from hospital a day after the attack, but one girl remains because of severe burns to her face and eyes.

During the Taliban regime that ruled Afghanistan before the U.S.-led military intervention, women and girls were expected to remain at home and could face death or severe punishment by the Taliban enforcers of sharia - Islamic law. Girls were banned from schools during the days of Taliban rule and could not leave their homes without male escorts. Read more ..

Inside Terrorism

Message to Barack Obama from Al Qaeda in Iraq

November 17th 2008

Contributors / Staff - Walid Phares new
Walid Phares

As reactions to the election of a new U.S. President across the Arab and Muslim world reflecting the fundamental interests of the various regimes and movements, the most radical groups including al Qaeda have been sending messages in different directions. Of particular interest is one message to Barack Obama.

Al-Furqan, a Jihadi outlet, released on November 8 an audio recording of a speech by Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, who describes himself as "Emir of the Islamic State of Iraq." The less than half hour internet broadcast was titled "Message to the New Governors of the White House (and other Christian leaders)." It can also be translated as "to the new rulers," i.e. the President and Vice President elect.

After a mandatory "theological" segment taking on Christians, Jews, and apostate Muslims, the speech wandered erratically between issues high on the Jihadist agenda worldwide, particularly the necessity for the United States to call it quits and pull out of the Mideast region. In essence, al Baghdad, who is one of al Qaeda's most lethal "generals," demands the United States under the Obama administration to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan and remove its military presence from the Muslim world.

Interestingly, this message to the Obama White House connects with a dominant theme not only of al Qaeda's but also the Jihadist forces and regimes around the world. Despite their divisions and diverse strategies, the Salafists and Khomeinists have a common ideological approach on how to deal with the United States. This attitude has been embodied by multiple speeches, statements, and declarations since the early 1990s. From the powerful doctrinal positions of Sheikh Yusuf al Qardawi on al Jazeera, al Qaeda's Usama Bin laden and Ayman Zawahiri, to President Ahmedinijad, the "agenda" is single-minded: The United States must pull its forces outside the region and keep them inside its own borders.  Read more ..

Post-Election Edge

A Republican Plea for a Rejected Party: Reinvent Yourself by Looking Forward not Backward

November 17th 2008

Contributors / Staff - Armstrong Williams Headshot
Armstrong Williams

Bruises are still tender from the Democraticdrubbing that Republicans took on Election Day. The bad news is there’s plenty more to come, only this time from within. Less than 12 hours following the California returns, congressional and party leaders huddled in basements and on impromptu conference calls and began plotting a way out of this deep, yawning ditch they’ve managed to drive into with the party bus.

Perhaps there was less plotting and more commiserating.

There’s no question the Grand Old Party is now wandering in the wilderness. But although scores of conservative soothsayers will want to look over their collective shoulder and blame the McCain campaign or political arms of the party such as the RNC, I will not. The party’s problems run deeper and wider than that.

John McCain had nothing to do with this nosedive. The party was headed in that direction long before he came on the scene to run for president. However, I believe that a McCain administration would have continued many of the behaviors that contributed to the predicament they find themselves in. Fifty percent of Americans felt the same way; telling exit pollsters on election night that they believed McCain would continue the policies of President Bush. Read more ..

The Race for Biofuels

Jatropha and Sugar Cane Can Bring Africa Self-Sufficiency and Help the World Quit Petroleum

November 17th 2008

Energy / Environment - Jatropha Seeds
Jatropha Seeds

Listening to public figures in Europe and North America despair over the plight of Africa and its people, one would think the situation is hopeless.

Despite more than $625 billion in foreign aid and direct assistance since 1960, per capita gross domestic product in Africa has remained stagnant for decades. In the last quarter of the Twentieth Century, the continent’s share of global trade fell from an already negligible 3 per cent in 1976 to less than 1 per cent in 2000. According to the United Nations’ human development scale, which takes into account regional levels of health, education, and economic well-being, 34 of the 40 lowest-ranked countries are located in Africa.

But the reality is far from hopeless, and the people of Africa today stand at the threshold of a period of tremendous growth and opportunity. Thanks to the sharp rise in worldwide commodities prices over the last decade, the economies of sub-Saharan Africa, after decades of stagnation, are growing again.

Over recent years, regional economies have expanded by an average of 6 per cent annually, more than twice the rate of growth of the United States’ economy during the same period.


The Water’s Edge

Municipal Water Stresses Abundant As the Levels Shrink

November 17th 2008

Science - Low Water

 The United States has always been two separate countries when it comes to water. The east has riparian water rights like those of England, while the west has right of prior appropriation which has descended to us through Spanish laws modified for use in the arid southwest.

Riparian rights permit a variety of uses for water found on, under, or flowing next to a property. The rights can't be sold or transferred except to an adjacent piece of land, the water may not be transferred out of the watershed, and the use must be reasonable. Unfortunately what was reasonable in a high precipitation year may not be in a dry year, and reasonableness is not precisely defined but instead depends upon the views of the others who have right to the water. Read more ..

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Book Review

The Mismanagement of America's Great Disaster in Iraq

November 17th 2008

Book Covers - War Without End

Michael Schwartz. War Without End: The Iraq War in Context. 320 pages. September 2008, Haymarket Books.

The Iraq War has been among the greatest disasters in modern American history. Michael Schwartz’ illuminating new book War Without End: The Iraq War in Context provides a comprehensive overview of the ideological roots of the war and its harrowing social costs for the Iraqi people. He argues quite convincingly that rather than it being purely a matter of administrative incompetence and mismanagement, the ideological zealotry of leading neo-conservatives was a principal cause of the American failure to establish political legitimacy after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. He shows how neo-liberal policies and the rapid privatization of state resources backed by a doctrine of massive force helped to exacerbate the suffering of ordinary Iraqis who increasingly turned to resistance against U.S. power and rule and remain disdainful of the occupation.

According to Schwartz, a professor of sociology at Stony Brook University, America’s war aims were clear from the outset: to create a strategic base for the establishment of control over the Middle East’s prized energy reserves and to usher in an economic transition from the “socialist dictatorship” of Saddam Hussein to an unfettered free-market capitalist state capable of serving as a model for the region. In the aftermath of the invasion, Lieutenant L. Paul Bremer and his staff moved to rapidly privatize state resources, including the formerly state-owned oil industry and all sectors of the economy including the health and educational systems. They rewarded multinational corporations like Haliburton and Bechtel with major contracts to help rebuild the country’s infrastructure, which had been devastated during the shock and awe campaign and previous wars and economic sanctions. Read more ..

Great Gatherings

Legislators and Opinion Makers from Around the World Discuss Human Rights in “Real American” Venue

November 17th 2008

Event Logos - IRPP Scranton Meeting

The First Lady of Ethiopia and a top member of the National Security Council are among dozens of world leaders and legislators who will converge on Scranton, Pennsylvania to attend an important annual conference on human rights from November 23–25, 2008

For the first time in its five-year history, the Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Interparliamentary Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom (IPC) will convene outside a national capital. The IPC is a program of the Washington-based Institute on Religion and Public Policy designed to foster initiatives and training on human rights around the world at the most democratic level—national legislatures.

Past sessions have taken place in Rome, Brussels and Washington, but bringing the IPC to Scranton—the hometown of Vice President-Elect Joe Biden—is a chance for foreign leaders to see the "real America," explains Institute President Joseph K. Grieboski. The State of Pennsylvania, City of Scranton and Lackawanna County are all sponsors of the event.


Book Review

Assassins and Assassinations and their Role in History Examined With Facts Not Conspiracy

November 17th 2008

Book Covers - Assassins

Paul Donnelley. Assassins and Assassinations: History's Most Infamous Plots. February 2008, New Holland Publishers. 192 pages.

Assassins and Assassinations: History's Most Infamous Plots is a compelling study by Paul Donnelly revealing the strange and complex world of the assassin. Throughout, the author shows the shocking ease in which psychopathic, professional or personal assassins can carry out their appalling act of murder---sometimes with devastating effect on the societies they attack. He has also shown how assassination in many parts of the world has not only been a normal and rational political act but has often been effective in the transference of power.

From the Wolf’s Lair of Hitler’s ‘1000-year Empire’ to the inner sanctums of the Kremlin, from the murderous world of organized crime to the political plotting of American and European anarchist groups and Islamic jihadists, assassins have attempted to change the course of history. Donnelley delineates the sinister history of this common and deadly profession with dozens of cases---chosen for their pertinence to world events and the effect they had on the society of the day. Particularly interesting are those cases which are usually not found in books about this subject, including Hitler’s would-be assassin Johann Georg Elser and Irish patriot Michael Collins’ assassin, Denis O’Neill.

Assassins and Assassinations is triumphant in two ways. The first is stylistic. Unlike similar books on the subject Donnelley writes with authority but does not tire the reader with turgid prose. The second triumph is ethical. Donnelley does not allow himself to pander to the constant harpings of conspiracy theorists who see every American assassination as an act of government betrayal. Instead, Donnelley focuses clearly on the facts and treats speculative accounts as nothing more than the efforts of the conspiracy-minded who always prevent facts from interfering with their prejudices. Read more ..

Author's Own Story

Mr. Jefferson's Women--A Look into Colonial Gender Realities

November 17th 2008

Book Covers - Mr. Jefferson's Women

Jon Kukla. Mr. Jefferson's Women. October 2008, Vintage. 304 pages. 

Hundreds of books and articles have been written about Thomas Jefferson’s extraordinary life, genius, and achievements. With few exceptions, however, little was known about the women who figured in Jefferson’s life when I began my research for Mr. Jefferson’s Women. The book become a pioneering inquiry addressing two basic questions: What kinds of relationships did Thomas Jefferson have with women? And, more generally, how did the American Revolution affect the situation of women in society and politics?

As to the first question, my research cast fresh light upon things we thought we knew about Rebecca Burwell, Elizabeth Walker, Martha Jefferson, Maria Cosway, and Sally Hemings. Readers have often expressed appreciation for the care with which I tried to show both sides of these relationships, but the primary-source evidence sometimes led me to surprising, troubling, or controversial conclusions. An angry email message sent after the book was mentioned in the press wondered whether I wrote about Sally Hemings because I was “ignorant or just a pathological liar.”

More interesting and less predictable reactions came from well-informed scholars dismayed by the loss of a favorite story (such as the highly romantic version of the Maria Cosway flirtation) or skeptical about the loss of a cherished assumption. “Do you find Jefferson any more sexist that any other of the founders?” a distinguished historian asked. We need to know more about the others, but the answer (especially after Jefferson’s experience in France) is probably “Yes.” Clearly Mr. Jefferson’s Women does contradict the hopeful essayist who assumed that an “enlightened view of women’s abilities” prompted Jefferson “to extend his democratic ideology to embrace women.” Read more ..

Friends of Zambia Recognize Coverage

November 17th 2008

I have just discovered your excellent site thanks to recent blogs. We Zambians and friends of Zambia are fed-up with the virtual media blackout on Zambia just because there isn't a lot of bad news about Zambia. So the article "Zambia's Election an Important Bellwether for Africa" of November 3, 2008 by Priya Abraham is just so refreshing! I wanted to say thank you and keep up the wonderful work - quality journalism instead of so much sensational stuff on our TV screens and newspapers (rarely watched or read).

6ix Park Grill (Irvine)

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Clean Energy Quest

Truck-delivered Micro-Nuclear Reactor for Clean Energy Within Five Years

November 10th 2008

Contributors / Staff - Edwin Black

Micro-nuclear reactors about the size of a hot tub, prefabricated and delivered by trucks, will begin revolutionizing electric energy supply within five years, according to information gleaned from government scientists and corporate energy sources. If successful, the breakthrough will change the face of global energy supplies.

New nuclear battery technology pioneered by government scientists at Los Alamos—the facility that developed the first atomic bomb—has been licensed to private companies for mass production and distribution. In its initial format, each micro-reactor will produce just 25 megawatts, but enough to provide electricity for 20,000 average American-sized homes or a major industrial project. Daisy-chained, these micro-reactors, each one about twice the size of an average man, can supply enough electricity to power an entire small city or suburb. Initially, the reactors will be placed in isolated industrial and residential areas, such as oilsand enterprises and underdeveloped African nations in need of power. 

The miniature nuclear marvels will be factory-sealed in concrete, and delivered by truck, train or ship for burial under close international nuclear regulatory supervision. The reactors will produce heat which will boil an adjacent water source to create the steam that typically turns turbines that generate electricity.

Unlike giant nuclear reactors requiring ten years to construct under daunting conditions, these concrete “nuclear batteries” have no moving parts, no potential to go supercritical or meltdown, and reportedly cannot be easily tampered with. The extremely small amount of hot nuclear fuel—too hot to handle--would immediately cool if exposed to air, technical sources assert. Read more ..

America With No Plan for Oil Interruption

Canadian Diesel Shortage and Stalled Oilsands Renew Canola Biofuel Interest

November 10th 2008

Energy / Environment - Oil Sands

As the price of oil drops to around $60 per barrel and the pain subsides at the gas pump, drivers of the trucks and long haul carriers that carry 90 percent of the consumer goods across Canada are feeling just the opposite.

In a country of enormous petroleum resources, refinery shut-downs have caused diesel shortages that have put a vice-grip on the Canadian trucking industry. This supply constraint has threatened to create shortages of everything from holiday consumer goods to food on the grocery store shelves. This diesel shortage combined with the slowing pace of development in Canada's oilsands development remind us that alternatives to petroleum diesel should be pursued with vigor.

Ironically, that's as true in one of the world most oil-rich countries - Canada - as it is in a more energy-security sensitive country such as the U.S.

Planned and unplanned shutdowns and upgrades at three refineries in the petroleum-rich province of Alberta have caused the fuel supply shortfall that began in late September 2008. Suncor's 260,000 barrel per day Northern Alberta oilsands plant that supplies diesel to the wholesale market went down on an unplanned outage in early October. Petro-Canada's 135,000 barrel per day Edmonton refinery has had its major diesel producing unit off line since the summer. Imperial Oil's 187,000 barrel per day refinery in Strathcona, Alberta, was the last to go down after it could not wait until the other diesel producing refineries were back on line to begin its scheduled maintenance.  Read more ..

After the Holocaust

As Iran Arrests Critics, We Should Rethink Prosecution of Holocaust Denial

November 10th 2008

Contributors / Staff - Isi Leibler headshot

Islamic countries that have absorbed Holocaust denial as a central component of their hatred of Jews now have the gall to cite the criminalization Holocaust denial as a precedent for seeking to make any disapproval of Islam, Islamic practice, or even Sharia law grounds for criminal prosecution. Resolutions to this effect have already been passed by the UN General Assembly. Therefore, it may be timely to rethink the merits of criminalizing Holocaust denial.

The issue recently made headlines when German-born Australian Frederic Toben was arrested in transit at Heathrow airport and detained until the British courts decide whether he is to be extradited to Germany to face prosecution as a Holocaust denier. Toben, a veteran in this field, participated in Iranian Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Holocaust "conference" and has served seven months in a German prison as a denier. Although Australia has no statutes outlawing Holocaust denial, the courts there have ordered Toben to stop publishing anti-Semitic material on his website such as the description of the Holocaust as "the world's filthiest blood libel" because it breaches the Racial Discrimination Act. Toben has refused to adhere to the court order and if found in contempt is likely to face severe penalties on his return to Australia.

I don't support unfettered freedom of speech, and have always favored legislation designed to prosecute those inciting racial or religious hatred. There is no such thing as "innocent" Holocaust denial. Even if it purports to be a historical review, it is simply a vile body of lies created with the object of accusing the Jews of fabricating a story to exploit sympathy and obtain favored treatment. Read more ..

Book Review

How the Iraq War Aided America's Enemies

November 10th 2008

Book Covers - Unintended Consequences

Peter Galbraith. Unintended Consequences: How War in Iraq Strengthened America’s Enemies. September 2008, Simon & Schuster. 224 pages.

The last time Peter Galbraith wrote a book about Iraq, the title summed up the problems of the entire volume: based on his own, highly idiosyncratic reading of Iraqi history, Galbraith prematurely announced “The End of Iraq." However, in his new book on Iraq, the title is nothing short of brilliant: Unintended Consequences: How War in Iraq Strengthened America’s Enemies. That is by all accounts a crisp summary of some of the main problems that have afflicted U.S. policy in Iraq ever since 2003. So does it mean that Galbraith’s latest offering is an improvement on his previous one?

The beginning of the book is a little ominous. Included in the front matter is a page titled “Iraq’s Ethnic and Sectarian Divisions.” In the description of the “Shiite South,” Galbraith comments that “Iraq’s Council of Representatives has enacted a law permitting Iraq’s nine southern Governorates to form a single Shiite Region [capitalization as per the original] with the same powers as Kurdistan.” There is nothing wrong in the statement as such. It’s just that the law Galbraith refers to also happens to permit more than 100 other federalization scenarios. Basra can become a region in its own right with the other governorates remaining governorates; Maysan can become a region in its own right; Basra and Maysan together may become a region, and so on and so forth. None of these scenarios is mentioned by Galbraith and this is quite typical of his approach: he leaves out information he does not like and instead uses those few bits and pieces that appeal to him. The result is an outdated fantasy image of what politics in Iraq is like. Read more ..

The Obama Transition

You've Come a Long Way, Barack Obama

November 10th 2008

Presidential - Barack Obama

When I was a young boy we were briefly in South Africa. It was 1969 and the country was still very much in the grip of Apartheid politics. I remember being on top of Capetown’s Table Mountain and there were segregated toilets, with a prominent sign posted above the doors, Nie – Blankes! and Blankes!--the Afrikaans for Non – Whites and Whites. My recollection was also that the sidewalks had a line painted down the middle where whites and non-whites walked on different sides of the pavement. Being from San Francisco, the absurdity of this was staggering, yet it wasn’t only South Africa that had such policies.

As a young child from California, I did not experience the racial turmoil of the South, and certainly wasn’t aware during those years that the experience blacks in Mississippi had was rather different than that of blacks living in New York or San Francisco. When my family moved to Europe, it was in Germany that we first personally experienced racial prejudice. When looking for an apartment in 1970, and even as late as 1972, we had doors slammed in our faces with an emphatic ‘Ausländer Raus!” or “Wir vermieten nicht an Ausländer!” Respectively "Foreigners Out!" and "We don’t rent to foreigners!"

Living in Europe for over a decade and having mastered most of the western European languages, it eventually became easy for me and my ‘foreignness’ to become somewhat transparent. But I remained painfully aware that racism, bigotry, and xenophobia were not something that would disappear quickly or painlessly. Read more ..

Holocaust Edge

Architectural Plans Prove Auschwitz Envisioned Early On as Death Camp

November 10th 2008

Nazi Era - Auschwitz Blueprint
Auschwitz Blueprint

Architectural plans for the infamous Auschwitz death camp, revealed by German newspaper Bild on November 8, gave further testimony to the fact that the planners and executioners knew that Auschwitz was intended for the extermination of human beings. These were post-construction plans, drawn up after the construction of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination complex on the base of an old military camp of the Austro-Hungarian empire.


Bild reported that Dr. Hans-Dieter Kreikamp, chief director of the federal archives in Berlin, said the find was of "extraordinary importance." Furthermore, said Kreikamp, "The plans are authentic certificates of a systematically planned genocide of European Jews." Architectural drawings that included floor plans, side-elevations, and maps were found in an abandoned apartment in Berlin. They were drawn sometime between 1941 and 1943, showing detailed plans for prisoner barracks and chambers for murdering inmates with poison gas. The chambers were clearly marked “Gaskammer” – gas chamber.


The Edge of Wind

Arctic Ammonia Production Might Produce Energy and Stem Ice Loss from Global Warming

November 10th 2008

Energy / Environment - Polar Bear

The last three years have seen a mad scramble in the Arctic with undersea mapping of continental surface features and a Russian submarine placing a flag on the ocean floor at the North Pole—all efforts to claim potential fossil fuel resources beneath the sea bed.

But another vision, by independent researcher Dr. Homer Wang, is far different, allowing not only the production of energy but also the simultaneous correction of arctic ice loss.

Wind speeds of 7.5 meters per second in the continental United States can be promptly developed for the four hundred to five hundred watts per square meter available. But Arctic winds are twice as fast. Because wind energy increases with the cube of speed, harnessing winds in a Arctic meter can yield three to four thousand watts. The question is how?

Today's largest wind turbines, built by Enercon, offer hubs that stand a hundred and forty meters above the landscape and sweep an area of twelve thousand square meters. Such a device would not work on an oceangoing plantship facing arctic winds. Instead, it would act as a gigantic lever, capsizing even a large vessel. Arctic wind must be harvested with vertical axis wind turbines. Read more ..

The Race for Hydrogen

Ramping Up to the Hydrogen Highway

November 10th 2008

Energy / Environment - Hydrogen fueling
Los Angeles Hydrogen Station

The end is in sight for oil. It has been the fuel of choice for more than a century, but its waning future will be defined by supply uncertainty and increasingly high cost to consumers—fluctuating between a deceptive $2 per gallon and a punishing $4 gallon.

The use of oil also has very serious environmental consequences. Air pollution generated by our use of oil and other hydrocarbon fuels like coal is directly linked to global warming, the greatest manmade environmental threat the world has ever known. The world desperately needs an alternative to oil that is both pollution free and endlessly abundant in supply.

There is a lot of gamesmanship going on as the alternatives struggle to claim a share of the world’s energy future. Big oil, nuclear, and the agribusiness interests behind biofuels are playing to win.

Despite all the huffing, puffing, pushing and shoving, there is another fuel option that all of the big players can be a part of but none can control. It is pollution free. It is non-toxic. It is virtually limitless in supply, and as safe as the fuels we are already accustomed to using. When made with renewable sources of energy like wind, solar, geothermal, and hydro, it becomes a fuel that will have a prominent place in powering our homes, businesses, motor vehicles, aircraft, and shipping in coming years. That fuel is the simplest, most abundant element in the universe…hydrogen.  Read more ..

The Obama Transition

World Reacts Favorably to Obama Age--A Round-Up

November 10th 2008

Africa Topics - Obama in Africa

Newspapers across the world appeared to greet the election of Barack Obama with praise.


For example, in Kenya - the birthplace of the President-elect's father - the Daily Nation wrote on the day after the November 4 election, “Barack Obama’s victory over his Republican rival John McCain to become the 44th president of the US sparked off wild celebrations among Kenyans in the US. Like other Africans living in the US, Kenyans took to the streets with blaring car horns and loud music by Kenyan artists in their cars.” The paper added, “As Kenyans, we believe that with this win by our son, (America) will implement Africa-friendly policies that could lift not just the continent, but our nation from poverty.” Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Could Israel Strike Iran Before Obama's Inauguration Day?

November 10th 2008

Israel Topics - Israeli Jets Parked

On December 8, 1988, under the cover of night, IDF warplanes, helicopters, guided-missile frigates and an elite force of Flotilla 13 naval commandos and Golani Brigade reconnaissance fighters infiltrated Lebanon.

Their target was a cave-based headquarters 20 km. south of Beirut, serving the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, headed by Ahmed Jibril.

The raid, code-named Operation Blue and Brown, involved the first known use of the IDF's secretive Oketz K9 dog unit.

Four soldiers found themselves left behind, forcing the air force to conduct a dramatic helicopter rescue. The soldiers clung to the helicopters' railings as they choppers took off, with Palestinian gunmen in pursuit. Lt.-Col. Amir Meital, commander of Golani reconnaissance unit, was killed by enemy fire during the raid. Read more ..

Asian Edge

China Positions for Central Asia Sphere of Influence

November 10th 2008

Economy - Wen and Nazarbayev
Wen and Nazarbayev

During a recent visit to Astana, Kazakhstan, for a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Chinese Premier Minister Wen Jiabao called for his country to play a central, coordinating role in Central Asia.

Wen insisted that "it is necessary to exercise greater interaction between our financial and business communities. SCO members must work…to enhance the coordination of monetary policies and improve financial controls."

The premier went on to say that China's financial market will remain stable, allowing it to be a major supporter of aid to the Central Asian states in overcoming the global economic crisis.

Meanwhile, he proposed the creation of an extensive infrastructure and energy trade network to tighten the relationship among the member states, including more investment to create an interconnected system of infrastructure, transportation, and energy. Wen even offered to finance economic projects that guarantee food safety.

Pakistan, Mongolia, India, and Iran also sent representatives to the meeting in Astana, with hopes of improving relations with the organization for possible future membership. Parviz Davoodi, first vice president of Iran, and Wen met to discuss closer cooperation, in order to ensure stability in the region. Read more ..

Edge on the Election

The Ghosts of the Past Haunted--and Inspired--this Election

November 10th 2008

Politics - Voting

When this campaign began so many months and $4.3 billion ago, many pollsters and pundits predicted that Election Day would be the final round of the battle of the New York titans, pitting Hillary Rodham Clinton against Rudy Giuliani. Back then, when we thought about waking up at 3 AM, we usually associated it with an unwelcome run to the john, not the test – as described in Hillary Clinton’s campaign commercial – of who was ready to lead the nation.

If we imagined a ceiling with 17 million cracks in it, we assumed it would shatter, especially if the ceiling was glass; when we worried about meltdowns, it was because our kids were overprogrammed or undersupervised, not because our financial markets were overstretched and under-scrutinized; and when we talked about Joe the plumber we grumbled about the guy who charged too much and came too slowly not some idealized version of the people’s wisdom incarnate.

In those days when we thought about the largest state in the union, we wondered what its connection was with baked Alaska, we did not think about the half-baked ideas of the governor from Alaska and the conventional wisdom in Washington described Joe Biden as a blow-dried, blowhard politician, (who barely won 11,000 votes when he ran in the 2008 primaries) rather than the ultimate democratic ideal, a working class kid from Scranton conjured into Beltway foreign policy guru. The most famous Barak in the world was Ehud, the Israeli Defense minister, and –dare I say it -- the most famous Hussein was either Saddam or the late King of Jordan. Moreover, most Americans agreed that the most decent, nonpartisan, moderate member of the United States senate was… John McCain. Read more ..

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